Winter maintenance for grass involves just a few simple steps that should have your lawn looking lush again in the spring. As the first frost approaches, gradually lower the blade of your lawnmower with each mowing. This will ease your grass into a shorter length that will discourage damaging rodents from taking shelter in it over winter. Just before the first frost, aerate your lawn to relieve compaction. When you aerate and fertilize, make sure to move across your lawn in a crisscrossing pattern – if you move in a single set of straight lines, you’ll have obvious straight lines of healthy grass in the spring.
If you’ve lived in a part of the country where it snows in winter, you know how helpful road salt can be in keeping roads free from ice. Despite its benefits, however, road salt isn’t good for your plants, and an excess can kill your grass. The reasons why it harms your grass has to do with the way roots take up water and nutrients from soil. As the salt concentration of the soil increases, the grass will find it more difficult to extract the water they need from the soil. The sodium ions may be taken up by soil particles, but the chloride ions remain more mobile, and these are often absorbed through the roots of the grass, where they start to accumulate in plant tissue. While turf grass, like nearly any plant, is definitely vulnerable to the effects of high salt concentration, it’s important to note that it is actually less vulnerable than many species of trees and shrubs, which are more easily affected. One option to minimize the damage is to choose another more grass-friendly type of road salt like calcium magnesium acetate, which contains neither sodium nor chloride ions and thus has less effect.
Much to many home-owners dismay, wind driven salt spray from road trucks can travel up to 150 feet. This salt can cause extreme damage and salt injury to plants as well, especially pine spruce and fir. Salt damage to evergreen plants causes needles to turn brown from the tip to the base. Deciduous plants may be damaged, but this will not be noticeable until the spring when plants do not leaf out or bud properly because of bud damage. If rain or snow melt does not dilute salt placed on sidewalks and driveways, the soil becomes very salty and can damage plants. To save plants from salt damage, it is necessary to grade walks and driveways so that they drain away from your plants. Rinse all plants exposed to salt with water in the spring. Although it is very difficult to reverse salt damage, you can do your best to prevent it by using something other than salt for a deicer. Kitty litter and sand are two options that work well to melt ice without damaging plants.