Winter Dormancy in the North
No, your lawn isn’t dying—it’s dormant! Winter dormancy can be concerning to homeowners with a mixture of cool-season and warm-season grasses in their lawns. They fear the cold temperatures will kill the warm-season grass and leave their yard thin after winter. However, dormancy is a natural part of the turfgrass growth cycle.
Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass are sometimes mixed into cool-season lawns in the North because they provide more year-long growth and color in cool-season lawns. Though not ideal for an entire property in cooler climates, these warm-season grasses thrive in the summer heat when cool-season grasses are going dormant. That difference in the growth cycles of warm- and cool-season grasses means they can complement each other when mixed in one lawn.
Winter is when warm-season grass goes dormant to conserve energy through winter. Growth slows, and color fades during dormancy, giving the appearance of dead or dying grass. If it is simply dormant, however, the grass will return to growth naturally in the spring. It’s important to know the difference between dormant and dead grass so you know if your lawn needs attention.
Keeping an eye on the temperature will help you recognize dormancy, as grass reacts quite predictably to temperature changes. Warm-season grasses start going dormant when soil temperatures are around 55°F, which correlates to air temperatures around 65°F. At that point, you can feel confident that consistently browning grass is going dormant.
Although dormancy occurs naturally, you can support the process to maximize plant health. Applying fertilizer at the end of fall prepares turfgrass for a healthy green-up in the spring. Warm-season grasses will transition out of dormancy naturally in the spring. As temperatures rise, you can expect your grass to begin growing again and regain its green color. For now, you can rest easy knowing the warm-season grass in your lawn is doing the same thing.