Lawn & Garden Care – Winter

There have been some particularly brisk and windy days recently with overall very unpredictable extreme weather. This raises the question for most gardeners, will my plants survive? Some plants have adapted to extreme weather and built up their own protection, this is known as ‘hardiness’.

Hardiness

Hardiness relates to a plant’s ability to survive outside during winter. Initially, when choosing a plant species it’s important to find out whether the species you want will endure the conditions in your area. The main conditions to be considered are wet and cold temperatures, which the UK is of course familiar with! Certain plants will take to a variety of cold conditions as some will be able to take a light frost, whereas others can withstand freezing temperatures for a considerably long time.

The origin of a plant can impact its ability to survive in harsh conditions. Plants native to the UK have adapted to unusual environments and external factors, such as harsh climates. A great number of these native plants are deciduous and have therefore adapted over thousands of years to attain features that ensure their survival.

Deciduous plants shed their foliage during the winter season, whereas their alternative evergreens keep their leaves and so are exposed to the effects of freezing. Evergreens however shouldn’t be disregarded as their thick structures can, more often than not, cope with cold temperatures. Especially when planted to maximise their exposure to the sun or sheltered to protect them from winds.

RHS‘s hardiness scale

Gardeners who have stayed in one location over a number of years become familiar with their conditions and have maintained gardens that thrive throughout the year. For those who are new to a location, we advise becoming familiar with your seasonal changes by noting down signs of first and last frost, along with frost frequency, rainfall and wind direction. Or, why not get to know your local garden enthusiasts (easily spotted at your local allotment or found tending to their front gardens on a daily basis!) and ask for their findings to compare to the RHS rating descriptions.

A number of gardeners have the tendency to look past the initial stage of research and opt for their favourite species with no regard to ‘hardiness’. Before choosing a plant for your garden, ensure you gather all the information you need in regards to the species and your area specific conditions. This will stand you in good stead and allow you to watch your plant establish through the thick and thin of the unreliable UK weather.

Protecting Your Turf

It is generally thought that there is little you can do to look after your turf in the snow and to a certain extent this is true, but there are still several precautions you can take to ensure your high quality turf is damaged to a lesser extent by the extreme weather.

The best solution to prevent the snow from damaging your grass lawn is to cover it up with an over-ground cover or to install an underground heater; however for most of us this isn’t possible (and seems a little extreme!) so these tactics are typically reserved for football or cricket pitches.

Instead there are simple actions that we recommend to help protect your roll on turf from the worst of the damage:

  1. First off the better the quality of your lawn turf and the more effectively you use fertiliser to increase the strength of your roll on turf throughout the year, the better its chances of survival in harsh weather conditions.
  2. Avoid walking across your lawn when the snow has settled.  We know that it’s fun creating footprints or snow angels, but the downside is that this can cause compaction of the snow in to the turf which damages the frozen tufts of grass beneath.
  3. Furthermore, when your lawn turf is soaked through following a thaw avoid walking on it, as this can cause compaction and damage to the delicate grass leaves. This is particularly important during the first year of establishment of your roll on lawn turf as, like a young child, it is more vulnerable to extreme changes in its environment.
  4. Watch out for the development of diseases such as snow mould, which you can’t see until the snow has melted away. The best thing to do in this case is to ask for advice and take action to remove the disease as soon as you see it forming. See more detailed information below to know what you are looking for.

Spotting Snow Mould

This is one of the severest lawn turf diseases and it is hard to manage.  Although it can be found throughout the year the most obvious time is following a snow thaw, hence the name snow mould.

The disease starts out as small patches of yellowish, dying grass, which eventually turn brown. These patches increase in size and may start merging together as the disease spreads.  In wetter conditions a white or pink fungus may also start to grow at the edges of the patches.

If you are concerned about snow mould then the best thing to do is to get in the experts but there are also actions you can take yourself:

  1. Help your lawn turf to dry out quickly after wet weather by airing it out.  Raking or spiking your roll on lawn turf will help with this, as will pruning back overhanging hedges and trees.
  2. Improve general airflow over your grass lawn by removing any dead leaves in the autumn

There is only one fungicide available to homeowners for the control of the disease, which is trifloxystrobin. It can be used throughout the year and in frozen conditions but the disease can build resistance to it so it is best to use it sparingly (about twice a year) and in conjunction with other fertiliser methods.

If you have any questions about the winter lawn and garden care, or any tips you would like to share with your fellow gardeners, share these with us on Facebook and Twitter, we would love to hear from you!