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Winter Damage of Warm Season Grasses

June 4, 2014
by Grady Miller and Fred Yelverton

Side by side green up of two fine-textured zoysiagrasses. Both are suffering from winter injury.
Side by side green up of two fine-textured zoysiagrasses taken on June 3, 2014 in Raleigh, NC. Note that both should be fully green and actively growing. The cultivar on the left had heavy winter injury and cultivar on right had moderate injury.

In an earlier Alert I wrote that green-up of our warm-season grasses was late in 2014. At that time we thought winter injury may not be too bad. Unfortunately that has not been the case.

The hardest hit grasses have been the fine-textured zoysiagrasses (e.g. Emerald, Zeon, Zorro, Pristine, etc.) and Centipedegrass (both Common and TifBlair). Damage in the coarse-textured zoysiagrasses (e.g. Empire, El Toro, Zenith, Compadre, etc) and bermudagrass has been more sporadic; whereas Meyer zoysiagrass generally was not injured to any great extent.

Weak turf going into the winter was more susceptible to winter damage than healthy turf. Generally herbicide applications do not cause increased winter damage. But some pre- emergence herbicides can make re-establishment of turfgrasses more challenging. Most product labels have information related to re-establishment timings following application. Establishment timing following herbicide applications may also be herbicide rate- specific.

As I wrote before, the microclimate and cultural practices can influence winter damage as well as the green-up response among cultivars and species. At this point temperatures have still not been very conducive for optimum growth, so recovery continues to be slow.