Your brown, wilted lawn might look hopeless, but don’t write it off as a loss just yet. While it’s not possible to revive completely dead grass, you can bring back grass that’s turned brown for other reasons. With the right approach, you could have a lush, green lawn again within a month.
Dead or Dormant?
If your entire lawn is an even brown color, chances are it’s just dormant, not dead. Dormancy is a normal process, something like hibernation, during which the grass “goes to sleep” to conserve water and nutrients in times of scarcity. Cool-season grasses go dormant during long periods of heat and drought, while warm-season grasses go dormant over the winter when temperatures regularly fall below freezing.
Grass can stay dormant for between four to six weeks without becoming permanently damaged. After this point, however, around a quarter of the grass will die off every week.
Grab a section of grass and tug gently to find out whether your grass is dead or dormant. If the grass comes out of the soil by the roots with almost no resistance, it’s almost certainly dead. If it holds onto the soil, it’s probably just dormant.
If a few defined patches of your lawn have turned brown, but the grass there passes the tug test, that grass can usually be revived once you find out what damaged it.
Why Lawns Turn Brown
The right way to revive a brown lawn depends on the reason it turned brown in the first place. Taking the wrong approach can do more harm than good, so before you start treating your lawn, consider all the possible reasons it might look so lifeless.
Turf grass thrives on regular, but not overly frequent, deep watering. If you’ve been watering your lawn less than once a week, lack of water is the most likely reason it’s turned brown. Your lawn needs around 1 inch of water per week. In climates where temperatures rarely fall below freezing, you’ll also need to water in winter if rain is scarce.
On the other hand, if you’ve been watering every day but giving the lawn less than an inch of water each time, that could be the source of your trouble. Frequent, shallow watering creates weak roots that are easily damaged by hot weather. Overwatering, too, can damage a lawn. In this case, you’ll notice brown patches turning up all over the lawn.
Spots of brown grass around your lawn can indicate a thatch problem. Thatch is the brown, spongy layer of decomposed plant matter that builds up between the living green grass and the soil. A healthy lawn has around 1/2 to 3/4 inch of thatch, which keeps the grass roots cooler and helps them retain moisture.
When it builds up, though, thatch can start to smother the living grass. This problem usually only occurs in lawns that haven’t been aerated in several years. To check your lawn’s thatch level, dig out a small section of grass around 3 inches deep and measure the thatch in cross-section.
Mowing your lawn too short stresses the grass. While keeping it at 2 1/2 inches is fine during the cooler parts of the year, 3 inches is safer in summer. When you mow, remove no more than one-third of the lawn’s height at a time. Mow regularly so you won’t be tempted to cut too much at once.
Insect and Fungal Damage
Pests and fungus cause brown or discolored patches and are often a side effect of overwatering. Grubs are the most common pest. Patches killed by grubs can be pulled up easily, and you’ll find tiny, white, curved grubs in the soil. Fungal damage often appears in the form of streaky or misshapen grass leaves. Damaged patches of grass might be brown, yellow, white, reddish, or purplish.
Over-fertilizing causes a buildup of salts in the soil, which dries out the soil and the grass roots. The result is “fertilizer burn” and a brown lawn. Similarly, grass near a street or sidewalk can pick up environmentally damaging de-icing salt after the snow melts. Pets are another potential cause of chemical damage. Because urine is high in nitrogen, a dog or cat frequently urinating in one place damages the lawn with excess nitrogen.
In milder cases, when the grass is yellowish-brown, deep watering will dilute the salts or nitrogen so the lawn can recover. If the grass has turned completely dry and brown, it’s probably dead, and you’ll need to reseed or resod.
9 Steps to Revive Your Lifeless Lawn
Reviving dead grass is a process that all homeowners should know. If you follow the steps to revive dead grass, your lawn can look great again in a few months.
1. Determine the Cause of the Dead Grass
One of the first steps in this process is to figure out why your grass is dead. If you simply try to remove dead grass and plant new, you could have some underlying issues that will cause all the new grown to die. Here are some of the main causes of dead patches on your lawn.
Disease, Weeds, Thatch, or Infestations
Look at the grass and see if you can find any signs of disease, weeds, excess foot traffic, thatch, or bug infestations. Before you can revive a dead lawn, these issues need to be cleared up.
Thatch is a very common one that can leave the grass choked with oxygen and make it difficult to grow. If you are not dethatching and aerating periodically, expect to have issues with this.
Wrong Grass Type for Your Climate
Another issue that homeowners struggle with is choosing the wrong type of grass. There are two main grass types, cool-season grasses, and warm-season grasses, and you must find one that matches your climate. If you want a healthy root system in your grass, the soil must also match the grass type.
Poor Lawn Maintenance
If you are scalping your lawn with the mower or not watering often enough, you will likely see issues with brown spots and dead patches. Always ensure your sprinkler is on a consistent timer and use it to keep your grass green.
2. Prep Your Lawn
The next step is to prepare your lawn to revive the dead grass. We highly recommend raking the area and getting a good look at the issue you are dealing with. Also, decide on the area you will treat and measure it.
An idea of the lawn’s size and the products you’ll need will help you purchase the correct amount.
3. Removing Weeds
Next, you will want to remove any weeds in the area. If you don’t care for the weed problem now, you may struggle with it again when you reseed or sod the area. Get a herbicide that can treat the types of weeds you deal with in your climate and spread it according to packaging instructions.
Be careful using a non-selective herbicide, as these can linger in the soil and cause issues for the new grass you are trying to grow. Spot treatment of weeds is also an option, as well as natural methods and pulling them manually.
4. Dethatch the Lawn
Dethatching the lawn allows air to make it back into the soil and gives the lawn a chance at healthy growth. You can use a basic dethatching rake to do this, as it will have tines that dig into the soil a bit more and remove thatch. This is also a process that many professional landscapers can handle for you.
5. Aerate the Soil (by Tilling)
Aerating the soil helps to eliminate compaction and lets water, seed, and nutrients back into the ground. If you have sandy soil or loamy soil, aeration is still essential. If your entire lawn is not dead and you are simply trying to get your lawn back, sometimes aeration and fertilization are something to consider.
6. Test Your Soil pH
Before you plant any new seed or put sod down, do a soil test to see the current soil’s condition. To get healthy grass, soil pH is really important, and sometimes it needs to be adjusted by putting the proper nutrients back into the soil.
7. Fertilize Accordingly
Find a starter fertilizer that is specifically for new grass. When you first seed or sod an area, you must wait for quite sometime before fertilization. Therefore it makes sense to put a starter fertilizer down so that current nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels are in place before the new soil goes down.
Be sure not to over-fertilize at this point; remember that more fertilizer is not necessarily better; follow the directions on how to fertilize your lawn accordingly, or you can put too much stress on the sod or seed you are about to lay down and end up having to fix fertilizer burn.
8. Plant New Grass Seed or Lay Sod
The next step is to plant new grass seed or lay sod. Laying sod is considerably easier and will give you an instant lawn, but it also comes at a much higher price tag.
Planting Grass Seed: Seeding and Overseeding
When planting grass seed, be sure you use the proper type. Use a spreader so that the grass seed goes on evenly and covers all the areas you need. In addition, after placing the seed, try to cover it with a thin layer of soil so that it does not wash away the first time it is watered.
Planting and Rolling Sod
Sod is very simple to put down. Simply lay the pieces out where you need them to go and then cut grass into the shapes you need to landscape around beds. One of the most important things about putting sod down is to use a lawn roller after the fact so that the sod starts to take root with the soil underneath.
9. Lawn Maintenance
Once your new grass seed or sod is in place, you must be careful about lawn maintenance. Sometimes poor lawn maintenance is how you may have gotten into this situation. It’s important to get the right practices down and follow them accordingly.
A watering schedule should be set up to ensure your new grass gets about an inch of water a week. In warmer climates where the water may evaporate quicker, more than an inch of water is likely necessary.
It’s also important to keep the soil moist after planting new grass seeds. However, don’t soak the area too much, as the seed can run off and leave you with uneven patches of grass.
Set up a great schedule, and this may mean more frequent watering for less time in the beginning. Once the grass is established, it’s much better to water for longer periods less often.
Wait to Mow and Limit Traffic
Try to keep the area where you have just planted new grass safe from kids, pets, and any excess foot traffic. The last thing a new area of turf needs is stress, and these things can add additional stress to the lawn. Wait a few weeks to mow, allowing the grass to take root. This prevents the mower from destroying the new turf.
We recommend that you explore our comprehensive article on selecting the ideal grass for heavy foot traffic, as it offers valuable insights and tips to help you make the right choice for your specific needs.
Now that you have a step-by-step process for reviving dead grass, we thought it would be best to give you some of our favorite tips for maintaining a healthy green lawn. Chances are you follow quite a few of these already, but here are a few ideas to ensure your lawn is the envy of everyone on your block.
- Use an irrigation timer; knowing how much water your grass is getting and ensuring it is consistent will help avoid potential issues.
- Grass clippings can provide nutrients and help the grass grow thicker and greener; set the mower to mulch occasionally and let the clippings sit on your lawn.
- Try to mow grass at least once per week in the growing season; taking off a smaller portion of the top of the blade will decrease the chance of stressing your lawn.
- Always water in the morning; when watering at night, you set your grass up for potential fungus issues.
- Weed control should be part of your regular maintenance; using a pre-emergent weed control will make it much easier to deal with post-emergent weeds
- Lawn fertilization should happen several times per year, do a soil test before doing it so you know exactly what your grass needs.
- Aeration, dethatching, and raking should be added to your lawn maintenance schedule; these things cannot be ignored.
The great thing about reviving dead grass is that you will have options. You can choose to do this on your own, or you can have a professional come in and handle the process for you. A professional will take all the proper steps and ensure that the grass lasts for years to come, but there could be times when the professional charges considerably more. One of the keys here is to find someone with a strong reputation in the industry.
Our Top Pick: TruGreen Lawn Care
TruGreen is the best lawn care provider for reviving dead grass. The TruGreen experts have been in the industry for more than 15 years and focus on quality and impressive customer service. With TruGreen, you can expect a free quote to help you determine the issues you have had in your yard and start focusing on getting them fixed moving forward.
Hopefully, you now see what is involved with reviving dead grass. Unfortunately, the process does take a bit of time, and you will have to get to the root cause of the issues with your turf. However, if you are smart about the steps you take, you will be able to have a green and lush lawn again. Taking time to test and treat the soil appropriately cannot be understated.
FAQs About Reviving Dead Grass
Will Watering Dead Grass Bring It Back?
Watering your grass will not bring it back if it is genuinely dead. However, grass can be dormant or just browned out due to heat stress; in that case, it will return. The key is to look at the roots of your grass and decide what condition it is in. If the grass is truly dead, watering it will not help it return.
How Long Will It Take for Dead Grass to Grow Back?
If your grass is brown or dormant, it can sometimes take a few weeks to grow. If you must replace your lawn, you can expect the new sod to root in several weeks or the seedlings to grow to full size. It’s unfortunately not a very quick process, and you will have to be patient with it.
What Are the Benefits of Using a Lawn Aerator?
A lawn aerator will create holes in your soil that allow nutrients, water, and oxygen to penetrate the soil. This makes it considerably easier for you to manage the turf moving forward, making things like fertilization and weed control more effective.
Can Dead Grass Be Revived With Fertilizers?
Dead grass cannot be revived with fertilizers. However, if the grass is simply nutrient deprived and not yet dead, the right combination of fertilizer can help to bring it back and green it up.
Why Does Dead Grass Turn Brown?
Dead grass turns brown because of a lack of nutrients. With dead grass, you will notice that the roots of the grass are shriveled up, and the grass has no chance of coming back. However, dormant grass or grass that needs water or nutrients will still have a relatively strong root in place.
How Can I Make My Brown Grass Green Fast?
One of the first things to check when you have brown grass is whether or not water is necessary. Watering is one of the first steps to get your grass to turn green again, and it will make a tremendous difference as it is a quick recovery when the grass is water deprived. Next, it’s wise to see when the last time you fertilized as the right fertilizer makeup can help revive brown grass.