Brown is the New Green

Dormant LawnTurf in winter - The way it should look.

For years the Dallas/Fort Worth market has been on the forefront of seeding ryegrass into dormant turf for the winter.  Why seed ryegrass you ask?  (Ok, so you didn’t ask…but I’ll tell you anyway) Well, in this market the warm season turf, predominately Bermuda and St. Augustine, goes dormant in the winter, leaving the turf naturally brown.

Years ago someone came up the idea of sowing ryegrass (a cool season turf) into dormant, warm-season lawns.  Magically, the brown grass became green for the winter. Overnight this became the new property status symbol.  The pressure was on.  You couldn’t have your neighbor one-upping you by having green turf, while yours was brown, especially in Dallas!  Soon almost every type of property, from retail to industrial, office to HOA  joined the practice. It was a wintertime oasis.

Not so fast.  It seems that not everything that looks good is actually good for you (or for your property).  Just like those lead-based paint chips when I was a kid.  Sure looked good, didn’t taste too bad, turns out not so good for you.

Although beautiful in the winter, the practice of over-seeding dormant turf has some drawbacks:

  • It takes a lot of water to get the rye seed to germinate and even more to keep it looking good in the winter. Compared to almost no water required for dormant turf.
  • Much of the grass that is removed during the scalping process finds its way to landfills …not good.
  • The process is actually harmful to the warm season grass and, over time, will cause the turf to weaken significantly.
  • It takes extra fertilizer and mowing, which requires additional labor, fuel and materials…..which costs more money.

Over-seeded, warm season turf may be green in the winter but it is certainly not a green practice. Just the significant increase in water consumption alone, is enough to make you question the practice.

Fortunately, the reality of on-going water restrictions, combined with the desire to become more environmentally friendly is reversing the trend.  Fewer and fewer properties are over-seeding their dormant turf.  Some to save some green, others to be more green. Whatever the motivation, it is the right thing to do.

So the next time you drive past that beautiful brown, winter-time lawn, just squint and I believe you will see it is really green.



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  1. Thursday, 6:34 Ginny Shaffer

    Excellent! I really can see the green through my Pollyanna glasses!! I’ll be sure to share this post with my colleagues so that they can consider using it for literacy instruction. I’ve already passed on the purple hair and the baseball stadium stories to some teachers!

    Thanks for the new outlook on green, brown, and other practical life issues…like WATER!

  2. Friday, 3:50 Mark Hopkins

    Ginny, thanks for the great comments and sharing! I really appreciate your feedback.

  3. Tuesday, 8:54 Greg Chick

    I think people need to admire all seasons, don’t you? is not dormant grass as pretty as a bare tree having no leaves? Ways can learned how to embrace less that “hollywood pretty” turf or landscape. does everything need to be on steroids? 27/7/365? Mulch has it’s charm, as does a dry desert, as does a rainforest, everything has a season and a location lets embrace the entire spectrum of nature, not just the sprouting bud of a hot house 5 color hyper bright by genetics flower.

  4. Tuesday, 11:00 Mark Hopkins

    Well said, Greg!

    Thanks for the comment.

  5. Wednesday, 1:01 Alan Harris

    Thankfully the practice of overseeding with annual rye has mostly faded away in Atlanta. Still see it in Phoenix, AZ and Destin, FL. I understand the need on golf courses and it makes for good eye candy when marketing a newly developing community, but it surely is not very sustainable.

  6. Wednesday, 3:43 greg chick

    Pearls premium grass uses .25 the water of other grasses and is alpha so it will take over and requires less mowing and is tolerant of greywater and salt. actually can be un mowed to where it reaches 3″ and stops growing. Check it out “as seen on CNN, Fox,NPR, Many ag. and trade publications. Currently being studied at cal state davis.

  7. […] annual rye grass which is used in some markets to overseed dormant warm season grass to provide a green lawn in the winter. Annual rye grass prefers the cooler temperatures and uses an incredible amount of water for […]

  8. […] I don’t think it matters much if that color is all brown or all green.  When we discuss brown is the new green, the key is to have a uniform appearance for the lawn.  Water restrictions allowing water on […]

  9. […] I don’t think it matters much if that color is all brown or all green.  When we discuss brown is the new green, the key is to have a uniform appearance for the lawn.  Water restrictions allowing water on […]

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