Tips for post-freeze lawn revival

By Robert Lewis
Special to the PRESS

What a beautiful Saturday: warm sunshine and a steady cool breeze and lots of emerging green leaves accented by the clear blue sky.  

You know I mention the “spring energy” often in these articles, but I love it when you can walk outside one morning and you can see it happening. It seems my backyard is changing from the depressing leafless silhouettes of defoliated trees, fallen brown foliage swirling around the ground into the first signs of life that I have seen in three weeks since the freeze.  

This morning I see the large Crape Myrtles putting on new leaves along with the native plants Texas Persimmon, Fiddlewood Tenaza and Granjeno.  Continuing around the yard I see the Vitex Tree sprouting out and on the patio my container plants of Plumeria are showing signs of new leaves forming and even some flower buds emerging already, and finally my three Desert Roses look happy to be outside in the full sun after they had been inside the garage for a week during the winter storm.  They have no leaves yet, but they are just starting to go into bloom.  I have a long way to go to get the backyard back to normal, but all of these signs of spring do a lot for your enthusiasm and motivate you to work and get everything back to normal.

Today, though, I want to cover working on the lawn itself. Trying to bring our turf grass back to life and reviving it from the effects of the many hours of “hard freezing” temperatures.  As a result of the freeze nearly all “Floratam” St. Augustine lawns are showing damage.  For all of the attributes that Floratam has, like salt tolerance, shade tolerance, some resistance to chinch bugs and the ability to thrive in our long hot summers, it does not like freezing cold temperatures. Luckily with some warm temperatures and a lot of sunny days our lawns are starting to rebound.  The damage showing is brown areas throughout 40 to 50% of the lawn.  Not large brown dead areas, but more like equal amounts of green and brown spots over the entire lawn.  Another thing that Floratam lawns do not like is “thatch buildup” which is what is going to happen when you mow and the cuttings are lying on top of the cut lawn.  I recommend either bagging these with a bag attachment to the mower or raking the yard after mowing.  Another problem with the multiple dead grass pattern from the freeze damage is that the new green grass runners will have a difficult time growing through or over the brown patches which means you’re going to have to rake the brown area out in order for the grass to be able to fill in to solid green grass.  

If your lawn was well cared for throughout the year, your grass will start to revive very quickly, but the damage caused by the extreme cold may take up to 6 weeks to be fully revived.  Also, understand that temperatures down to 23 degrees can kill up to 50% of your lawn, so if your lawn was weakened with lawn fungal disease throughout the winter months before the freeze.  It may take more time to recover and turn green again.  “TLC” tender loving care will be required, and to start you need to begin a regular watering regime.  I would recommend starting to water the lawn on a regular basis either once or twice a week, to get an inch of water through the grass roots per week.  Mow when your grass height becomes 3 ½ to 4 inches tall.  Rake the lawn clippings up if you do not have a bag attachment.  Fertilize the lawn with an organic fertilizer only.  If there was ever a time to use an organic, it is now after your lawn root system has been damaged.  The organic fertilizer will help provide “a tonic effect” in the soil allowing the root system to become healthier quicker.  As the grass roots heal and become stronger the blades of grass can pull up the nutrients they require as needed.  Organic fertilizers are naturally a slow release fertilizer and will have available nutrients for the grass as it needs it.  I would suggest that you hold off of the nuclear strength (high nitrogen) chemical fertilizers until all signs of brown are gone from your lawn.

I feel that all of our “Floratam” lawns will survive, but there has been real damage done to the roots of the grass.  If you take the “slow but steady” approach to helping it recover, it should be back to 100% green by early May.  Normal mowing over time creates a layer of thatch that breaks down naturally and is not what I am referring to as thatch buildup.  If your lawn had dead grass in it from fall lawn fungus disease and there is brown freeze damage – that is the added thatch that I am referring to that needs to be raked or bagged after mowing.  The brown spots throughout the lawn from freeze damage can be thinned out by using a regular leaf rake and then pick up your piles and add that to the composing area.  The watering schedule should be kept the same throughout the year (only once or twice a week).  As the summer heat cranks up, then add minutes to your sprinkler run times and that will help your grass thicken and will help your grass roots to go deeper.  The result will be an overall healthier lawn with much less lawn fungus yellowing come next fall.  If larger brown areas form, then remove all of the brown grass in the area and get new pieces of grass to fill in the open areas.

Editor’s note: Robert Lewis is the owner and operator of J&R Landscaping and Nursery, based in Laguna Heights, Texas. Give him a call at (956) 433-5109. 

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