In Virginia, grasses go dormant in the winter. Shorter days and colder temperatures typically slow down grass growth and turn the lawn a tan/brown color. This will occur with all grass types, including Tall Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass.
In cold, windy areas, grass blades can also go dormant from a process call desiccation. The cold winds cause the blades to lose their moisture and the roots to freeze, hence no water can replace the lost moisture, causing the grass to turn brown. This is most noticeable in west-facing areas that have no protection from the wind.
Though the grass looks dead, it is still alive. Once the temperatures rise in late March to early April, the turf color will begin change and start to grow again.
There are a few steps to take to minimize injury to your lawn during the winter months:
- Late fall fertilizer—this acts as natural anti-freeze for better cold tolerance, maintains lawn density, and stimulates spring color and growth.
- Continue to mow your lawn in the fall until it stops growing. Never reduce mowing to less than 3”.
- Remove leaves as often as possible, at least once per week. Leaves block light and oxygen from reaching the leaf blade of the plant, which slows the growth of the turf.
- Use a blower instead of a rake to remove fallen leaves.
- Continue to water until Thanksgiving.
- Stay off the lawn if it is frozen. Walking on the grass can kill those spots because the crown of the plant is more sensitive to being crushed when frozen.
Lawn dormancy is normal, and we should expect our lawns to be off-color in the winter. By properly preparing our lawns now, we can expect outstanding color and growth in the spring.