Warm Season Grass Goes Dormant in Cold Weather

This is written especially for my friends who have moved from northern states and Canada, and are not accustomed to grass that goes dormant in winter. The type of Zoysia in the lawns in newer sections of this town was developed by horticulturalists at the University of Florida to have deep roots in order to survive the hot, often dry summers. Still, it is a warm season turf-grass that will go dormant in very cold weather. This is my neighbor’s grass after only 2 or 3 cold nights. I chose the greenest section for the photo, but the very beginnings of a move toward the dormancy can be seen in the brown tips on some of the blades.

Green Grass - mlm c@

Do not fertilize this grass in the winter months. It needs a period of rest in order to perform at its best during warm weather.

Until the last couple of weeks, it has been so very unseasonably warm around here, we may have forgotten about the changes really cold weather can bring to our lawns and plants. The local meteorologists say we will be seeing some drastic changes very soon, so I thought I would take time to share a little tidbit about warm-season turf grass:  it goes dormant in cold weather. That is, it turns brown. Not to worry. It’s normal.

Grass in Seasonal Transition - mlm c@

This is Zoysia turf grass is going dormant. Here, the grass rarely goes past this partial-dormant state, because our cold-spells don’t last long enough.

The photo above (taken in my yard during February of 2015)  is the closest to dormancy your grass is likely to get here in central Florida. Rest assured, in 12-16 weeks, we will probably begin complaining about the heat again.

Last year when we had some extremely cold weather for a few days, the zoysia and bermuda lawns began going into the dormancy typical in cold weather. Probably because of the mottled appearance normally seen when dormancy has begun, but is not complete, a few of my neighbors who hail from the northern tier of states thought a fungus had invaded their lawns. They are accustomed to grass that stays green all year.

If  you see turf  with the mottled green/brown appearance as shown in the photo above, don’t be concerned, it’s not dying. As soon as warm weather returns, it will green-up again. Do not fertilize this grass in the winter months. It needs a period of rest in order to perform at its best during warm weather.

Cool-season grasses look great in the fall, winter, and spring, but suffer during the heat of summer. In the South, the reverse is true. Warm-season grass looks great in spring, summer, and fall, but in cold weather, it turns a beige color.

If that dormant grass is weed-free, it can appear to be a beautiful beige carpet, but most lawns have some weeds which ruins the appearance. You are highly unlikely to see a beige lawn around here, as it doesn’t stay cold enough long enough for our grasses to go completely dormant.



2 responses to “Warm Season Grass Goes Dormant in Cold Weather

  1. I’m afraid my lawn is mostly weeds and dormant now. Still trying to decided whether to keep it.


    • Decisions, decisions. You would have less grass to mow, right? Vinegar or boiling water will kill those weeds. Unfortunately, they will also kill your grass. Lately, I have been removing sod, and planting more flowers. The lawn is getting smaller and smaller. The downside is I have to buy more pine needles to mulch those areas. I’ve planted some pine trees, but it will be a few years before they provide enough needles to mulch all my planting beds. Good luck with your lawn.


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