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Understanding Cool-Season Lawn Damage

Cool-season lawns were not exempt from damage this winter. Let’s break down the consequences and next steps.

Even with their name, cool-season lawns can still feel the effects of winter—no matter how warm this one was for you. Whenever you’re in NC or SC, there’s a good chance that your lawn was damaged in one way or another. Here’s what you need to know, look out for and do.

What Could Have Caused Winter Lawn Damage?

“Winterkill” is an all-encompassing term for describing what can cause turf damage during this time, including:

  • Seeding too late in the fall (not giving turf enough time for development before winter)
  • Poor drainage
  • Heavy foot traffic
  • Disease
  • Malnourishment (this can be caused by inadequate fertilization)
  • Too much shade
  • Below-freezing temperatures (or temperatures that cycle between above- and below-freezing)

Not every cool-season grass is as tolerant to the cold as another, either. It pays to work with experts who can get you situated with the best grass type for your yard’s particular climate and needs.

Solutions for Different Types of Damage

Ultimately, there’s no way of completely stopping winter lawn damage. Your best bet is always prevention through effective lawn treatments throughout the year. That said, here are some specific solutions for some of the biggest issues you may be encountering.



When a cool-season lawn “browns out” over the winter, or looks tan or yellow this time of year, this can mean its crowns—the bases that connect its roots and its shoots—have become dehydrated.


An increase in temperatures, along with early spring lawn maintenance, should help your lawn recover. You can also try to leave your lawn a little taller. This will provide slightly longer grass tips to cut off when you mow, giving your lawn a greener start in the spring.

Crown Hydration

The bases of grass are especially susceptible to temperature changes in the winter. If there was a time when your temperatures went from below freezing to above freezing for at least a few days (something that’s common in the Carolinas), there’s a chance that turf took this as a sign to hydrate its crowns. If this happened and then temperatures went back below freezing, the moisture in the grass blades may have frozen and ruptured the cells at the tip of the blades. This can result in minor to extreme damage in the form of grass that doesn’t green up in the spring.


The more level and well-draining your soil, the better the odds that injury will not occur. Other than that, there’s not much that can be done to predict this or prevent the odds of it happening. If you suspect crown hydration, work with a seasoned lawn care pro on a custom recovery plan.

Winter Weeds

While not damaging in the traditional sense, winter weeds are definitely worth talking about. Despite the name, winter weeds actually finish growing in late winter and start to reproduce/become more difficult to control in the spring. You’ll know they’ve become difficult to control once they start to flower.

Solution for Broadleaf Weeds


Weed control can be difficult in spring due to your lawn still being thin and not completely tilled (having additional leaf blades). Post-emergent broadleaf weed control is key for this reason. Even with this, though, broadleaf weeds will never stop developing in managed turf.

Additionally, if you’ve been maintaining a healthy mowing height for your lawn, your turf will be better situated to control broadleaf weeds, as well as even reduce crabgrass.

Solution for Bluegrass

Poa annua (annual bluegrass) and Poa trivialis (rough bluegrass) are some of the most difficult grassy weeds to control. Here’s how to tell them apart:

  • Poa annua can show up as tan-colored seed heads and off-green leaf blades.
  • Poa trivialis has a light-green color and can form a dense spreading mat in the winter. There are a few products that show promise in dealing with it, but they’re still very much in the trial stages.

As we’re already outside the windows of preventive applications, the best control at this point is to maintain good turf quality and density.

Recover From Damage With Fairway Green

The good news is that cool-season lawns have a great shot of bouncing back from most wintertime issues. With the added support of the experts at Fairway Green, you can ensure your best lawn outcomes possible. Get started today with a free lawn estimate.