How Does my Cation Exchange Capacity Impact my Lawn?

What do chemistry and lawn care have in common? A lot actually. If you recall the term cation from any previous chemistry class then you may already be familiar with cation exchange capacity (CEC for short). In case you need a refresh, a cation is an element that has a positive charge. In terms of lawn care, you want to make sure your lawn has enough elements like calcium, magnesium, and potassium; and a lower percentage of things like sodium and aluminum. This is why it is important to understand cation exchange capacity and how exactly it affects your lawn.

What is cation exchange capacity? Well, according to Mr. Buck Farrior, agronomist at Agritech, CEC is defined as “the measurement of positive charge per kilogram of soil.” Mr. Farrior continued, “clay particles and organic matter are negatively charged. The cations are positively charged. This holds the cations in place and makes it possible for the plant roots to take a solution of water and cations into the plant.” This is why soils with large amounts of organic matter tend to have a higher CEC.

How to Test

How exactly is it measured? Before deciding whether or not to get a lab test involved, it is relatively easy to pinpoint less favorable CEC. Texture is a huge factor. It is important to understand the amount of sand, silt, and clay present in your soil to determine its CEC. Mr. Farrior suggests, “you can often tell by the texture. If you roll [the soil] in your fingers and it crumbles down or falls away, that indicates a gritty sandy soil.” These sandy soils tend to have a lower CEC of around 3-5. Mr. Farrior explains that this is not necessarily harmful, per se, it just requires more maintenance. If your soil is gritty like this, it will just require you to mediate your fertilizer, meaning, don’t fertilize all at once.

Mr. Farrior offers a solution, “You can manage low CEC sand soils with the addition of water and nutrients.” Doing things like adding organic matter will improve a low CEC. If you send your sample to a lab, they will check for conductivity and for indicators of the amount of cations present, but generally they will suggest similar solutions making it fairly easy to tackle the problem yourself.

Testing Soil Composition by Hand
CEC Scale

The cation exchange capacity scale runs anywhere from 3 to 50 centimoles positive charge per kilogram of soil. As Mr. Farrior explains, “If you are in the midwest or northwest with glacier soils the CEC is 20-25.”  Usually the lower the CEC the harder your lawn is to manage. Sandier and highly weathered soils tend to be the lower 3-5. According to Mr. Farrior some of the desirable percentages of these cations are about 60-80% calcium and 10-15% magnesium. Soils that are heavy in organic matter typically tend to be in the higher ranges. Maintaining an optimal soil pH (usually around a 6) and adding organic matter would help to raise a low CEC. Also, Mr. Farrior explains, “if you reduce the amount of tillers that you do that would help. They are useful to manage weeds but are destructive to soil structure and quality.”

To conclude, cation exchange capacity is an important aspect of any soil, and relatively easy to fix. As it turns out, chemistry and lawn care have a lot more in common than you would think!

New Homes and the Effects of Clay on Your Soil

Picture this: renovations on your brand new home have been completed! Sounds great, right? Well, your soil may not agree. After construction, your soil may need some reevaluation. Start with a soil test! Sites of construction damage often have deficiencies in organic matter content, aeration, fertility, and drainage. A soil test can help determine your next step in fixing these deficiencies. Often, what causes the majority of the problem is clay on your growing site, and secondly, any wear and tear done by the equipment. According to Mr. Chad S. Blake, operations manager at Ponder landscaping, the major problem with your soil after construction impact is compaction. The weakened soil will not withstand wear and tear as efficiently as a healthy soil would.

Clay at New Homes
How to Fix

A universal solution is adding high-quality compost. Neutral, high-organic matter compost will solve a variety of problems including poor infiltration, water holding capacity, and nutrient deficiency. Avoid merely placing the compost; Instead, try mixing it with the soil that is already present. Simply placing the new soil will make layers of soil with different characteristics, rather than being uniform throughout. Mr. Blake offers some alternative solutions: “You can fix your soil by aerating, tilling, and cultivating it. You can also add Jepsen, a natural way to aerate compacted soils.” It is certainly possible to reverse any damage.

As explained by Mr. Blake, trace amounts of clay in your soil is actually good for your lawn; It’s when it gets to be heaps of clay that it becomes a problem. “If it’s in the right amount, [clay] helps provide good water retention so water doesn’t go straight through [the soil]. Clay helps soil retain the moisture. However, it can have the reverse effect. If there is too much clay, water doesn’t flow through it.” All soil has clay in it, it’s the amount of clay that matters.

Waiting to lay down sod

Mr. Blake gave a walk through in the process of installing a new lawn following construction damage. “We start by taking a soil sample, which will tell us any deficiencies. Next, we apply the necessary organic fertilizer and use a product, like limestone, to get the pH right if it wasn’t right. We always cultivate it and bring in a certain amount of topsoil. We also install any drainage necessary.”

Don’t be alarmed by a clay ridden lawn following property renovations. Maintain your excitement for a new property and relax, because clay damage is reversible!

New Sod: What is the Return on Your Investment?

If you were wondering what long term benefits a new sod installation might reap, you have come to the right place. The return on your investment in new sod comes in the form of enjoyment and the resale value of your home. George Woerner, CEO of Woerner Farms, said “The sod is what beautifies your house. It compliments it. A healthy lawn is pretty resilient and should be able to give you decades of enjoyment. [Additionally,] a beautiful lawn will increase the realty value. It tells your buyers that the house is well taken care of and follows the 80% rule of marketing (that 80% of the sale is the appearance).”

First Step

In order to maintain a beautiful lawn, you must first ensure that you are using the correct amount of nutrients for your soil. In fact, Mr. Woerner said that this is actually one of the first steps in installing new sod, as well as a key step in preserving it. Typically, the best way to measure what nutrients is by testing your soil. Mr. Woerner explained, “It all starts with a soil test. The soil test actually tells you what you need- it’s like going to the doctor and getting a blood test. What a soil sample does is it tells you what exactly you need for your lawn.” Mr. Woerner said that he recommends you invest in a soil test yearly, especially for sandier soils.

Blood Test

So, when should I invest in new sod and why should I do so rather than solving my lawn’s problems one by one? Well, Mr. Woerner said, “I wouldn’t tell someone to take out a healthy lawn, there needs to be a reason.” Over [or under] watering your lawn, over/under fertilizing your lawn, or mowing incorrectly are a few ways people may inadvertently harm their sod. Again, by investing in a soil test, you can rule out the fertilizing issue. As for watering your lawn efficiently, Mr. Woerner said to be sure that upon installing new sod, you water your lawn consistently for the first two weeks to ensure its overall health. When it comes to incorrect mowing, there are a few ways you can mess this up. Mr. Woerner explained, “When you mow, there are some things to keep in kind. One, Never mow it wet. Two, always have a sharp blade. And three, never mow over ⅓ of the leaf; If you let it get too tall the leaf gets woody and does not decompose. This creates a “thatch’ layer which water cannot penetrate.”

Watering Lawns
New Home

There are other, less controllable, reasons to invest in new sod, too. For example, if you have just bought a new home but there was a gap in time between owners, the lawn may not look in the best shape. In this case, the new owners will have to decide to invest in new sod. Another problem many face when their sod has been the same for a while is that trees might have grown large enough to cast shade over your grass. Mr. Woerner said, “Once you do have a [healthy] lawn I think it would be 10-20 years before you need to get new sod. What might happen in some places is trees will shade certain portions. That’s the reason so many people are having to rethink their lawn. If the trees get too big sometimes you might want to thin them. If your lawn went bad as a result, the best thing to do is replace it.”

New Sod Installation

It may seem easier to continue buying treatments for pesky weeds, or changing up your fertilizer, but it is often more efficient and cheaper to invest in a new sod installation altogether. Mr. Woerner explained, “[A new sod installation] gives you a chance to start over. A lot of times weeds and things get in the way, and many times it’s very difficult to fix them all. A start over is often cheaper.” Usually, new sod costs around 3 dollars per square yard, which is much less costly than some weed killers. Additionally, by pressing restart on your lawn, you are able to work towards maintaining its health so you won’t experience similar problems in the future. A healthy lawn doesn’t cost as much to maintain, so you save money by not having to constantly buy new treatments.

Types of Grass

The type of grass you have may also play a role in your return on investment. For example, St. Augustine is more beautiful than Centipede grasses making these lawns more gratifying and valuable. Another factor that plays into the benefits you can receive from new sod is the season of the year you are in, and the region of the country. This is known as cool and warm season grasses. On the gulf coast, we have warm season grass, meaning that grasses in that region tend to be green in the summer and brown in the winter. In Colorado and Kentucky, they have cool season grasses, meaning the opposite. According to Mr. Woerner, warm and cool season grasses are treated differently. “Even when you take a soil test, you will use a different blend of fertilizer. The reason is that in the south [there is] a lot of rain which leeches the nutrients out, but if you put the right nutrients down it will have more roots and hold nutrients longer. Some Northern grasses, like bluegrass will remain green year round.”

Ultimately, your sod is what makes your property more attractive, and can be uplifting for your soul. Mr. Woerner concluded, “If it’s properly cared for, [new sod] should be a long term investment.” By properly taking care of your soil, you are able to get the most benefits out of your lawn.

How Can We Protect “Mother” Earth?

As I reflect on my mom and my grandmothers, I am thankful for their role in my life and the high expectations they had for me. Those women were tough and still are. However, I now have a sign in my room that states, “I have officially become my mother.” I hear my mother and grandmothers in my communications more everyday. As I walk in the shoes of a mother, I just want to say, “motherhood is tough.” Just as it was their job to protect me, it’s now my job to protect my babies.

Growing up, I also learned another valuable motherhood lesson from our farm animals. We had cows. It was my job to help raise baby calves when their mothers passed away during delivery. While we always did our best to save the cow, we favored the calf, and sad outcomes for mom meant early mornings and late nights of a bellowing calf (Oreo or Butterscotch) outside my bedroom window. In those situations it was my job to be the mother and protect the baby calf.

Mother Earth

There is also one other mother I think about this time of year who can be overlooked sometimes – Mother Earth. Earth is a beautiful place and provides a balance of oxygen, rain, natural resources, crops, and so much more. But the role of motherhood is tough. As humans, we live on Mother Earth and have a history of polluting waterways, leaving trash behind on beaches, stripping natural resources, and more. The consequences of these cumulative actions are becoming permanent, irreversible, and will lead to regrets and pain. Despite this, Mother Earth relentlessly tries to maintain the ecosystem to protect us.

I challenge everyone to be a better Earth steward. When you go to the beach, follow Orange Beach, Alabama’s lead and “Leave Only Footprints” behind, respect the sea turtle nesting areas, and when dining try not to begrudge the paper straw. Grow a garden, plant a tree, or chose more regenerative actions to capture more carbon. Don’t collect your grass clippings or leaves on your lawn; instead let them naturally decompose to increase organic matter levels and provide a home to beneficial insects and microbes. Just remember, Mother Earth is doing all she can to protect us but ultimately this role needs to be reversed – it truly is our job to be a Mother to Earth and protect her.

Dying Grass and How to Save it

Is your grass slowly dying? If so, it might be a good time to invest in a soil test before it’s too late. Dead grass is not only visually unpleasant, but it will also lead to soil erosion. Grass serves to hold your soil in place, and without it, your soil will erode over time, especially in the presence of rain. How can I rehabilitate my dying grass? Well, in order to solve this problem, you must know what is causing it. The best way to identify the culprit is by purchasing a soil test. According to Dr. Han, associate professor and extension specialist (turf) Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences faculty at Auburn University, “If you haven’t had a soil test in about a year it is time to invest in [one]. If your grass starts to look a bit off, I would say invest in a soil test, because the problem often goes back to the soil.” 

There are many things that can cause your grass to die, such as diseases or insect infestation, but the most effective way to find out the source of your problem, and ultimately how to solve it, is by purchasing a soil test. Dr. Han continued, “The main reason you want to use a soil test is to check to make sure that the pH is where it is supposed to be and to check that the nutrient levels are where they are supposed to be too. A soil test will also pick up issues with nutrient deficiency,”  a common cause of dying grass.  If the soil test isn’t able to tell you what you need to know, however, Dr. Han recommends that you have somebody, like a landscaper, come and look at it. Often, it is easy to visually pinpoint the problem.

Soil Chemistry

What soil chemistry might make your grass more susceptible to disease? Many factors go into determining the optimal chemistry for your grass, such as the type of grass you are growing or the type of disease you are dealing with. In Alabama alone there are 5-6 different species of grasses, so the type definitely plays a role in what chemistry to maintain. Dr. Han explained, “From a pH standpoint, I say until you have a good diagnosis on what the pH might be, I would just try to keep the pH at 6-6.5, or add extra fertilizer. Until you know exactly what you’re dealing with, it’s hard to give a blanket recommendation.” Again, a soil test would be useful in determining the pH level your grass is at and if this might have anything to do with an underlying disease such as iron deficiency.

What if it is too late? That is very possible. Dr. Han said that it is usually too late to remedy when the roots of the grass are gone. He recommends that you dig into the soil and check on the roots before going any further. If the roots are no longer alive, then you’re looking at re-sodding. So, in conclusion, it is important to regularly test your soil, especially if you are experiencing problems with your lawn.

Earth Day: All Year Long

What is Earth Day and what does it mean today? Earth Day 2021 is Thursday, April 22. The theme this year is “Restore the Earth.” If this year’s theme is “Restore the Earth,” it must mean that somewhere along the way – our actions have harmed the Earth. To me, this is the day we reflect on our impact on the earth; learn how we can improve the earth; and sound a call to action.

Did you know that our first Earth Day was April 22, 1970? Growing up in the 80s, my memory of Earth Day was about protecting natural resources and endangered species, planting more of everything, and reducing the use of fossil fuels. The focus was a preventative message here in the US. But today, Earth Day has a totally different message of specifics and restoration details – regenerative agriculture, carbon sequestration, restoration technologies — and involves the global population with call to action from the government leaders.

How do we write our Earth Day legacy? On a personal level, I have a duty to teach my children what Earth Day is. I have four children and I asked each of them what Earth Day meant to them. My 16-year daughter responded that we need to recycle and take care of the earth. My 10-year old and 14 year old both told me the same thing – it is the one day where you clean up the earth. Finally, I asked my 7-year old son and he had no idea we had Earth Day. These conversations are the reason we need to instill the principles of Earth Day into our children. They are born not knowing that their actions cause reactions, but with instruction and teachable moments, we can equip them to be environmentally conscious and aware that what they do today is left as our legacy.

Climate change is happening and it is something I include in my work life. I work at Agritech Corp. and we have a lab-based soil sample product called SoilKit. How can SoilKit participate in Earth Day and leave an environmental legacy? SoilKit helps homeowners and landscapers improve soil health which in term creates great lawns and gardens and helps the environment too. As we watch the largest dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico grow and the manatees die, we can’t help but know that there is something we are doing that we can change. Lack of knowledge creates inadvertent misuse of soil amendments and is often the culprit.

Phosphorus runoff is one of the factors that contributes to both those issues. Yet many people buy fertilizers without consideration for what the soil and the plants actually need. We should be checking our pH levels and phosphorus levels to know if it is available and whether or not it is even needed. Science and knowledge is power. Your actions have reactions. SoilKit users know when a nutrient is essential but also know when phosphorus is high. Consequently, we often recommend 0-phosphorus fertilizers.

Recent algae blooms in the U.S. can be linked to two main causes: increased nutrients in the water and warmer weather. Photo credit: Zachary Haslick/Aerial Association, Inc.

Another great environmental feature of SoilKit is organic matter analysis. Why is organic matter correlated to Earth Day? According to the USDA, “Soil organic matter (SOM) is the organic component of soil consisting of three primary components: small (fresh) plant residues with small living soil organisms, decomposing (active) organic matter, and stable organic matter (humus).” SoilKit measures and report this information back to the user. Organic matter is organic carbon times two. According to Tonya McDaniels at Waters Lab, “In general, you want to have higher organic matter which gives you higher carbon levels. This allows CO2 respiration so your soil can omit oxygen and absorb CO2. Which is in the end better for our environment.” Tonya said it best. Let’s focus on getting healthy soils with good organic matter levels to capture more carbon from the legacy load that we now are working to restore.

On this Earth Day, April 22, 2021, I am educating the next generation, my four young children, to understand Earth Day and why it is important to restore with recycling, energy, cleanup and so much more. I am also working on a SoilKit project at work to explain how a lab-based soil sample is more than just dirt – it is science that is sequestering carbon and preventing misuse and abuse of nutrients such as phosphorus. Both have a lasting legacy for Earth Day 2021 and it is important we keep Earth Day going all year round. 🌎

High pH and its Effects on Your Plants

If your soil is in the alkaline range, you might need to seek help. Alkaline, or basic, is defined as any value on the pH scale (0-14) above a neutral of 7.0. Most alkaline soils are found in the western United States, where the pH of these soils can get as high as 10.0. A soil pH above 8.5 indicates the presence of sodium in your soil. These are known as “sodic” soils and can contain so much excess sodium that these soils become impermeable to water. It is most common that you will find alkaline soils in arid or dry areas like a desert. This is why it is more common to find acidic soils in residential areas since few plants tend to thrive in the desert.

Most alkaline soils are primarily caused by a calcium carbonate rich environment. An alkaline soil can be bad for your plant because the availability of many plant nutrients like iron, zinc, copper, and manganese is reduced at high pH levels (usually exceeding 7.0). This can lead to iron deficiency in plants which causes leaves to yellow, while the veins remain green.

Dr. David Han, associate professor and extension specialist (turf) Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences faculty at Auburn University, explained that resolving a pH that has become too high is tricky. Dr. Han said, “If a soil is too alkaline it can be done, it’s easy to overshoot, though.” You can try adding sulfur to your soil, which will produce sulfuric acid and make the soil more acidic, however by doing this, you are gambling with overshooting and making your soil too acidic rather than a more neutral pH level. Dr. Han recommended instead that you turn toward your fertilizer to solve the problem: “The way I usually tell people to make their alkaline soil more acidic is to make sure that when they fertilize they use a fertilizer that has ammonium sulfate in it.” The ammonium sulfate will help bring the pH down in your soil gradually without the risk of overdoing it. These fertilizers may be hard to come by, though, unless you make a special order.

This is when a soil test comes in handy. A soil test will tell you your soil’s pH by measuring the concentration of hydrogen ions in the soil. By understanding what level on the scale your soil has, experts are able to recommend alternative solutions for you.

Low pH and its Effects on Your Plants

Is your soil acidic? Although this might sound bad, in some cases, it is actually what is best for your plant. Whether you are just a beginner, a seasoned professional, or farming for fun, understanding your soil’s pH is crucial to growing a healthy lawn or garden.

If you find that your soil’s pH is on the lower side, no worries! Depending on the plant you are growing, a slightly lower pH might be a good thing. According to Dr. Han, associate professor and extension specialist (turf) Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences faculty at Auburn University, “A lot of plants actually benefit from acidic soil. Most plants are going to grow better at a slightly acidic pH (somewhere in the range of 6-7).” One of the main regions that you will find acidic soil is the southeast because of the location’s humidity. If the plant you are growing thrives better in alkaline conditions, however, there is an easy fix!

Lower pH

Low pH is defined as any value on the pH scale (numbered 0-14) that is less than a neutral 7.0, making it acidic. Understanding your soil’s pH is important because it is what affects the amounts of nutrients that are soluble in water, and therefore, the amount of nutrients available for your plant. As Dr. Han explained it, “The way [plants] pick up most of the nutrients they need is from water. If the nutrients aren’t dissolving in the water in the soil, the plants can’t get the nutrients.” Essentially, pH is what dictates the source of nutrients available in your soil. This is why it’s important to maintain a balanced pH of between 6-7.5 for most lawns and gardens. Some nutrients, like iron, are more soluble in acidic soil, and therefore more available under those conditions, while other nutrients, like potassium and sulfur, are more soluble in alkaline soils, and therefore more available under those conditions. 

So, which plants thrive under acidic conditions exactly? Well, there are actually many different plants that love acid; such as, radishes, blueberries, azaleas, magnolias, and marigolds. To see a full list of 43 acid-loving plants, visit this site. In addition to this, some flowers, like hydrangeas, change color depending on soil pH!

If you want to watch your hydrangea turn from pink to blue or blue to pink, seek an acidic soil!
Higher pH

Although this may sound great, Dr. Han explained that if the pH becomes too acidic, the plant will not thrive. He said, “No plant can thrive if [its soil] gets too acidic. This is why a soil test is so important.” For lawns and grasses, a pH of about 5.5 or lower, is where you reach trouble. A soil test can tell you exactly what your soil’s pH is, and recommend remedies for a pH that is harmful for your plant.

By adding limestone to your soil you can efficiently reach the optimal pH level for your plant.

Let’s say you get your results back and your pH is too low for your plant’s liking, well in this case, you might need to adjust it. A common way to raise your soil’s pH is to add limestone. Dr. Han said, “When the pH gets down to below about 5.6, that’s usually when soil testing labs will give you a recommendation to add limestone to the soil.” The reason for this is that limestone is a great source of calcium carbonate; which, funny enough, is the active ingredient in Tums. The calcium carbonate in limestone works by directly neutralizing the acid in your soil. Snail shells, oyster shells, and as strange as it sounds, pearls are all great sources of calcium carbonate too.

Acidic soil has its benefits and drawbacks, but ultimately, the best way to understand your soil’s pH and resolve any issues that might inhibit your plant from thriving, is by investing in a soil test

The Importance of Pre-Emergents and Weed Prevention

As the air warms up and we transition to springtime, you may notice some weeds beginning to “spring” up in your lawn. A pre-emergent herbicide is the most efficient way to rid your lawn of pesky weeds. Pre-emergent herbicides allow the weed to germinate but attach to it before it emerges. Once the cap root shoots up, the weed takes in the chemical and dies. As Mr. Allen Woerner, owner of Woerner Farms, said ”Rather than getting a sip of water, [your weed] gets a sip of chemical.” This is a better option than a post-emergent herbicide because it kills the weed before the weed becomes a problem. The seed must be active in the soil, however, before you can effectively disseminate your herbicide.

According to Mr. Woerner, 93% of your lawn’s weed problem can be controlled by pre-emergents. When you use post-emergent herbicides, it is often too late to tackle the problem, because the weed is already out and growing. Mr. Woerner does recommend, however, that you spray a post-emergent herbicide 2 days after pre-emergent treatment, to help catch any escapees. As for any weed and feed product, he argues that this is not a viable solution for weed control. “One is trying to kill and the other is trying to nurse back to health.” It is not the most effective way to manage weeds.”

Mr. Woerner’s recommendation for the best pre-emergent herbicides is Ronstar which he says is “the most favorable [and the] safest pre-emergent out there that can be used on all grasses.” As for how much to use, you should be able to find this recommendation on the label! You can spray your lawn using a backpack sprayer or spread the granular version via a spreader.

Spray a post-emergent herbicide 2 days after pre-emergent treatment, to help catch any escapees.

So, when should I be applying pre-emergents to be most effective in eliminating spring weeds? Mr. Woerner said it all depends on temperature, but it is safe to say that “any time late February you need to be rockin and rollin” here in south Alabama. You should spray your lawn with pre-emergents between the transition from spring to summer. Then, you should wait until fall goes into winter to spray again. Mr. Allen explained that this gap period is when you should be using post-emergent control.

Humidity and temperature are some other major factors that must be considered while trying to figure out when to spray. According to Mr. Allen, it is best to spray in high humidity. Additionally, there is a specific temperature range at which you should spray your lawn with pre-emergents. That range is 65-75 degrees. If you spray when the temperature exceeds 85 degrees, the pre-emergent will burn your lawn on contact. This is why it is important to “water in” your pre-emergent within 24 hours to prevent burning. “Watering in” essentially means that you provide your lawn with plenty of water following a treatment. Mr. Woerner continued, “[You need] at least a quarter inch of water or a half inch of rain within 24-48 hours to activate [the] pre-emergent, and prevent your lawn from burning.”

If you use too much pre-emergent on your lawn, you may experience some “jumpers.” Mr. Woerner explained, “If you get over a pint and a half per acre, the roots are not able to peg into the ground and they will shoot skyward and make an arch. These are known as jumpers.” One downside to using pre-emergents at incorrect rates is that this will usually set back your root pruning. Mr. Allen argued, however, “[It] is way more favorable to hurt your root than to have a yard full of weeds during the summer; [and] post-emergents will actually be more harmful.” Over-spraying your lawn is usually difficult and expensive to reverse. Applying (a large amount of) carbon will reverse it. He continued that carbon “will attach itself to the active ingredient and neutralize it. It requires an extremely large source of carbon and is not ideal.”

So, as springtime approaches and you anticipate weeds, have your pre-emergents ready to tackle the problem before it arises.

The Ins and Outs of Dormant Grass

Most people might think that brown grass equals dead grass, but this is not always true. The grass might just be dormant and quite the opposite of dead! Dormant grass is grass that is not actively growing. Although it might not be growing, the grass itself is still alive and ready for the next season. It is covered by a layer of dead grass; but underneath, it is actually healthy and full of life.

You can expect to find dormant grasses anywhere from around Thanksgiving (November) to the last frost, which in many cases, occurs in April; but don’t be alarmed by your browning lawn. When temperatures decrease, metabolism in the plant slows down, causing the grass to become dormant. Allen Woerner, owner of Woerner Farms, said “Ultimately what shuts the metabolism down in the plant is when it gets the frost.” This is why it is common to find that your grass turns brown following a winter frost.

Dormant grass is actually super easy to maintain, and much less of a workload. It is not recommended that you water the grass, because when it is dormant it is unable to absorb water and sunlight. Mr. Woerner explained, “I wouldn’t supplement water in the winter. When the plant is truly dormant in the winter it is neither taking on water nor sun, it is just existing.” Watering your dormant grass is not necessary, and neither is fertilizing! He continued, “I would not recommend fertilizing dormant grass in any way.” In fact, nitrogen based fertilizer cannot be used if your grass is not actively growing.

As for spraying for weeds, he added, “You would be making your yard more uniform while spraying for weeds in the winter.” He cautions, though, that you should not continue spraying for weeds when temperatures exceed 85 degrees. When the temperatures get too high, your lawn will experience stress from the heat, and your weeds will become resistant.

Do not continue spraying weeds when
temperatures exceed 85 degrees.

As the air begins to warm up, but remains relatively cool, this is the perfect time to install a lawn. As owner of Woerner farms, Mr. Woerner put it, “When you install a lawn in the summer months, it can be a lot more challenging to maintain water in the roots. Right now is an excellent time to be installing a lawn.” New sod can be laid, even if that sod is dormant; and the transition from winter to spring is the best time to lay it. In many cases, it is much less work to lay new sod when it is dormant. And you would not have to mow a dormant lawn like you would during the summer months.

Mr. Woerner concluded that you should “soil test in the winter months so you know what inputs to apply for your growing season.” Dormant grasses will have no effect on your soil test and no negative effect on your lawn. It is perfectly normal and a great opportunity to get a head start at preparing for the summer months.