Dead vs. Dormant Grass: Understanding the Difference

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Dormant Stage SOD Grass

What is Dormant Grass?

A brown lawn does not always mean that your lawn is dead, it could just be dormant. Dormancy is essentially the lawn “going to sleep”. It mostly occurs in the winter but it can also occur in the warm summer months as well. When grass goes dormant during the cold winter months, it shuts down and turns brown to conserve water and nutrients. It also turns brown during the summer as it is stressed out by intense heat and drought. Grass can safely go into the dormant state for up to 6 weeks without dying. Fortunately, the grass will green up once the environments improve.

The three main reasons for dormancy:

  • To withstand the long and harsh climatic conditions.
  • To turn on its built-in natural protection mechanism.
  • Low availability of water.

How do you revive dormant grass?

A good way to determine if the grass is dormant or dead is by reversing the water issue. Watering it regularly and heavily for a couple of days should bring it out of dormancy. If the drought season goes beyond 4-6 weeks, then you will need to water the grass down to a depth of 5 inches.

Another good tip is to minimize the foot traffic on your lawn as it can damage the root system. Longer blades of grass will provide shades for the roots so holding back on mowing regularly can also help. Mowing early in the morning or late in the evening is advised. Always use a sharp blade and only remove 1/3 of the height of the turf.  The watering will become more efficient and effective this way. 

What is dead grass?

Detecting dead grass in your lawn can be tough. Grass in the dormant stage can be dead in the process of defending itself from harsh climatic conditions. You can use a few steps to determine if the grass is dormant or dead.

  • Try the tug test– Find a section of brown grass, grab some and pull, if the grass comes out easily with no resistance it is dead. 
  • Look for patterns– Determine if your entire lawn is brown or are there distinct patches of brown. If the entire lawn is brown, the grass is most likely dormant.
  • Consider the temperature or climate changes.

CONTRIBUTOR: Sydney McCullough

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