Why Does Grass Turn Brown During Winter?

Dec 05, 2022
Why Does Grass Turn Brown During Winter?

It’s one of the most winteresque, depressing signs of winter: brown, seemingly lifeless lawns. It’s the antithesis of a Norman Rockwell painting. In a word, it’s dull.

Just like white snow is the trademark color of winter, brown is the signature color of grass in hibernation until warmer, friendlier weather arrives in spring.

But exactly why does grass turn brown during its winter dormant state?

It’s due to the cold, hard, unnegotiable rules of Midwest winters. When Iowa temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, grass becomes dormant and doesn’t grow much, if at all.

The good news: you don’t have to mow until spring. The bad news: You’ve got to stare at boring brown grass for months on end as another tough statement that you’re still stuck in an Iowa winter.

But the most important fact for worried homeowners (especially first-time homeowners) to remember is your grass is not dead, just hibernating. And with spring, it will grow green again.

A Winter Tan

Winter’s shorter days and colder temperatures slow down grass growth. Older grass will die during the continuous cold, giving your lawn a blah brown look. Winter’s rules affect all grass types including tall fescue and bluegrass.

Grass blades also suffer from dormancy due to a process called desiccation, which occurs in cold windy areas like Iowa. Cold winds lead grass blades to lose their moisture. Their roots become frozen so now water can be taken up to replace the lost moisture. As a result, the grass turns brown. Desiccation is especially common for grass facing areas that have no wind protection.

Winter Lawncare Survival Tips

While literally no lawn looks postcard ready during winter, there are some easy winter lawncare measures every homeowner can take to prevent winter weeds, a winter sight not even Jack Frost can stand:

  • Avoid putting snow melting and rock salt products on your lawn. Instead, go with plant-friendly de-icing products
  • Avoid walking on your lawn too much during the winter. The extra weight can damage frozen, brittle grass and leave an unsightly look.
  • Late Fall Fertilizer acts as a natural anti-freeze for better cold tolerance, ensures lawn density, and cultivates spring color and growth.
  • Remove leaves as often as possible, never less than once per week. Leaves suffocate grass by eliminating light and oxygen. Go with a blower instead of a rake.

It’s no fun to look at, but winter lawn dormancy is normal. It’s part of grass’ natural circle of life.

Sure, your lawn may be brown now, but it’s preparing itself for a green, lush comeback come spring.