Why Does My Lawn Turn Brown in the Winter?

Each year, as the weather cools down, your grass settles in for it’s annual cold-weather nap. And while it may well look like it’s dead, gone, and in need of a replacement, it reliably bounces back each spring. But what exactly is going on when your grass turns brown for the winter? And how can you be sure it isn’t dead? Read on to find out!

What is Dormant Grass?

Dormant grass is essentially grass that has entered a degree of stasis or suspended animation. During periods of both cold and hot weather, dormancy is a normal process by which your grass essentially shuts down to maximize and save resources. When insufficient moisture is available in the soil, like during a summer droughts or when it’s covered in snow, grasses know to suspend all but their most essential functions to keep both its roots and leaves alive until more favorable conditions return.

What does Dormant Grass Look like?

Dormant grass is chiefly identified by its appearance. Tan or light brown in color, perhaps with a few small patches of green, dormant turfgrasses can appear similar to straw. In spite of that though, it’s very much alive so whatever you do, don’t pull it up!

Dormant Grass vs Dead Grass

As we said above, dormant grass is not dead. However, it’s appearance doesn’t exactly fill most homeowners with confidence that their grass is, in fact, still alive. But the fact remains that there are many factors, especially during the winter, that can cause your turf damage, eventually killing your lawn. A few likely suspects include:

  • Salt damage.
  • Heavy foot traffic.
  • Snow mold and other routine winter injuries.
  • Your turfgrass being a warm season variety which isn’t suited to cold weather.

Stages of Lawn in the Winter

During winter, your grass goes through a few distinct, easily-observable stages. With a little bit of practice and patience, you’ll be able to recognize them every time. We like to break the process into three stages, which include:

  • Slowing Down: As the temperature consistently dips below 40 degrees, your grass’ biological processes slow down and eventually will stop growing altogether. This doesn’t mean that it’s dead or dying – simply that it’s basically going to sleep.
  • Dormancy: This is when your grass is officially dormant for the season and takes on the characteristic brown or tan appearance.
  • Recovery: When the temperature begins to warm up and soil moisture levels increase, your grass will begin to wake up, slowly turning green and beginning to grow again.

How to Wake Up Dormant Grass

The best way to wake up your dormant grass is to heavily irrigate it for a few days. With deep watering, which should ideally penetrate five or more inches underground, any dormant grasses will likely perk right back up and turn green again. In addition:

  • Reducing foot traffic
  • Continuing to mow to the correct height for your specific variety
  • Avoiding unnecessary fertilizing
  • Aggressively controlling weed populations will all speed the recovery process.

We understand that waiting for your grass to wake up and turn green again can be a slow, frustrating process. But while there’s plenty you can do to help it bounce back, we don’t recommend rushing the process as you may cause inadvertent damage in the process.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact our team of helpful technicians.

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