Changes in the Landscape: Observing Dormant (Not Dead) Grass

Dormant Grass in My Yard Lisa A. Wisniewski

Dormant Grass in My Yard
Lisa A. Wisniewski

“My grass is dead.”

It’s a common mantra and misconception I’ve heard numerous times in my years as a landscaper and outside lawn and garden associate.  People see yellow or brown grass and assume it is dead.  They want immediate recovery of their lawn and ask for chemicals to bring the grass back to life.

However, the reality is the grass is most likely dormant, not dead, and applying chemicals will only make matters worse.

Dormant Versus Dead Grass

Watered Dormant Grass Lisa A. Wisniewski

Watered Dormant Grass
Lisa A. Wisniewski

Dormant and dead grass look very much the same:  brown, dry, and devoid of life.

Depending upon the season, it may be hard to tell if the grass is simply dormant or actually dead.

One way to tell is to water the grass regularly.  If the grass is truly dead, it will not turn green.  However, if the grass is dormant, the regular watering will help lower its stress level, allowing it to return to a greener, more vibrant state.

Why Does Grass Go Dormant?

Grass Going Dormant Lisa A. Wisniewski

Grass Going Dormant
Lisa A. Wisniewski

Grass requires a somewhat even keel of water, sunlight, and temperature to grow and remain green.  Reasons grass may become dormant include:

  • Drought
  • Intense heat or high temperatures
  • Improper mowing (scalping or removing more than 1/3 of the grass blade length in a single cutting)
  • Over-fertilizing

Any of these conditions create stress on the grass as a whole, affecting above ground appearance and underground root systems.  Fortunately, grass is smart and senses when it is stressed.  Its natural reaction is to go dormant, essentially allowing its structure to become stress-free for a short time.

How to Help Dormant Grass

Stress-free grass Lisa A. Wisniewski

Stress-free grass
Lisa A. Wisniewski

The best way to help dormant grass is to be patient, which may be hard to do if you prefer a lush, green lawn.

Other ways to help include:

  • Regular watering to help re-hydrate the plant structure
  • Mowing only when necessary with a sharp mower blade
  • Refraining from applying fertilizers
  • Spot treating weeds with herbicide or hand weeding
  • Avoiding extra foot traffic on the dormant areas
  • Re-hydrating with deep watering once stress conditions no longer exist

The Best Defense

Dormant Grass Needing Time to Recover Lisa A. Wisniewski

Dormant Grass Needing Time to Recover
Lisa A. Wisniewski

The best defense when dealing with dormant grass is knowledge and understanding.  Learning how grass grows and reacts under nature’s extreme conditions helps the human mind cope with the situation.

As mentioned above, being patient with the grass also helps.  In a way, this time of patience is a state of human dormancy, allowing the reality of the situation to sink in and giving nature the time it needs to recover.

Resources and Related Links

Causes of dormancy – http://www.milorganite.com/lawn-care/lawn-care-basics/dormancy

Dormant versus dead grass – http://homeguides.sfgate.com/differences-between-dormant-dead-grass-77668.html

How grass grows – http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening/scene7de0.html

Smart plants – http://archive.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2007/10/veggie_intelligence

Ways to help dormant grass – http://www.thelawninstitute.org/pages/education/lawn-maintenance/let-your-turfgrass-go-dormant/

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