Mowing Dormant Grass? Here Is What To Do

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Mowing dormant grass too short may damage the growth process by weakening the roots and leaving fewer blades for photosynthesis. You don’t want this, as it will leave your lawn uneven and unsightly. What can you do to safely mow your lawn with dormant grass and avoid damaging it?

Avoid mowing dormant grass if possible, as this can damage the crown, which determines future growth. If you have to mow dormant grass, water your lawn a few days before, cut it high, and ensure your mower blades are sharp. Also, ensure that the vulnerable mown area remains free of foot traffic.

In the rest of this article, I’ll take you through what to do if you want to mow dormant grass. These tactics will help you cut the grass correctly and avoid damaging the roots and photosynthesis blades. Let’s get started!

What To Do if You Want To Mow Dormant Grass

There are several reasons why mowing grass in a state of dormancy is not the best idea—which we will discuss in more detail below. However, if you feel your lawn looks messy and wish to cut it during dormancy, here are some ways to mow your lawn that causes minor damage. 

Mow Dormant Grass High

You will typically mow your grass one-third of the blade each time—but this is standard for mowing grass during the active growth period to avoid damage. This cutting height is ideal since the grass has abundant foliage for photosynthesis and will grow steadily. However, this is different when it comes to mowing dormant grass.

When mowing dormant grass, you should set the lawn mower to its highest setting because the grass is not actively growing, and thus, it can’t quickly recover from low cuts. The best thing to do is to remove no more than one-fourth of the blade length each time you mow.

Moreover, mowing high helps reduce the risk of soil compaction since there will be less weight on the ground. Soil compaction is a significant problem because it can damage the roots and prevent growth.

Use a Sharp Mower Blade

It’s advisable to use a sharp mower blade when cutting any grass, whether dormant or not. A sharp mower blade makes clean cuts less likely to damage the grass—while dull mower blades tear the grass, leaving it vulnerable to diseases and fungi.

Therefore, ensure you use a sharp mower blade when mowing your dormant lawn grass. This vital step will reduce the risk of damage and promote healthy growth when the grass starts sprouting again.

Minimize Foot Traffic

Traffic creates added pressure which compacts the soil. Compacted soil restricts water and airflow needed for healthy turfgrass growth.

To reduce compaction, avoid driving or walking on your lawn where possible. If you must, stick to well-traveled paths and aerate compacted areas. Aeration creates small holes that help improve air and water circulation in the soil.

Minimizing foot traffic during your lawn’s dormancy stage ensures the grass is well-aerated and firmly rooted into the soil. Mowing such grass is much easier, and you’re less likely to cause damage.

Another excellent way to aerate your lawn is by perforating small holes in the soil. These holes allow air and sunlight into the soil to keep the roots healthy.

Photo 197722874 | © Irinaleto51 |

Water the Dormant Lawn

This tactic is only valid if you have cold-season grasses. In summer, cold-season turfgrasses go dormant to escape the heat—the lack of water during this period signals to the grass that it’s time to go dormant.

If you plan to mow your cold-season grass during the dormancy stage, watering it a few days before mowing helps reduce the risk of damage. Watering rehydrates the blades and makes them flexible to minimize tearing.

Moreover, watering before mowing cools the blades and softens the soil, which is vital because it helps prevent compaction, which can damage your grass.

Should You Mow Dormant Grass?

Mowing dormant grass is not advisable since the mower’s traffic can damage the turf. Moreover, dormant grasses have few photosynthesis blades left to ensure growth during the growing season. Therefore, it’s possible to cut and damage the grass crown, making it difficult for the grass to grow.

It’s not advisable to mow dormant grass, as your grass enters this phase as part of its growth cycle, and interfering can harm your grass when it enters active growth. Although your grass may appear brown and lifeless, the grass has a vital area called the crown at the soil level.

This vulnerable crown is the meeting point between the roots and the grass leaves—containing many buds that can create tillers and roots. Considering the crown houses all the future buds that will bring your grass back to life, mowing can harm this crown and affect future growth. 

It’s best to pay close attention to providing the last, effective mowing before dormancy so that you won’t need to mow your grass in this vulnerable state. Therefore you should understand your particular grass’ growth cycle. Let’s dive in!

Grass Dormancy

It’s worth noting that grass enters the dormancy stage in winter and summer. The season when your lawn grass enters its dormancy stage depends on its growth cycle. 

Dormant Grass
Photo 56425199 © Scott Book |

The following are the two basic types of grass based on the growth cycle:

  • Warm-season grasses
  • Cold-season grasses

Warm-Season Grasses

These are grasses that thrive in summer when the soil has less moisture. 65 to 75 percent of these grasses flourish in summer, providing tremendous growth to your lawn.

The following are some examples of warm-season grasses:

  • Bermudagrass
  • Zoysiagrass
  • St. Augustinegrass
  • Centipedegrass
  • Buffalograss

Warm-season grasses mostly enter dormancy in winter when the soil has more moisture. The growth process resumes in spring when the soil moisture decreases.

Cold-Season Grasses

These grasses grow best in winter when the soil has more moisture. They provide an excellent growth rate of about 80 to 90 percent in winter. 

Some examples of cold-season grasses include:

  • Perennial ryegrass
  • Kentucky bluegrass
  • Fine fescue
  • Tall fescue

Cold-season grasses mostly enter dormancy in summer when the soil has less moisture. The growth process resumes in autumn when the soil moisture increases.

It’s essential to understand when your lawn enters dormancy so you can know how to prepare for the last mowing. It all narrows down to the type of grass on your property; warm-season or cold-season grasses.

Final Thoughts

Mowing dormant grass is not advisable. If possible, you should cut before the dormancy stage starts.

If you must mow dormant grass, you should take necessary precautions to avoid damage. For instance, you can mow high, eliminate foot traffic, or water the lawn a few days before mowing. Doing so will help ensure a healthy lawn when the grass starts growing again.

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