Winter can be hard on a lawn, even in the Raleigh, NC area where the cool season is relatively mild overall with typically short periods of freezing temperatures. Along with sometimes frigid temperatures will come browning of your turf. Is brown grass during wintertime healthy grass, or is it a sign of a problem or deficiency?
Most plants experience color changes during Raleigh winters, and all of the turfgrasses that are common in our area experience some degree of browning.
Bermudagrass and Zoysiagrass during Winter
Bermudagrass and Zoysiagrass are warm-season turfgrasses that turn sandy tan in color during dormancy from late fall through early spring. This is normal. There is nothing that can be done to keep warm season grasses from turning brown in winter, although some people who do not like the dormant color of their lawn choose to "paint" their brown grass green or overseed with a winter ryegrass, which is green. Bermudagrass is usually totally dormant during the winter and it is hard to damage. Extremely cold temperatures or heavy use of a dormant lawn could potentially cause some winterkill (loss of turf) of Bermudagrass, but this is unlikely, and Bermudagrass will typically rebound well from winterkill. Zoysiagrass, while appearing to be dormant like Bermudagrass during the winter may not be fully dormant. It may still be vulnerable to winterkill from frigid temperatures, fungal disease, and heavy traffic during moist conditions. Zoysiagrass also rebounds reasonably well from winterkill, but maybe not as robustly as Bermudagrass. Large areas of damage to Bermudagrass or Zoysiagrass due to winterkill may require re-sodding or seeding.
Fescue Grasses during Winter
Fescues, both Tall and Fine Fescues, are cool-season turfgrasses that are semi-dormant during Raleigh, NC winters. They are more tolerant of frigid temperatures and do not usually experience winterkill in our area. During winter, Fescue grass blades do not grow much, but the root system may continue to grow except during the few coldest weeks of the winter. Fescues tend to retain some green color during the winter, but browning is normal. Some homeowners may notice variations in the amount of green from one Fescue lawn to the next within the same neighborhood.
Lawns that are greener than others during winter may be the result of high levels of fast-release nitrogen fertilizers being applied to those lawns in late fall. At Crownover Green, we will not heavily fertilize a lawn in late fall. Some lawn care companies apply a high nitrogen fertilizer (also often including phosphorus) just before a Fescue lawn enters dormancy in an attempt to keep it greener during winter. A problem with this strategy is that the grass probably will not use all of the nitrogen and phosphorus that are applied and the excess nutrients are released into our groundwater. This potential for over-fertilization of lawns contributes to dead zones in our waterways and waterbodies. At Crownover Green, we feel it is a solemn responsibility of turf managers to protect our community's ecosystems.
Will My Brown Lawn Turn Green Again?
Browning of turf during winter in Raleigh, NC is normal, and every type of turf generally returns to its beautiful green color in its proper time. Because we cannot control nature, we cannot guarantee that your lawn will totally escape winterkill. However, widespread winterkill is rare in our area, and we do guarantee that we will work with you to get your lawn looking beautiful again as quickly as possible if it sustains any damage whatsoever during the winter.
Click here to read a previous article about when you can expect your grass to green up this spring.
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