With the drought in California, everyone’s eyes and ears are turned toward the idea of saving water but also maintaining a lush, green lawn. But what about during the colder months? Does grass die, or does it go dormant in winter? This is a great question, and one that will determine how you care for your lawn in the upcoming months. If you’re wondering if your grass goes dormant in winter (and what to do about it), read on!
The Science of Grass in Winter
Brown grass does not always equal dead grass. In fact, telling the difference between dead and dormant grass can be tricky, especially in the winter time. If your lawn detects a scarce water supply, it will go dormant and turn brown in order to protect the crown. The crown is the most vital part to each bundle of grass, since it is its origin point and the spot at the earth’s surface where the roots and grass blades conjoin. As long as the crown is intact, the grass will remain alive. Once the crown is damaged or dies, there’s no chance to bring your lawn back to life.
In the colder months, you can expect your lawn to turn brown and appear dead. This was especially true in previous years due to the drought in California. We definitely saw a lot of dull, brown lawns (unfortunately, many of them were dead in this case, due to underwatering in the hot summer months). As we start to see more and more rain in the fall and early winter, we are hoping to see more dormant lawns that spring back to life as spring unfolds.
How to Tell Dormant from Dead
Alright so now you know there’s such a thing as a dormant lawn in winter. But how the heck do you tell it apart from a dead lawn? Ask yourself the following questions to help determine if your grass has gone dormant this winter.
- Is it brown?
The most obvious thing to look for first is brown grass. Remember, brown grass does NOT always indicate dead grass. This is just a warning sign that you should be on the lookout for dead grass – but your lawn has most likely gone dormant for the winter.
- Does it turn green again after watering?
If your dull brown or grayish grass starts to turn green again after watering or rainfall, then it’s not dead – it’s just hibernating until it has adequate water supply!
- Does your lawn smell mildewed?
Be careful about a moldy or mildew-ridden lawn. It is totally possible to over-water your lawn, especially if you’ve forgotten to modify your sprinkler controller during the rainy season. Grass can die from over-watering, not just from a lack of water.
- Has it been watered in the past two weeks?
If it hasn’t rained or your sprinklers haven’t turned on at all over a two week period, your lawn is thirsty. Monitor the weather an make sure your lawn gets one good watering in every two weeks in order to ensure it stays dormant, but not dead.
What Should I Do for My Lawn in Winter?
- Water infrequently
Remember not to overwater your lawn in the winter. This will just encourage mold and bad bacteria to grow, rather than giving your lawn the hydration it needs.
- Don’t walk on it too much
Minimizing foot traffic ensures that your grass stays in the best shape possible during winter. It will also keep nasty mud off of your shoes and out of your house!
- Get rid of weeds
Do continue to weed your lawn on a regular basis in winter. Even though your lawn has gone dormant, those weeds sure haven’t. Pull the weeds out by hand and make sure to get the roots.
- Beware of icy grass
If your grass is covered in ice and you then walk or drive over it, you’ll likely damage the blades. Icy grass means brittle grass, and a footprint that took 1 second to make can leave a negative impression for weeks or months.
- Get rid of leaves
Don’t let fallen leaves hang out on top of your lawn for long periods of time. They not only start to rot and mildew, but they also block necessary sunlight from reaching your grass.
It’s best practice to aerate your lawn each fall to keep it at peak health. Aerating essentially takes tiny bites out of your soil, leaving tiny little dirt pellets everywhere. The holes left in the soil allow for air to get to the roots of the lawn much more easily.
After aerating in the fall, you should overseed your lawn. This essentially just fills in any dead or sparse areas of your lawn with new, fresh grass seeds. It takes 1-2 weeks for the seeds to germinate, but sometimes longer depending on the grass variety you use. Follow this process by fertilizing the soil.
Should My Grass Grow When It’s Cold Out?
It depends. If there is ample rain, then there’s no need to turn on your sprinklers or hand-water your lawn as well. This would just result in a waste of water, and also would likely encourage old or mildew to grow in the grass and soil. A general rule of thumb is that your grass should see some amount of water every two weeks. If it’s a particularly dry winter, water your lawn bi-weekly for 15 minutes, allowing the water to travel to the crown and down to the roots of each blade.