Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

2014 Turf Winterkill Outlook

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We may have loved the fact that this winter we didn’t have to scoop much snow, but your turf isn’t quite so happy. The open winter may have wreaked havoc on lawn, greenspaces, athletic fields, and golf courses in the area. Find how what to be on the lookout for and how you can help to ensure a healthy green lawn this upcoming season.

In a ‘normal’ winter the turf is usually protected from the extreme conditions. Snow cover helps to not only provide much needed moisture to the thirsty turf, but it also helps to blanket and protect turf from the biting winter winds. This winter, there wasn’t much snow to protect turf and there were definitely the harsh winds.

The lack of snow cover can be a contributing factor to winterkill in turf. Winterkill is a general term that is used to define turf loss during the winter. Winterkill can be caused by a combination of factors including crown hydration, desiccation, low temperatures, ice sheets and snow mold. UNL Turfgrass Specialists were prepared to educate about winterkill, but they weren’t prepared for the extent of damage that they are seeing.

There are a few factors that can play a role in the degree of the damage in the lawn. Low mown turf, like those on golf course greens, tend to be more susceptible to winterkill. Turf that was seeded last fall, had heavy traffic over the winter, and locations exposed to winter winds are also affected by winter damage or winterkill.

Winterkill on turf throws a wrench in all of my previous preemergence herbicide recommendations. Normally, I would recommend dual applications of preemergence herbicide for the most effective control of crabgrass and other weedy grasses in the lawn. The first application is usually applied any time after March 1 with the second application in early June.

This year, wait to apply preemergence applications until after the turf has greened-up. There is no rush to apply the preemergence herbicides now. Make sure that there isn’t any winterkill on your turf before you apply preemergence herbicides. Applications of preemergence herbicides applied as late as mid-April to early May are still effective for our area.

There is one major reason for holding off on applying preemergence herbicides. These products can limit your options when it comes to a lush green lawn yet this spring. If a preemergence herbicide has been applied to the turf prior to overseeding, it can keep the turf seeds from germinating along with the weedy grass seeds.

If your lawn has suffered this winter or been killed by winterkill, there is still time to overseed yet this spring. Overseeding or renovating lawns can help to fill in a sparsely growing lawn or one suffering from winterkill. If you decide to overseed, there are a few rules to follow. Kentucky bluegrass can be overseeded throughout the month of April at a rate of .75 to 1 pound of seed per 1,000 square feet. Tall fescue lawns that have been thinned can be overseeded at a rate of 4 to 6 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet starting April 15 through June 15th. If renovation of the entire lawn is chosen, use the full seeding rate. Kentucky bluegrass’s full rate is 3 to 4 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet. Tall fescue seeding rate is 4 to 6 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet.

Waiting to apply preemergence herbicides may be tough to do, but it can save you a headache in the long run.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at, 308-385-5088308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website:

Author: Elizabeth Exstrom

A Nebraska Extension Educator out of Hall County with a focus in horticulture and sustainable landscapes.

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