Saturday, 22 January 2022

Lawns and Snow

Well, we've been lucky with the weather so far this winter, and personally I think we're going to get away without any snow this winter: but people keep asking me about damage to the lawn, so here are my comments. 

Firstly, some reassurance - your average lawn is completely unfazed by snow. 

Although to us, it looks like a thick blanket, and although we have all seen shrubs bent or broken by the weight of snow...

*points to my bamboo, left: normally it's up to the upstairs windows, but after a moderate snow fall, there it was, curtseying down to the ground...*


....but as far as the grass is concerned, it arrives in a gentle, even layer, snuggling down beside the upright blades of grass, and not actually harming them.

Light penetrates the snow easily, so the grass can continue to photosynthesise and is actually quite comfy and happy down there under the snow: you will notice that once the snow goes, the grass often looks more lush and green than it did before.

The problem arises when we tread on the snow.

Walking across a snow-field compresses it into ice: not nice clear, glass-like ice, but cloudy, murky ice, through which the sun can't penetrate. Worse, the pressure snaps the blades of grass, causing them irreparable damage. So when the snow goes, brown footprints remain.

This goes double for frost: a hard ground frost occurs when the dew freezes, so each blade of grass is also temporarily frozen, and treading on them shatters them, so you get those brown footprints afterwards. Not straight away, I should say - usually 2-3 days after thawing. 

There's a reason that golf courses implement what they call “Frost delay”, and don't allow members to play on frosty mornings!

So, whether it's frost or snow, what can we do about it? The kids are determined to make a snowman, the birds are looking desperate and you need to get to the bird feeders... but there are a few steps you can take.

1) On snowy days, don't let people trample about on the grass unless necessary. Let them enjoy it from inside, then drag them out to the local park to make snowmen and run about in it. Local parks keep their grass cut very much shorter than we do: they use a much harder-wearing grass seed mix than we use on our domestic lawns, and it can cope with the damage much better than our small lawns can. Furthermore, they usually have acres of grass, so a small amount of damage is easily lost in the sea of greenery.

2) If you have to have snowmen at home, don't let them sit there for days after the snow goes: as soon as the snow is fairly gone, break up what's left of them, to allow the grass underneath to recover sooner, rather than later.

3) When it's frosty, again, try to keep people off the grass as much as possible. Put in stepping stones across the lawn to get to the bird feeders, the shed, the greenhouse, or wherever you might need to go: this will also save the grass through the summer months.

And what if you just can't prevent it? Well, grass is remarkably resilient and will recover in time - usually, after two or three mowings, the guilt-inducing footprints will disappear. So if it happens, don't panic: keep calm, and carry on mowing! 



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