Is My Lawn Dormant or Dead? If it did not rain very much this summer there is a good chance your lawn has many brown spots from heat and drought stress. If this is the case, then you may be questioning if your lawn is dead or has gone into a resting stage we call dormant? Don’t worry, dormant does not mean dead!
Many lawn grasses can handle a period of heat or drought. Lawns naturally go into a state of “brown” dormancy to survive. They protect themselves during hot, dry periods when they do not have enough water to remain in an active growth stage. The plant focuses it’s resources on the crowns and roots.
The grass plant underground crowns have to live in order for the lawn to come out of dormancy. It is kind of like the sleepy bear hibernating during the winter. This is quite amazing that when your lawn does not get enough water it turns brown to stay alive. It “goes to sleep” to conserve water. This also can happen during winter months. The “yellow-brown” color of lawns during winter months is caused by the cold temperature and sometimes lack of fall fertilizer or moisture. Most lawns that are in a healthy growing condition before dormancy sets in can survive in a dormant state for 3 to 4 weeks without dying.
How can we tell the difference? If you water your lawn for a few days and your grass shows signs of greening again, it was dormant. If after a few days of watering your lawn stays brown, it is dead. Try pulling out some brown grass, dead grass pulls out easily with no resistance while dormant grass will be difficult to remove from the lawn. If you can water your lawn, water it enough to keep it alive, but no more.
If you get a decent rain every 2 weeks, you probably to do not have to irrigate or water in order to keep your lawn alive. Weeds thrive during these trying times since the lawn cannot compete with the weed growth. If you only have a few weeds, try to pull them or dig them out. Do not apply weed controls when the lawn is under heat and drought stress, when temperatures are greater than 85 degrees and humidity is high. Avoid use of fertilizers when the lawn is in a dormant stage.
Reduce foot traffic and mow only when needed. Take care to raise the mowing height to 3 or 3-1/2 inches during stress periods. Be sure you are mowing with a sharp blade and it is best to mow in early morning or late evening. Do not remove more than the top third of the height of the grass per mowing. If possible, mulch the clippings, it will return water and nutrients to the soil.
Water in early morning or early evening hours in order to maximize soil penetration and avoid evaporation. Do not allow thatch to build up, this will allow heat and drought to ravage your lawn even more. Brown grass can also be a result of fungus or insect damage. Be sure to properly diagnose why your lawn is brown before treating the symptoms. Following a sound lawn care program throughout the year is the best way to survive a drought.
One summer many years ago, I went on a 10 day vacation, it was hot and dry. One zone of my sprinkler did not work well and a section of the lawn appeared to be dead when I came home. I decided to wait until the fall thinking I might need to re-seed this area. Once cooler temperatures and normal rainfall returned, the area came back completely. I did not have to re-seed at all.
In early fall as your lawn begins to green–up again. You can easily see what part of the lawn was dormant and what sections died so you know where you need to re-seed. Select proper grass species that are more heat and drought tolerant such as Black Beauty tall fescue. Fall is the best time to seed your lawn; will you need to re-seed this fall?