Question: How do I know if my lawn is going dormant or dying? I don't mind it going into dormancy if it's going to bounce back, but I don't want to let it completely die. Any advice?
Answer: This summer has not only been a dry one but it has also been extremely hot. Most of the lawns in our area are combinations of cool-season grasses. Unless watered regularly their natural course is to go dormant when hot weather begins. However, even with adequate watering the unusually hot weather has been so extreme that lawns are going dormant. But to be 100 percent sure it is entering dormancy and not dying a few clues can prove helpful.
According to Dr. James Murphy, from the Depart-ment of Plant Biology and Pathology, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, you should first assess the uniformity of the grass. Is all the grass turning brown or is it only occurring in spots or small patches. Browning of your lawn in small areas is more indicative of a problem rather than just dormancy. Brown spots could be due to insects or diseases or localized drying areas. Bringing in a sample of a localized brown area to the master garden helpline will help identify the exact cause.
Dormancy of a lawn occurs gradually over a few days. If conditions continue to favor dormancy there will be an overall browning of the entire lawn. The grass leaves are drying up and losing their chlorophyll. A younger lawn may experience more damage than a mature lawn that has numerous growing buds in the crown. Dormant buds will resume growth once the drought has passed.
If your lawn is strong and healthy when it goes dormant you can stop watering. But if your lawn was watered incorrectly during the spring, a complete cessation of irrigation can cause damage or death of your lawn. Lawns should be watered infrequently and deeply. Frequent, shallow waterings cause your lawn to have short roots that are close to the soil surface. When the weather heats up and waterings are decreased the root systems can not provide enough water for plant growth.
If your lawn still has some green you should continue to water but you should extend the intervals in between waterings for several days until you are on a two-week schedule. This will help ease your lawn into dormancy. Hesitate on the urge to mow as mowing during hot weather stresses the lawn even further.
Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org