Winter lawn damage can be a real hassle here in Wisconsin. In particular, vole, salt damage and snow mold are by far the biggest concerns in our area. There are a few preventative measures that can be taken to keep this kind of damage to a minimum.

Voles, a relative of the mouse, make tunnels and winding runways under the snow in lawns as they feed on leaf blades and the crown of the grass plant. The damage that voles cause is often mistaken for mole damage, but moles are typically not active during winter and tunnel below the soil surface. Vole damage often appears as irregular lines of damaged or missing turf.

Typically, lawns will recover as conditions warm in spring and new growth begins.

These areas of damage should be raked every spring to increase air circulation and remove dead and decaying material. Severe damage may require aeration and over-seeding. To prevent this type of damage continue mowing your lawn until it is completely dormant in the fall. A mow height of just under two inches will decrease the likelihood that a vole will find your lawn as a suitable habitat. Also be sure to clean up excess plant vegetation from ornamental beds and gardens.

Snow mold, both pink (Fusarium patch) and gray (Typhula blight) are very common as the snow melts and recedes in spring. During the wet months of spring, snow mold may appear as brown to light tan, highly matted down and crusty looking areas of turf. As conditions begin to dry out, snow mold will gradually disappear but the damaged and infected areas remain discolored or even dead.

The severity of infection can vary from year to year, but areas with excessive thatch and debris, too much shade, poor drainage, long grass and areas with heavy snow drifts are more likely to be susceptible to these fungal pathogens.

There are ways to avoid issues with snow mold; following a sound fertilization program using controlled release nitrogen, core aeration to improve drainage and reduce thatch, raking to improve air circulation, and trying to pile snow evenly when shoveling will help reduce the risk of snow mold taking hold in your turf.

Salt damage from both road salt and personal sidewalk salt can be a common problem in areas like Wisconsin where winters are long and it is used many times throughout the season. Although it is very difficult to reverse salt damage, you can do your best to prevent it by using something other than salt as a deicer. Kitty litter and sand are two options that work well to increase traction and melt ice without damaging plants.

If salt damage is severe or over a widespread area, applying pelletized gypsum (you can often get 40# bag for less than ten dollars at a hardware store) to the damaged areas will replace the salt with calcium and sulfur; this will help heal the grass and encourage new growth. Be sure to water in gypsum heavily after application to ensure it makes its way down into the root zone of the plants.

With these few tips you can be sure to give your lawn its best chance at recovering successfully from the harsh Wisconsin winters. As always, we are here to help! If you have any lingering questions or problems, give us a call.

Keyman Fertilization & Weed Control, LLC

[email protected]


snow mold

Snow mold

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Vole Damage

Turf damaged from deicing applications during winter. All photos: Kevin Frank, MSU

Salt Damage