Dead vs Dormant Grass: How to Tell the Difference

Brown patches are a familiar sight on lawns, often suggesting that your grass is dead. But is it really?

Homeowners often find themselves puzzled, wondering whether their grass is dead or simply dormant. Although the signs may appear similar to the untrained eye, there are a few ways to differentiate between them.

What is Dormancy?

Dormancy is a temporary state of rest or inactivity that certain types of grass enter in response to challenging environmental conditions. When triggered by harsh weather, such as extended periods of drought or cold temperatures, grass becomes dormant by slowing or suspending its metabolic activity and growth. It turns yellow or brown and may appear lifeless.

This survival mechanism helps the grass conserve energy during unfavorable conditions. But it should emerge from dormancy when the weather becomes more favorable.


Is It Dead or Dormant Grass?

Warm-season grasses like Bermuda, Zoysia, and St. Augustine thrive in Florida's warm, humid climate, experiencing peak growth from late spring to early fall. This period presents an opportunity to boost grass health with lawn fertilizer, ensuring optimal nutrient absorption and fostering a vibrant, lush lawn. Fertilizing during peak periods also prepares the grass for dormancy.

As the weather cools in late fall and winter, they may experience slower growth, particularly when temperatures drop to 74ºF. They may also become dormant when consistently exposed to temperatures below 60ºF.

When assessing whether your grass is dead or dormant, consider factors such as the type of grass you have, its specific characteristics, and the prevailing weather conditions. Accurately determining the status of your grass will guide you in implementing the appropriate lawn maintenance measures to ensure its health.


5 Ways to Tell the Difference Between Dead and Dormant Grass

Before jumping to the conclusion that your grass is dead and requires a fix with grass plugs or a complete do-over with new sod, there are other signs and measures you can take to distinguish between dead and dormant grass.

Look For Signs of Life

Get up close to your grass for a detailed visual inspection. Dead grass usually has a brown or straw-like appearance and feels brittle due to its lack of flexibility. Meanwhile, dormant grass may also appear brown but should retain some flexibility. Look for signs of life at the base, such as green shoots and white crowns, which indicate recovery when conditions improve. In contrast, dead grass lacks signs of regrowth and is beyond recovery. In such cases, the best course of action is to replace the dead grass through sod installation or grass plugging.

Check for Patterns

Dormant grass usually browns more uniformly than dead grass unless the dormancy is due to the varying sunlight or water exposure across your lawn. Meanwhile, dead grass often displays uneven browning or circular patches of brown grass, which may signal a potential fungal disease.

Consider Temperature and Weather Conditions

Different grass types respond differently to weather changes. For example, whereas warm-season grasses go dormant in colder temperatures, cool-season grasses tolerate cooler weather but enter dormancy when the weather has been consistently warm and dry. For accurate assessment, identify the type of grass you have in your lawn.

During unfavorable weather conditions, it's normal for your grass to go dormant, causing it to lose color temporarily. Once the weather becomes favorable again, the grass should naturally green up. However, if the browning persists beyond the harsh conditions, it may indicate a more serious problem.


Tug Test

Another approach to distinguish between dead and dormant grass is the tug test. Simply grab a handful of grass and give it a gentle pull. If the grass easily comes off, it indicates dead grass. It may also reveal decayed roots that look mushy and discolored.

On the other hand, if the grass has some resistance and the roots appear white and healthy, your lawn is most likely dormant. Healthy, intact roots are a positive sign of potential for regrowth.

Water Your Lawn

When grass enters a dormant state, it is usually due to external factors or seasonal changes. However, insufficient water or nutrients may also contribute to this condition. Provide your lawn with extra water for a few days, supplementing the usual one inch per week, to investigate. Observe how the grass will react.

If the grass regains its green hue and shows signs of revitalization, you most likely have a dormant lawn. On the other hand, if there's no change and the lawn remains brown, it's most likely that the grass is dead.

So, Can You Restore Your Brown Grass?

Unfortunately, dead grass cannot be revived. In such cases, dethatching the dead lawn is necessary to prepare it for new sod installation or grass plugs. You would also want to take this opportunity to fertilize your lawn to replenish the lost nutrients in the soil.

NutriPod is a grass plug fertilizer formulated to enrich your soil with the necessary nutrients, creating a favorable environment for the successful establishment of grass plugs. This proactive step promotes healthy root development, lush foliage, and overall resilience in your lawn.


How to Maintain Dormant Lawn

Fortunately for you, when the grass is dormant, restoration is possible.

Proper preparation for winter is crucial to help your warm-season grass endure cold temperatures. Consistent lawn maintenance measures such as regular watering, mowing, and fertilizing throughout the year contribute to a resilient lawn that can withstand adverse conditions. Even during dormancy, adequate watering remains essential to keep the grass alive and prevent desiccation.

While brown turf might be unsightly after spending time on maintenance, dormancy is typically temporary. As long as you've taken appropriate measures to prepare your lawn for entering a dormant state, there's no need to worry.

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