Dead vs. Dormant Grass

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Keith's Pro Tips

"While applying a fertilizer or herbicide may sound appealing it should not be used on your dormant grass. Instead help to recover your lawn with proper irrigation at least once a week to help lessen its brown appearance."

How to Tell the Difference Between Dead or Dormant Grass

This page is a general guide for identifying the difference between dead and dormant grass. Follow this guide and use the recommended methods and we guarantee 100% improvement of the appearance of your lawn and an better understanding of the type of turf you have.

Brown patches of grass are a common occurrence that can be hard to identify. It will usual indicate that your lawn is either dormant or possibly dead. However, these situations puzzle even the most experienced homeowner so understanding the difference between dead and dormant grass can potentially save you time and cost.

Understand that any type of warm-seasoned or cool-seasoned turf can become brown from death or dormancy. It may take some time to identify the true nature of why your turf is brown. However, with the following steps you can find a quicker answer as to what the condition of your lawn is.

By following this DIY article you can help to save your lawn and improve its appearance with the methods or tips suggested. If you have any questions then please call, email, or stop at one of our stores where our trained professionals can help you further.

Dead vs. Dormant Grass

Dead Patch of Grass

When it comes to determining the state of your grass it is beneficial to know the difference between dead and dormant.

Dead Grass- will appear brown, brittle, rough, and dry to the touch. It will not hold the original color it once contained due to loss of nutrients, roots, moisture, or sometimes disease. Dead grass will turn brown due to fungi, disease, excess or decrease of nutrients, high humidity, heat, increase or decrease of moisture, thatch, or compact soil within your turf.

The best way to determine the cause of your dead grass is to perform a soil test to determine if there are fungi, diseases, or excess and decrease of nitrogen within your turf.

Dead grass cannot be brought back to life or recovered. The only thing you can do is replace dead grass by dethatching it and planting new seeds.

Dormant Grass- will also appear brown and lifeless, but unlike dead grass it can be recovered or returned to its original state. The reasons dormant grass turns brown is because it is storing energy or water to survive the upcoming season.

Depending on the species of grass it can have different lengths of dormancy. Generally, turf can stay dormant for one month before it starts to die.

How To Tell If Your Grass Is Dormant Or Dead

When you notice brown grass ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this the time of year for your turf to go into dormancy?
  • Does your grass pull out easily or is it difficult?
  • What has the weather been like lately?
  • Does my entire lawn appear brown or is it in patches?

By asking yourself these questions you can have a better idea of what your dealing with. If unsure, then take a look at the follow methods to determine if you have dormant or dead grass.

1. What is the Pattern of Brown on Your Lawn?

Dead Patch of Grass

When your lawn is dormant typically the entire area will be a solid brown. It will not appear in patches or sporadic patterns across your yard. If so, then you will likely have a disease or dead grass problem. 

2. Perform a Tug Test

Grass Tug Test

A simple method you can use to determine if your grass is dormant or dead is to simply tug on the brown foliage. You will want to take a small handful of brown turf and tug. If the brown foliage pulls easily from the soil then it is dead, but if the turf has some difficulty when pulled then it is dormant.

3. Water Your Lawn

watering lawn

One of the lengthiest test you can perform is to water your lawn consistently for a few weeks. Often your turf can become brown from a lack of moisture.

Depending on your species of turf, you will want to water at least once a week with no more than 1 1/2 inches of water per week. You should start to see your turf improve in color and length within a few weeks.

If you do not see any visible changes then it can be determine your turf is dead. Once a turf is dead there is no level of care or products to recover it.

4. Take a Look at Your Weather

Withered Grass

Both warm-seasoned and cool-seasoned grasses respond to weather changes throughout the season. Each grass species will have a preference of hot, or cool temperatures. Because grass has varying dormancies and growth periods, weather directly affects its appearance.

Cool-seasoned grass will go into dormancy when the weather has been consistently warm resulting in the turf turning brown.

Warm-seasoned grass will go into dormancy when temperatures remain less than 80 degrees Fahrenheit or during prolonged cold periods such as winter.

Based on the conditions for your turf it should return to its natural color when the weather returns to normal.

How to Revive Your Dormant Grass

While the appearance of dormant grass may appear to be lifeless it is actually waiting for you or nature to wake it up. To help promote your turf out of dormancy follow the recommended steps with care.

Step 1: Water Consistently

watering lawn

Awaken your turf with a consistent water schedule. A consistent schedule should have your turf watered at least to an inch of irrigation per week.

Cool-season grasses especially appreciate proper watering during summer. Deep watering drives the roots further into the ground, elongating and strengthening their hold on the soil.

For best results, water in the early morning to allow your weakened turf to have enough time to absorb the moisture into its roots.

Until your dormant turf turns green you cannot proceed onto the next steps.

Step 2: Reduce Foot Traffic

Foot Traffic

If possible, limit your amount of activity and foot traffic on your dormant turf.

During dormancy, your turf is consistently pulling from its storage of nutrients. When you walk on it you are sending signals for your turf to prepare for the upcoming stress of your activity and thus increasing its time to awaken from dormancy.

Step 3: Mow as Needed

Mowing Grass

Cutting your dormant grass is a touch and go situation, but with the proper mowing enforced you can help revive it.

During dormancy, it is advised to only mow as needed. When in dormancy your turf is using all of its energy to promote new growth so it is best to cut your grass no more than once every two weeks.

You may be tempted to mow when you notice that your grass is higher than three inches. However, it is best to wait until you notice its growing pattern.

If your turf is growing at a fast pace and maintaining a height greater than three inches then you may mow. However, if it takes several days or weeks for your dormant turf to reach a height more than three inches then mowing should not be completed. By allowing the grass blades to grow at this height you are helping to lessen the amount of brown within your yard.

You are also helping to spread a natural fertilizer across your lawn when you mow. For cut healthy turf will release nutrients back into the earth and awaken your dormant grass faster.

How to Prevent Dead Grass

Dead Patch of Grass

Brown grass can be a confusing sight to see on your property even to the most experienced homeowner. Unfortunately, once a turf has died there is little that can be done for it. However, there is still a chance to save your turf from dying by following some of the preventative measures listed.

Yellow to brown patches could determine a fungi or disease is present within your lawn. If this is the case, then a fungicide such as Patch Pro will be your best bet to recover your lawn. Patch Pro is a recommendable product that will work to eliminate any disease or fungi on plants or lawns within 1 to 3 weeks. As a residual it will remain in your lawn for up to 30 days preventing diseases or fungi from returning to your yard.

For best results, refer to the label for appropriate monthly application to make sure the correct amount of Patch Pro Fungicide is being used.

Another measure you can take to prevent dead grass is to apply a pre-emergent or post-emergent herbicide. By applying a pre-emergent herbicide you are preparing your lawn to fight against weeds before they have emerged.

Barricade Pre-Emergent Herbicide is a granular product that prevents many species of weeds from germinating within your turf. At a rate of 2 pounds per 1,000 square feet, a 10 lb. bag of Barricade Herbicide will treat up to 5,000 square feet.

When weeds have already popped up in your turf then you should apply a post-emergent herbicide. Herbicides tend to kill more than just weeds, so select your product carefully.

To treat grassy and broadleaf weeds growing in cool-season lawns, you can use a product like 2, 4-D Amine. To kill grassy and broadleaf weeds growing in warm-season lawns, check out Fahrenheit Herbicide.

No matter your choice, always read the herbicide’s label thoroughly before you apply it so you don’t accidentally torch your turf and do more damage.

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent your grass from dormancy. Once your lawn has become dormant it should remain so until the appropriate season approaches.

Key Takeaways

What is the Difference Between Dead and Dormant Grass?

  • Both dead and dormant grass will appear brown in color. However, the main difference is dead grass cannot be recovered whereas dormant grass can be returned to its natural state.

How Can I Tell If I have Dead or Dormant Grass?

  • One of the easiest things you can do to determine if your turf is dead or dormant is to perform the tug test. If there is some resistance when you pull out your turf then it is dormant, if not then it is dead.

How Do I Awaken Dormant Turf?

  • Begin by watering your lawn with no more than 1 1/2 inches of water per week. The lawn should return to its original color within several weeks.
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