It’s easy (and convenient) to forget about your lawn during the brief winter here in Pensacola and the surrounding area. After all, if your lawn is healthy and strong, it’s in the midst of its annual dormancy and - for all intents and purposes - isn’t very active right now.
But that doesn’t mean lawn care should come to a halt for three months every year. In fact, there are some really important tasks you should be handling right now to both take advantage of and counteract four common ways this cold weather affects your lawn.
First, let’s look at what the Northwest Florida winter does to your lawn, then let’s figure out what you should be doing about it:
Your lawn is like a hibernating bear
To understand what “going dormant” means for your lawn, just think about it like a bear hibernating for the winter.
Bears prepare ahead of time to hibernate by eating a lot more than usual and storing calories in the form of fat. Then, they bed down in their dens, and experience the deepest possible sleep. Their body temperature drops, their heart rate and brain activity slows dramatically, and their metabolism stays just active enough to keep them alive, but no more.
And that’s how they sleep through the entire winter. When they wake up in the spring, understandably, they’re pretty hungry. But they’re rested, healthy, and just a meal or two away from full strength for the new season.
Your lawn acts much the same way over the short winter season.
The 4 common effects of winter dormancy
When your lawn goes dormant for the winter, you’ll notice these obvious signs:
- It turns brown
- It dries (or shrivels) up
- It completely stops growing
Because water naturally declines in the winter, your turf grass - which normally needs consistent and thorough watering to survive and thrive during the growing season - has a built-in mechanism to help it deal with this lack of moisture.
At first glance, it may look like it’s dead. Don’t worry, though. It’s no more dead than that hibernating bear. It’s just doing everything in its power to conserve energy and wait out the cold weather. As long as it’s allowed to do that, it should perk right back up in the spring and be ready to thrive for another year.
The grass also ceases growing during the cold months. So you should get a break from the mowing aspect of your normal duties. In fact, mowing dormant grass can be dangerous because the turf is in a weakened state already and will likely be unable to withstand the shock of being mowed.
You’ll be able to tell your grass is dormant and not dead because any time it rains - or, if we’re having a really dry winter and you water it once in two weeks - you’ll see the lawn starting to recover. It may go through this waking/sleeping cycle several times throughout the winter, and that’s ok. Once the soil is warm enough, it will grow consistently.
Do's and Dont's for handling dormant grass
It’s important to keep up with an adequate mowing schedule through the autumn if you want your winter dormant lawn to look well-manicured.
As noted above, watering will temporarily revive a dormant lawn. While this is natural and healthy when it happens every few weeks or so, if you insist on watering your Northwest Florida grass more often than that, it can force your grass to come out of dormancy too soon, which leaves it vulnerable to all the cold weather damage it’s avoiding by staying dormant. Excessive fertilizing - and even applications of fertilizer too late in the fall - can have the same effect.
While your lawn is in this intentionally weakened state, you can help by reducing foot and pet traffic to the extent possible. This isn’t an absolute requirement as most healthy turf grass will be able to withstand normal traffic even during the winter, but if we happen to have a particularly cold, dry, or otherwise difficult winter, that added traffic could have a greater impact.
Remember: no one wants to wake up a hibernating bear too early, just like no one wants to get in the way of a bear who’s ready to bed down for the winter. Don't let your lawn maintenance fall behind just because your lawn’s resting, but don’t over do it either. Keep your eyes open for the common effects of dormancy, and take care of your lawn accordingly.
And, as always, contact our Pensacola lawn care company if we can help!