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The Vandenberg Blog

Is Your Grass Dead… or Dormant?

Tips to keep your grass strong and healthy

In November of 2021, entire regions of the Fraser Valley were swamped by floodwater, with Abbotsford being particularly hard hit. This past year the summer drought continued into the fall, depriving our crops — and our lawns – of the rainfall needed to recover. 

Cool-season grasses, like the type we grow in the lower mainland, typically go dormant during the heat of the summer and recover when it gets cooler and rainier in the fall.  But not this fall.

Let’s take a look at what dormancy actually is and how to tell if your brown grass is dead or dormant.

green grass

What is dormancy?

Dormancy is part of a plant’s normal life cycle. Going dormant helps the grass conserve moisture, protecting it from seasonal damage and stress caused by extreme temperatures. 

The type of grass you have and the climate you live in affects when — and if — your grass goes dormant. Most of the turf growing in the lower mainland is a mixture of three types of cool-season grasses — rye grass, blue grass and fescue. 

These grasses prefer moderate temperatures and tend to go dormant when temperatures dip below 12° C or during hot, dry summers — which is why your grass tends to turn brown in August.

This is not normally an issue because the dormancy phase is typically followed by more favourable conditions — cooler temperatures and more rain. As stated in the intro, this didn’t happen for us this year, and the dormant grass became frozen… and it’s difficult to say how it will affect your lawn.

green and brown grass

How to tell if grass is dead or dormant

You may not be able to tell if your grass is dead or merely dormant just by looking at it, although dormant grass will start to green up in the spring when conditions improve while dead grass will stay brown.

The best thing to do is go outside, grab a handful of grass and pull on it lightly. Dead grass will pull out easily, while dormant grass will offer some resistance. While you’re there, look at your grass closely. The crown (which is just above the roots) should be pale with tinges of green indicating that there is still life in your grass. If it’s all brown, you’ll need to reseed the area or lay down sod — or you might even want to consider synthetic grass! 

grass being watered

The best way to protect your grass

Grass is incredibly resilient and will withstand a lot of environmental stresses, including drought. But there are a few “best practices” to follow that will help keep it healthy and strong.

  • Choose the right type of grass for the climate — The grass seed we typically use to seed a new lawn is a mixture of  rye grass, blue grass and fescue. We get most of our sod from Western Turf farms, who use a similar blend. 
  • Prepare your lawn for the growing season — Each spring we recommend aerating and dethatching your lawn. This helps rain and nutrients reach the plant’s roots.
  • Overseed your lawn — Adding new seed to an established lawn helps refresh it and fill in any bare spots, creating a thick, lush turf that deters weed growth.
  • Fertilize regularly — Fertilizer supplies your lawn with the nutrients it needs for health and growth, namely nitrogen, phosphate and potash. The amount you need of each varies, so it’s best to conduct a soil test so you get the right combination for your lawn.
  • Follow a regular watering schedule — your lawn should be watered deeply once a week, making sure it gets at least 2.5cm. The best time to water is early morning (before 10 am) or late afternoon (between 4 and 6 pm). Make sure not to over water your lawn though. Over-watering encourages shallow root growth and leaves your lawn susceptible to pests and disease. It may be best to install an irrigation system to take the guesswork out of it. 
  • Mow your lawn correctly — Set your mower’s blade to the right height and make sure it’s sharp! Dull blades damage grass. Remember to vary your mowing pattern so your grass grows nice and straight.

So, check your grass this spring. If you find it starting to green up you can breathe a sigh of relief and carry on with your regular maintenance schedule.

But if your worst fears have come true and your grass is dead, don’t despair. Although removing the dead turf and replacing it is labourious, time consuming work it can be done and you’ll still be able to enjoy your lawn this summer. Just give us a call and we’ll help you decide how you’d like to proceed — seed, sod or synthetic. 

Written by  Matt Vandenberg