Is the brown lawn color making you worried that you may have killed the grass? The good news is, it's likely just dormant in the wintertime (that is if you've done everything you need to do).
Bermuda grass (scientific name: Cynodon dactylon) is a common warm-season grass in the country. It is usually found in the transitional and southern zones, with notable features such as a dense, medium-fine texture, a rapid growth rate, and high heat/drought resilience.
Given the correct grass care, you may have Bermuda grass that is highly resilient to frequent foot traffic and may even lend a hand in controlling unwanted weeds. This is why you’ll often find this grass on golf courses. However, Bermudagrass is noted to have a low tolerance for cold temperatures and shade. It is known to become dormant during the winter, which may result in an unsightly brown lawn.
How to Take Care of Bermuda Grass in the Winter
For starters, local lawn care professionals may recommend applying potassium and insecticide and raising the lawnmower to prepare your Bermuda grass for the winter months.
Bermuda Grass in the Winter
Given that Bermuda grass is a warm-season species, they usually stay green for the entire year if your property is located in climates with hot summers and mild winters.
Bermuda grass will start dormancy for colder climate regions once the temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In their dormant stage, Bermuda grass commonly turns into a shade of yellow or brown, which closely resembles the appearance of snow.
Important Note: Temperatures below 10 degrees may kill your Bermuda grass.
The winter hardiness will depend on the specific Bermudagrass cultivar. For instance, the Cynodon dactylon (Yukon) variety was developed to have Bermuda grass that’s more winter-hardy. This is a dark green grass that’s known to stay green longer during the fall and winter, especially if you compare it with other varieties. In comparison, Cynodon dactylon (Sundevil) isn’t as hardy as the other species.
How to Winterize Your Bermuda Grass the Right Way
Compared to the spring and summer months, you’ll discover that the winter lawn care for the Bermudagrass can be less demanding. If anything, it will only need a few steps on your end.
How to Prepare your Bermuda Grass for the Winter
Amid its growing season, mow your Bermuda grass between ¾ and 1 ½ inches tall. After the first expected frost, you’ll want to increase the mowing height to ½ inch more after a few weeks. Providing more leaf surfaces helps protect the Bermuda grass from completely dying once the temperatures drop.
In the spring, mow the grass (1 inch tall) just before it is expected to come out of dormancy.
Expert Tip: In some cases, you may also want to apply an insecticide right before the first frost. Doing so will prevent insects from thriving on the lawn, such as the white grubs.
If the soil test suggests low potassium levels, you may want to mix in potassium or potash during the late fall/ This will improve the hardiness of your Bermuda grass.
Routine Winter Maintenance for Bermuda Grass
Once the Bermuda grass enters winter dormancy, you will need to water it frequently, especially during drought. Doing so helps prevent it from being too dehydrated. Ideally, water the Bermuda grass during warm days before dropping below 20 degrees. This prevents the soil from drying too much to powder-like levels.
Homeowners do not need to worry about mowing their lawn in the winter. But, it would be best to keep the Bermuda grass free of any debris (rocks and sticks), which may deter its healthy growth in the spring.
Bermudagrass Fertilization in the Winter
Remember that winter is not the ideal time to apply fertilizer to your Bermuda grass. However, many homeowners can add lime or sulfur if they need to adjust the soil’s pH level. You may want to schedule the lawn fertilization during the early fall before the Bermuda grass goes dormant. Beyond that time frame, you will only need to re-apply the fertilizer in the late spring.
Bermudagrass Mowing in the Winter
You won't need to mow through the winter months if you're dealing with dormant Bermudagrass. However, you may want to trim the edges of the visible uneven spots. Rake up any grass clippings and fallen leaves, as they may only decompose on the grass. As a result, it may rot some patches of the lawn during winter.
Expert Tip: Laws that were overseeded with ryegrass must be mowed at 1 inch, just before the grass reaches 1 ½ inch. After trimming, it would be best to leave the clippings on the lawn surface to recycle the essential nutrients.
Consider Overseeding Your Bermudagrass in the Winter
To overcome the most infamous winter dormancy issues with your Bermudagrass, consider the widespread practice of overseeding. This refers to sowing grass over an already-growing lawn, which is somehow a tip many homeowners overlook.
Other reasons for overseeding include: repairing the bare or thin spots or bringing back an older lawn to its former glory. You may want to overseed the bermudagrass with a cool-season grass species to enjoy an all-year-round greenness.
Overseeding the Bermudagrass with a Cool-Season Grass
Usually, a bermudagrass lawn is overseeded with your cool-season grass of choice around September or October. In the autumn, the turf starts to grow dormant– which gives time for the newly sown cool-season grass to germinate.
The cool-season grass will typically have grown to conceal the dormant bermudagrass in the winter. This provides you with a rich, lush green lawn appearance. Once spring comes, the cool-season grass will die off after serving its purpose. Your bermudagrass will wake up from its dormancy with the temperature heating up.
You can expect your bermudagrass lawn to reclaim total growth and control in the summer, allowing you to enjoy a picturesque green lawn all year round.
Ultimately, a Bermuda grass lawn is one popular warm-season grass that enters dormancy during the winter. It may appear brown or yellow during this time, which can be an eyesore if you don't have cool-season cover grass.
If you follow the correct maintenance tips (and Bermudagrass care) for the entire year, you can make the winter dormancy transition a breeze. It will grow again into its lush green shades sometime in the spring, even without much-required responsibility on your end.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I overseed bermudagrass in the winter?
There are advantages and disadvantages to overseeding your Bermudagrass lawn vs. allowing it to become dormant. Letting your turf lay dormant requires less water and maintenance, whereas overseeding needs ongoing maintenance throughout the season. Expect your Bermudagrass to be brown from November to February if you opt to allow the dormant period. However, these dates might vary depending on the weather, area, and overall health of the grass.
Should you water bermudagrass in the winter?
Start cutting back once fall gives way to winter. Regular irrigation will not be required because Bermudagrass does not grow when dormant.
What type of cool-season grass works best to overseed with bermudagrass?
There are a handful of options for cool-season grass to overseed your bermudagrass lawn with. To prevent competing with your bermudagrass, consider one that won't persist too long into the summer. Ryegrass, either annual or perennial, is the most preferred option.
Because annual ryegrass is heat resistant, it ensures that the bermudagrass does not waste energy or resources competing with the annual ryegrass in the spring. Annual ryegrass is affordable and quickly germinates, although it is moist (leading to more grass stains on clothing) and difficult to mow. On the other hand, professional groundskeepers favor perennial ryegrass because of its superior dark green color, slower growth, and more delicate leaf texture. Creeping bentgrass is another alternative.
However, it's rarely used because of its expensive cost and unavailability. Bermudagrass should not be overseeded with tall fescue or Kentucky bluegrass since these grasses will survive well into the summer and compete with your bermudagrass too much.