Just like we tend to hibernate inside to avoid the big winter chill, our warm season grasses; most commonly found in Victoria due to our temperate climate, don’t like the cold either and go into a state of dormancy. This allows the grass to minimise metabolic activity which helps the plant to conserve energy.
It's all part of mother nature's magic act. Just like the turf, the trees in this photograph have also dropped their leaves due to the plummeting mercury, and gone into their own winter rest state.
We understand more than most the sinking feeling of seeing a lawn that was lush and green in the summer quickly turn brown and dry in the winter. It seems to reflect the way we all usually feel after months of cold weather and less sunshine – a bit dull and lifeless!
But why do some lawns manage the winter better than others? And why is your lawn looking worse for wear when your neighbour’s is looking fabulous?
The good news is that there is nothing wrong with your lawn, and brown grass does not necessarily mean dead grass! It’s more than likely going through a period of dormancy, and this is actually a good thing.
Dead grass vs. dormant grass
First let’s look at the difference between dead and dormant.
Dormancy in winter is entirely normal, and it’s essentially your lawn falling asleep. For most warm season turf varieties, the chilly temperatures of Victorian winter are too much for them, so they will become dormant to conserve moisture and nutrients. This is similar to a cool season turf becoming dormant in the hotter months of summer.
A dead lawn is just that––dead. There is no way to coax it back to life, unfortunately you’re going to have to start over and regrow your lawn. The dead grass will need to be thoroughly removed and the soil well-prepped before you lay down more turf.
We like to use the tug test to check whether a lawn is really dead, or just laying dormant. To do this, grab a small section of brown grass and pull. If it comes up with some resistance and isn’t easy to pull out, your lawn is just dormant. However, if the grass comes out easily, your lawn is most likely dead, and there is no bringing it back at this point.
At what temperature does grass go dormant?
The temperature at which your grass will go dormant depends on the type of turf you have. Warm season turfs are more likely to go dormant in winter because they thrive in warmer regions with temperatures between 20-32 degrees celsius. Once temperatures drop below 14 degrees here in Victoria (usually around May), these types of grasses will slow their growth and begin to enter a state of dormancy.
Cool season grasses turfs on the other hand prefer slightly cooler temperatures, ideally between 15-25 degrees celsius. They may still become dormant in winter if the temperature drops really low, but for the most part, they will keep growing and maintain their colour during our mild Victorian winters.
What type of grass turns brown in winter?
As we touched on before, the type of grass most likely to discolour and go dormant in winter is warm season turf. Popular types of warm season turf include Couch, Kikuyu, Buffalo and Zoysia varieties.
While these lawns are going to look fabulous in the warmer months, they will bunker down and conserve energy in winter, meaning a less aesthetic lawn for a month or two. The upside for lawn owners is that during the dormant period, your turf requires pretty much zero maintenance––no watering or mowing required!
And, if you really want that green glow in the depths of winter, you can always get your hands on our magic potion. ColourGuard Plus is an all natural turf colourant that is environmentally friendly and 100% natural. It only needs one application to keep your lawn looking healthygood all winter long!
Can you fertilise dormant grass?
The short answer to this question is yes – you absolutely can fertilise your dormant lawn in winter, but within reason.
While it may feel useless to keep feeding a lawn that looks like it might as well be dead, dormant turf still needs the nutrients a well balanced fertiliser can provide. While dormant, your lawn is less able to defend itself from pests and diseases, so it still requires some basic lawn care.
This being said, be careful not to overfeed your lawn during the dormant period. We want to nurture the turf, not overwhelm it! Look for fertilisers that contain potassium (for strengthening the entire plant) and iron (for improving leaf colour).
How do you wake up dormant grass?
Once temperatures start to rise again, it’s time to start waking your grass up. Remember that if you’re practising regular lawn care throughout the rest of the year, a healthy lawn is going to bounce back from dormancy much quicker.
Water your lawn heavily for a couple of days. You’ll need to wet the soil down to a depth of 5 inches. We want to rehydrate the grass as well as get valuable moisture down into the soil.
Reduce foot traffic
Walking across your dormant grass is likely to damage the root systems, as well as create unnecessary stress on the grass when it’s trying to recover from the dormant period.
While you don’t need to mow during the dormant period, once you’re waking your grass up it’s okay to start mowing again. However, don’t scalp your lawn and completely remove all the brown grass. Fresh grass is going to grow around the old grass, and leaving your lawn clippings on the grass will help fertilise the soil.
We want to make sure the soil is healthy and packed full of nutrients when those new shoots start to sprout, so adding a nitrogen-based fertiliser to your lawn is going to give the soil the boost it needs.
Once your grass is ready to come back to life, so are the weeds. While your grass is coming back out of dormancy, it’s the best time to either remove those weeds by hand or with a post-emergent herbicide.
At Coolabah Turf, our speciality is watersmart, drought tolerant, warm season turf that is ideal for our Australian climate. So we know more than a few things about taking care of dormant winter turf! For more tips and tricks for taking care of your lawn through the colder months, get in contact with our team or give us a buzz on 1800 648 425.