Historic Winter Storm & What to Expect

We just encountered intense winter weather together, with a record-breaking 144 consecutive hours below freezing. We hope that you, your family, and your loved ones are all safe and warm.

We know there might be lots of other things on your mind right now, but when lawn care is back on your radar, we’ve got you covered.

We are preparing for significant turf and landscape damage. While we may not see the extent of the damage until plants are out of dormancy, we want to share what we do know.

The lethal soil temperature for 50% turf loss is as follows:

St. Augustine: 23-29 degrees F
Bermuda: 17-23 F
Zoysia-Palisades or coarse bladed varieties: 10-12 F
Cavalier, Emerald, or other fine-bladed varieties: 23-31 F
The turf areas most at risk for damage are:
  • On north-facing slopes
  • Under trees or around the foundation of the house (which has a tendency to stay green or active even during winter months)
  • St. Augustine is by far the most susceptible to winter damage
  • Areas with heavy traffic or compaction (especially traffic while the ice and snow were present)
  • Newly established lawns

The plants, trees, and shrubs most at risk for damage are:

-Palm trees, Indian Hawthorns, Oleanders, and succulents, like agaves or cactus.
-South-facing trees and shrubs because typically they are the first to be active (budding, leafing out, flowering)
-Excessive ice on shrubs without a strong central trunk, such as Mountain Laurels, Wax Myrtles, or Sky Pencil Hollies (the damage would be in the form of broken or split branches).
-Sun Scald damage is also a big concern, especially for soft-bark and less mature plants and trees. This type of damage is basically just cracks in the trunk or branches, which lose sap and can allow harmful insect or disease pathogens into the plant. Most of the time this type of damage won’t be noticeable for some time (3-6 months).
-Evergreens, such as junipers and Italian Cypress, will manifest as browning, drying out, or bleaching of plant tissue. These areas will not green-up.

As bleak as everything sounds, we do have some positives.

-Lucky for us, we had a good blanket of snow on the ground before temperatures dropped so dramatically. This created an insulating barrier to help keep heat in the soil.
-We had a solid rain on Thursday and moist soil stays much warmer than dry. Mother Nature at least did this for us before she dropped the bomb.
Mulched beds and trees, as well as top-dressed lawns (as far back as last Fall) all received significant insulation. *Bonus* They also create heat during their decomposition. 

Steps to Promote Recovery

1. Patience!

Don’t walk on your lawn or rush to prune/replace your plants or turf. Plants can be surprisingly resilient. Hold off on water for at least a week (unless you have just received an application). It may take us months to know if something is going to recover or not so we’d hate to be replacing anything that *might* bounce back.

2. Aerate your soil

At Emerald Lawns, we recommend a product called Liquid Air8. This product oxygenates the soil promoting growth and recovery. It aerates the entire lawn and not just the areas that were punched (as with core aeration). Additional benefits include that there is no risk to your irrigation system, no messy plugs left on your lawn, and that it is just flat out more effective.

3. Receive an Irrigation Audit

Before turning your system on, check to ensure there are no cracks/leaks. It is important to use a licensed irrigator, because much of the damage will be underground, where you might not be able to detect. Underground leaks could cost you a lot of money, not to mention the waste of a precious resource. An Irrigation Audit is $99 for up to 8 zones and can be provided by our licensed team. Unfortunately, right now, this service is only available in the Greater Austin area. We hope to get more licensed professionals for irrigation very soon.

4. Top-dress or compost your lawn

Not only does this drastically improve the overall soil health and quality, but adding nutrients and microbial activity will also really speed up the recovery process.

What Emerald Lawns has done and will do to promote recovery:

  1. Our last application of the year consists primarily of Potash or Potassium, which contributes to winter hardiness.
  2. The first application of the year, which we put down in January or early February, has a significant amount of phosphorous. This is the main nutrient responsible for root growth and development. Stronger roots mean a stronger plant, which is going to allow for a speedier recovery.
  3. We offer a top-dressing blend that we formulated with the help of a Texas soil expert. It consists of 50% cotton burr for an excellent nitrogen source to promote growth, 45% pine material for soil acidity and nutrients, and 5% rice hulls which provides a dense source of carbon increasing the water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil.
  4. We are postponing our pre-emergent applications for 2 weeks to reduce the risk of delaying turf recovery.
  5. We are applying a mild, very balanced slow-release, homogenized fertilizer. This allows for a much greater distribution of nutrients and also means the nutrients will be available when the turf starts to become active.

Here are a few FAQs we’ve heard customers ask this past week:

Will lawn applications from earlier this year still be viable?

Yes! Weed control may be much slower in the cooler temps and require a follow-up treatment (we do complementary spot-treatments on lawn plans with 6+ applications per year).

When will Emerald Lawns be providing services again?

Once temperatures are reaching above 40 degrees, it’s time to resume care. We’ll be up and running again on Monday morning!

How will we know if we have freeze damage?

We believe that many lawns will be impacted by this prolonged freeze. We will not know the extent of damage until the grass starts coming out of dormancy. Same thing goes for trees and shrubs.

For more information about the winter weather impacts, watch our YouTube video!