Winter Dormancy and Your Lawn

Dormancy, when your lawn is not actively growing, but protected from the environment, is a plant stress-coping mechanism. With the right perspective, we can make this lawn survival technique work for us and reap the benefits for years to come. For those less familiar with dormancy and how our lawns shift to a more inactive state in winter, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Dormancy is a state of quiescence and a survival mechanism for stressed plants.
  2. Dormant plants limit growth and respiration, and shift to conserve and store energy.
  3. Dormancy usually occurs in two seasons: summer and winter.
  4. Temperature, light, moisture and nutritional levels stimulate the onset of dormancy.
  5. Winter dormancy is broken when temps, light availability and daylight hours increase.
  6. Cool-season grasses can go dormant in both seasons, warm-season may not at all.


How can dormancy and inactivity work for you and your lawn?

When the ground is frozen or frost is present, grass blades form ice crystals between cells to protect themselves from damage¹ . Unfortunately, the ice crystals can only do so much. When you walk across a frozen lawn, the crunch underneath your feet is actually ice crystals breaking and puncturing cell walls within the leaf blade. Ouch! While occasional traffic won’t hurt too much, excessive traffic can cause brown spots, bare patches and soil compaction over time². Though not immediately apparent, these issues will require more labor intensive and expensive lawn repair once lawns green-up. So, if you want to maintain a healthy lawn and avoid unnecessary costs come springtime, the best thing for you and your is to embrace inactivity and admire that frosted lawn from afar.

Sunday Winter Pro Tips

Traffic over frozen, dormant grass can sever grass blades and damage roots, so limit high traffic on your lawn during frost or frozen temps.

Have kids and need the lawn for your snowpeople and other snow activities? Build snowpeople on paved areas or mulched areas of the yard where compaction and weight of snow won’t cause future soil and lawn issues.

Shoveling your walkway or driveway and worried about the weight of snow piles compacting your lawn? Spread out the snow as evenly as possible when shoveling so the snow doesn’t become weighted down in one area.

While your lawn is experiencing the benefits of inactivity, you’ll be able to reap the benefits too! Less time on yard work, equals more time for you. So, make those New Year’s resolutions, immerse yourself in winter recreation activities, discover a new hiking destination, or simply sit back and do it like the lawns do – use this time to rest, restore, and get ready to grow better this spring.



¹ Kopec, D. M., Cold Winter Lawn Tips, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.
² Walker, S. (2018, December 4). Dormancy: A Key to Winter Survival. UNH Extension.