Is The Lawn Dormant or Burned?

In case you missed it, I made a video on Sunday (Fertilizing In Hot Weather - Will It BURN The Lawn?) - talking about granular fertilizers and their potential to burn the lawn. I also talked a bit about our new summer, Freedom Fertilizer.

I have decided to talk about this subject a bit more because I’m seeing quite a few questions about it since summer is here now.

Some Lawns Are Dormant

It’s been dry and hot for several weeks if not months in some parts of the country. I remember John Perry talking about how dry the winter was in Utah - very low snow signalled a water deficit even before the spring broke.

I’ve also heard from guys on the other side of the country in Maine talking about them being down on rain and running an extremely dry spring so far. (first day of summer is June 20, FYI)

Here is Brian K from our Facebook group - he is in Michigan - another super dry place this year.

Brian has obviously been keeping up with his irrigation and it shows, but look at that neighboring lawn there. That is probably what 90% of the lawns in his area look like right now. It’s probably this way for many of you in other areas of the country. It could even be your lawn!

And since we are here - look at Brian’s front lawn view:

Brain is a complete savage dominating like that. He has the only green lawn on the street and it’s not just green, it’s double dark green! I’m so proud!

It’s Not Burnt

Here is my blog post from a month ago called "Lawns Need Water - Watering Plans Start Now" - where I warned about the coming water deficit. Now we are here - the days are longer and the temps are higher - no rain help. Lawns are suffering.

If that’s you, and your lawn has gone into dormancy, first off, please know, it isn’t burnt! I was actually talking to some folks at a conference in St Pete Beach earlier today and reminiscing back to my Chicago TruGreen days thinking about the calls we would get from customers during these hot dry spells:

Customer: “TruGreen you burnt my lawn!”

Allyn from Trugreen: “Mr Jones, have you been able to keep up with the watering schedule we talked about?”

Customer: “No, I work.”

Allyn from Trugreen: “I know it’s challenging for sure. I track these things carefully, and it’s been 90 degrees outside for days and we are without rain for over two weeks. Your lawn has just gone dormant which is a normal reaction to this type of stress. It’s not burnt and will start to green back up once mild temps prevail and it also gets adequate moisture from rainfall or irrigation.”

Customer: “I don’t believe you, it’s brown, you burnt it, you owe me a new lawn.”

I am not kidding you folks, these conversations happened multiple times per week with customers in the Chicago suburbs where I worked.

People see a brown lawn and they automatically think it’s burnt.

How To Recover A Dormant Lawn

No matter what your grass type, if you want to bring your lawn out of dormancy in summer, you will want to get prepared with a solid irrigation plan.

You literally have to “water your way out” of dormancy. Learn what it takes to get down ½” of water with your system, either manual hose dragging or in ground irrigation system. Once you have a solid watering plan set up, then you can make your move.

Warm season lawns (St Augustine, bermuda, zoysia, centipede and Bahiiiiiaaa!) your grass will come out of dormancy much quicker and easier because this is it’s primary growth time.

Since this is the time with warm season turf naturally starts to run, it will more readily leap out slumber and start growing and spreading once it gets water.

The best way to bring it out is to give it two waterings on the very first day, one in the morning, and another in the afternoon, ½” each time. This is the lawn’s wakeup call.

“Will watering the lawn in the afternoon sun burn it?”
Find the answer here: (timestamped)

Now, for the 5 days following you want to water every single morning, ½” of water. This 5 days of straight watering is you reassuring the lawn that it’s ok to wake up and that you (or rain) will be providing plenty of water going forward. After 6 straight days of watering (the initial day plus 5) your lawn will believe you and will have begun to green up again.

After this you can go back to normal watering which is going to be ½” of water every 2-3 days plus some intermittent rain help and cloud cover. (watch this video for about 2 minutes to understand what I mean by this)

If you are getting no rain help (which means no cloud cover help either) then you may actually have to water every single day to keep your grass happy and vigorous. If you have water restrictions in your area, you may want to reconsider some of your strategy.

You can also get Hydretain which helps you through some of the times when you are not able to water. You can apply Hydretain during that initial 5 day watering time so it’s there and working for you from the get-go.

Once your turf comes out of dormancy and is growing again (should only take a week or less), then you can also start pushing it with fert to help it to fill in and thicken up which is what it wants to do in summer naturally anyway.

Two great fertilizers for warm season turf in summer are FLAGSHIP Fertilizer, which will deliver a nice ¾ lb/N/1,000 plus 3% iron. Or if you prefer a little slower approach, FREEDOM Fertilizer is a solid alternative bringing ½ lb/N/1,000 with magnesium and chelated iron.
You can apply this within those first 5 wakeup days also so it gets watered in and goes to work. You can also pick up with bio-stimulants again and I’d start with RGS.

Cool Season Lawns (Kentucky bluegrass, turf type tall fescue, ryegrass) you guys will want to employ the very same watering strategy as our warm season friends did above.

Day 1: ½” of water x2. One morning cycle, one afternoon cycle.
Days 2-6: ½” of water every morning.
Days 7+: regular watering every 3rd day, ½”
Keep in mind though, your lawn may be a bit slower to wake up and if temps are over 85 and pushing 90, I recommend you wait until temps become a bit more favorable before executing on your watering plant.
Watch the extended forecast in your area and wait for a period of cool down. Even in July and August most years, we get a time of cool down for a few days. This is when you want to wake the lawn up. It’s just easier on it because as you will remember, summer is the slumber time for cool season lawns anyway. They would rather be chilling asleep and not growing so if you are going to try and wake them up from a full-on summer hibernation, at least wait until temps aren’t so scorching.
You can also benefit from some Hydretain and get that down during the initial 5-day watering so it’s in and working. For fertilizer, you are going to want something higher potassium which helps in times of stress. 7-0-20 Stress Blend is the best choice here because it’s 20% potassium and the 7% nitrogen it does contain is 100% slow release so it’s not going to force surge growth.
You can apply this within those first 5 wakeup days also so it gets watered in and goes to work. You can also pick up with bio-stimulants again and I’d start with [N-Ext] RGS™ - Root Growth Bio-Stimulant with Sea Kelp.

What If I Can’t Water My Yard?

Many of you will not be able to water I understand. If that’s you, then it’s perfectly fine to let your turf sit in dormancy. However, you will get some dead loss if you don’t keep at least some water on it. In summer, warm season turf will need to get at least ½” of water every 5-7 days or so MINIMUM to stay alive and you will have some thinning. I’ve seen this happen at my church project lawn.

Warm season turf is essentially a long network of stolons and rhizomes that are attached way back at a mother plant. If there is a lack of water, the mother plant is protected but the long reaching stolons and rhizomes will suffer. Good news here is that once you do pick up the irrigation, the opposite will happen and they will start spreading again.

For cool season turf, if you can’t water and want your lawn to it in summer dormancy, you will probably see no long term damage at all as long as you give it ½” of water every 10 days or so. That’s the minimum to keep the crowns alive. It’s also a good idea to NOT walk on the lawn when it is dormant in summer.

If you can keep up with just that minimal watering of your KBG, Fescue or rye, then your lawn will sleep until fall time when things cool off and you get a bit more rain help again.

Hope these tips have helped you and I’ll see you in the lawn!


←  Back to News