Crozet Weather Almanac: March 2017

March 2017 Crozet weather statistics. Courtesy Heidi Sonen and Roscoe Shaw.

Despite the exceptionally warm February, grass actually got off to a slow start this spring. How is that possible? Even a warm February is still too cold to grow much grass and the ground was very dry for wintertime. Then, in mid March, when the grass usually gets going, we had a nasty cold snap and snow. It wasn’t until the end of March that we finally got warm weather AND wet weather. There is no turning back now…the grass mowing season is in full swing.

Five Distinct Grass Growing Seasons

Central Virginia actually has five different distinct grass growing “seasons.” The first starts in late March and peaks in May. That is when the cool season grasses explode with fresh spring growth. Fescues are the most common grasses here but we also have bluegrass and some rye and various other cool season grasses. If rainfall is plentiful, grass can growth at extraordinary rates from late April through early June.

Temperatures are almost always perfect for fescue at that time of year and drought is rare.

The second grass season is from late May into August. This is when the warm season grasses take over. The main warm season grass is the often-despised Bermuda grass. It grows just about anywhere that gets sunshine from May through September. Virginians often call it “wiregrass” since it can envelope your garden at astonishing speed during hot, wet summer weather. Bermuda sends out rhizomes (wires) that allow the grass to spread rapidly during the short growing season. Once established, it is very hard to get rid of without turning your landscape into a chemical dump. Ironically, what is a weed to some is an awesome turfgrass to others. Local golf courses generally transition from fescue or rye in spring to Bermuda grass in June. Zoysia is a similar warm season grass but is not nearly as invasive. Because it is non-native and is generally sodded, so you won’t find it growing wild and eating your garden. Old Trail Golf Club has beautiful Zoysia fairways. This is a fabulous grass that grows slowly and requires very little water or care, which make it environmentally friendly. The only problem is that it goes brown and dormant for a full six months per year.

The warm season grasses take over in early summer. The cool season grass slows to a crawl when the first real heat hits. But Bermuda grass loves the heat and will grow full speed as long as it is hot and moist.

The third season, I’ll call the “summer doldrums.” This is inevitable late in summer when we have a dry spell and almost nothing will grow. Our friend Buck says, “Ain’t nothin’ grows in Virginia in August ‘cept weeds.” If we have some rain, then common crabgrass will grow with alarming speed in August but it will quickly stop dead in September with the first cold spell.

Finally, in mid September, Canadian air arrives and the cool season fescues wake up for a brief fall growing season. Even if it is wet, the fall growth only lasts about six weeks before the late October chill ends the season. The Bermuda and Zoysia grow fast in summer, slow to almost nothing in late September and turn brown by late October.

The fifth and final season is “dormancy.” Some slight growth continues in November and even early December during warm spells. By late December, nothing can make the grass grow for a couple of months before the new growth begins anew in March.

March Recap

After the crazy-warm February, March came in almost completely average. The month started warm and ended warm but was cold in the middle. Rainfall was below average, but we ended wet. Total rainfall was 2.67” compared to an average of nearly four inches. Water tables are average, making the chance of significant drought this year slim.

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