I recently received a memo from Dr. Dennis Martin, Turfgrass Extension/Research Specialist from Oklahoma State University, concerning winter-kill of bermudagrass. Although it looks like the problem is not as severe as he and others believed it would be, there are areas of turf that have been damaged, or are just slow to come out of dormancy. A recent Tulsa World article also had information about winterkill and the effect it was having on local golf courses.

Even during the mildest of winters in Oklahoma, several node and internode segments of the aerial shoot system of bermudagrsss are killed by freezing temperatures. Sunlight then bleaches the dead tissue to a straw colored appearance. Following these events and while temperatures remain too low for sustained regrowth, people refer to the bermudagrass as “being dormant.”

The relatively severe winter of 2009/2010 has resulted in above average winter-kill of bermudagrass across Oklahoma. “Winter-kill” simply means that part or all of the turfgrass plant died during the winter season. Winter-kill can occur from either acute or extended exposure to low temperatures. It can also be due to complications from the interaction of low temperatures and any number of stressing factors such as insuffient or excessive soil moisture, shade, excessive traffic, soil compaction, low mowing height, insufficient or excessive nutrients, or any number of other predisposing stressful physical, chemical, or biological factors.

 Even during the mildest of winters in Oklahoma, several node and internode segments of the aerial shoot system of bermudagrsss are killed by freezing temperatures. Sunlight then bleaches the dead tissue to a straw colored appearance. Following these events and while temperatures remain too low for sustained regrowth, people refer to the bermudagrass as “being dormant.”

During most of the last decade in Oklahoma, mild winter temperatures have resulted in bermudagrass aerial shoots only being killed back a few node/intermodal segments. During the 2009/2010 winter, many strands of bermudagrass had most or all of their above ground aerial shoot system killed back to or slightly below the soil surface. In more severe cases of winter-kill, death of node and intermodal segments below ground, as occurred. In the most severe case, shallow rhizomes (below ground horizontal stems) may have been killed. Each turfgrass stand is unique due to the cultivars or varieties being used as well as the soils, exposure and management programs.

So as to not bore you with an abundance of technical terms, this is what all this means:

Some of your bermudagrass may be dead, damaged, or just slow to come out of dormancy. It happens. Cold temperatures is just one of many factors affecting turf in a negative way, which nobody can control. Normally by early May, the bermudagrass is looking very nice and green, but not so this year. I’ve seen very few bermudagrass lawns that are fully out of dormancy and looking great. Bermudagrass needs nighttime temperatures consistently in the 60’s and 70’s to be able to grow and develop, and for much of this spring, we’ve been not even close to that.

 So what to do?

The key ingredient for your bermudagrass to recover and green-up nicely is PATIENCE!!! As the weather warms, with more spring rainfalls, most bermudagrass will recover and fill in. We can only go as fast as Mother Nature allows us though. Dumping more fertilizer on your turf will not help, and will probably even harm the root system, which we do not want.

In some cases, new sod or plugs may have to be installed, if the turf is totally dead. In most cases however, with time, the turf will recover if you are patient. Don’t go out and throw seed on the turf! You’ll be introducing a different variety of bermudagrass,even if it does germinate. If you must re-sod or plug, rake the dead grass out as best you can, plug or sod those areas with new sod, and keep well-watered for several weeks while it roots down.

Do not confuse Spring Dead Spot with winterkill. This is a very common turf disease unique to bermudagrass. It occurs every season, and is worse this year due to the harsh winter. These will be circular areas up to several feet in diameter. Fall fungicides can be applied to help prevent the disease for next season, or you can dig out those infected areas and re-sod.

To help your bermudagrass recover as quickly as possible, maintain a good fertility program (which LawnAmerica does for you), irrigate when needed, and consider core aeration this summer. Mow your lawn well. As of this writing in late April, we’ve encountered many bermudagrass lawns that have not even been mowed yet! Mowing a little shorter than normal now will help the soil temperature to warm up quicker and stimulate new turf growth. Mowing will also help any post-emergent weed-control efforts. So help us out by doing your part!

Weak bermudagrass areas due to lack of sunlight may need to be converted to fescue this fall with seeding, or even sodding this spring. For example, much bermudagrass on the north side of houses has been killed from the winter. Now may be a good time to convert to fescue, or even plant shade-loving groundcover into those areas.

The good news is that the winterkill we’ve had this year is nothing compared to what we experienced in 1990. I was in the lawncare business then as the owner of green-up! Things were not to green in May of 1990, as about half of the total bermudagrass was totally dead then. I believe this was the year I lost some of my hair that no longer exists—call it hairkill I guess. I said it then, and I’ll say it again with this winter-kill event—It’s not our fault! It happens. Be patient, and it will be OK.

 

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