At the end of a long, hot summer, and especially during drought, many lawns will go into a state of dormancy, which means that the leaves of the grass go brown, but the roots of the plant are still alive. This is a natural, built-in protection mechanism that allows the grass to conserve water and preserve the root system.
Here’s what some of the “lawn experts” have to say about lawn dormancy:
According to the Lawn Institute, “Dormancy is simply a state of reduced water usage where the grass plant focuses its resources on the roots.
Summer dormancy is a normal response to the stress of heat and drought. Dormant grass will turn brown and is often considered unsightly, but it will recover when conditions improve. Most grass plants can stay in a dormant state for at least 3 to 4 weeks without the grass dying. The length of dormancy depends on the genetics of the species and the overall health of the plant.”
Gardening Know-how says, “Grass naturally goes dormant after two to three weeks without water, and most lawns can tolerate drought for four to six weeks, although it will turn brown.”
According to the UMass/Amherst Extension Program, turf lawns that have gone dormant will have brown leaves, but the perennial parts of the plant, including crown tissues (located near or at the soil surface) and nodes located on lateral stems (rhizomes and stolons) are still active and capable of regenerating new shoots and roots at the first significant rainfall.
During this stage of dormancy, it’s important to stay off the grass and avoid mowing or using other heavy equipment, as it can cause serious damage to the already stressed lawn. Once the weather gets cooler and the rainy weather returns, the grass should begin to recover and grow new leaves within a few weeks.
Extended periods of hot, dry weather may kill the lawn. If a lawn is completely dead, the entire plant—leaves, crowns, and roots—will be brown and brittle. You will not see any real recovery in the fall, and you’ll need to consider your options for the spring.
Whether your lawn is dormant or dead, be sure to follow your local outdoor water restrictions. During times of drought, water needs to be conserved for fire fighting and public health.
Hot, dry summers may become the norm in these parts, so you may want to start planning for a drought tolerant landscape.
If your lawn didn’t survive the drought of 2016, then you’ll have even more of an opportunity to reconsider options for your property.
Rather than replacing/reseeding an entirely new area, consider replacing parts of your lawn with drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, native plants, shrubs and trees. Areas of lawn can also be broken up with pervious hardscapes, such as brick or stone patios, walls, and walkways.
While designing your landscape, be sure to pick the right plants for the zones in your yard (hot/sunny, cool/shady, moist, dry, etc.) and group plants together by water requirements.
It may also help to invest in a few rain barrels, which will capture and hold rainwater for future use. Multiple rain barrels can be linked together and hoses can be used to direct water to plants. Installing drip lines along plant beds is also an efficient ways to direct water to the base of plants, where they need it most.
With a little bit of research and planning, you can have a beautiful and healthy water smart landscape – even in a drought.