Warm-season turf such as bermudagrass and zoysiagrass typically begin shutting down for the season, turning brown, and going into dormancy in late October as the weather turns colder. The first hard freeze in early November typically will then turn green grass blades totally brown, often in splotchy patterns across the turf. Here we are in mid-October though, and much bermudagrass is not green and turning brown. If you are tired of mowing your grass by now and would rather be watching football, then that could be a good thing I suppose. But the brown color of turf is not really dormancy, but rather drought stress with the warm, dry fall we are experiencing now.
Turf does not die when it goes into dormancy, the leaves just turn brown and shut down. Without green leaves, the plant will not produce energy from photosynthesis, which feeds the root system. So if bermudagrass and zoysiagrass shut down too soon due to drought stress or extreme early cold temperatures, then the turf may not overwinter as well, and come out weaker next spring. We obviously have not experienced cold temperatures, as temperatures in mid-October now are hovering close to 90 degrees. It’s the fall drought we are in, which has sent turf into early dormancy.
Unless we receive a good rainfall or two soon, we recommend a good soaking with irrigation now before the turf actually goes into true winter dormancy. This will help stimulate some green color in the leaves, leading to some food production for the root system. Winterkill of bermudagrass is always a concern in the transition zone, where we can experience extreme cold winter temperatures at times. So sending the turf into winter as strong as possible, with good fertilization, mowing, and watering helps prevent possible winterkill.