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How To Bring Back Dead Grass

a front yard with a dying lawn

If you have grass, you want to be able to take pride in your lush, green lawn. But maintaining healthy grass requires time, effort and know-how. Sometimes, you have to deal with problems like bald patches. Yellow or brown areas are another common issue. Knowing how to bring back dead grass is an important part of keeping your lawn thriving. If you know what’s causing the issue, you can take steps to fix it.

One important thing to know is the difference between dormant and dead grass. Sometimes, brown grass looks dead, but it’s not.

Dead Grass Versus Dormant Grass

All grass varieties have a dormant season, when they stop growing and lose their green. For warm-season grasses, this happens starting in fall, when the temperature outside cools down. Once the soil temperature drops below about 50 degrees on a consistent basis, the grass starts to go dormant.

Grass will also go dormant during periods of drought, when it doesn’t get enough water to stay green and thriving. This type of dormancy usually happens during the hot summer months. If it’s just a few weeks of drought, most yards can weather through just fine and bounce back on their own. If the heat and drought last longer, you’ll need to take steps to support your lawn so it can grow lushly once again.

The reason grass goes dormant is so it can conserve nutrients and moisture. This is actually a pretty smart adaptation to natural changes in the weather! During a summer drought period, or as spring gets in gear, you can help dormant grass rebound by watering and fertilizing. Mowing also helps. So does staying off the grass as much as possible as it regrows.

Of course, even these simple steps require some know-how. You have to use the right fertilizer, for example, and apply it during the right times of year. It’s also better to water less often but more deeply, rather than more frequently for shorter periods. Mowing grass to the right height is also important to its overall health.

Watering, fertilizing, aerating and mowing can all help dormant grass spring back to life. But if your grass is dying or dead, not just dormant, the fix may be more complicated. One way to tell the difference between dead and dormant grass is by the location and size of the problem areas. If your grass has an overall brown tinge and isn’t growing much, and it’s during a cold season or a summer drought, the grass may simply have gone dormant. Distinct patches of yellow, brown or clearly dead grass, on the other hand, signal a different issue.

Causes of Dead Grass

Here are some common causes of dead grass:

  • Too much sun or shade in the yard. Sometimes, grass dies in a yard that is either too shady or too sunny for the grass that’s there. St. Augustine grass typically does well in shade, for example, while Bermuda grass does well in full sun. Zoysia is a variety that can do well in both. There are several other grass varieties, but these are the best grasses for North Texas. If you’re struggling to grow a variety that simply isn’t suited for your particular yard or area, it may be wiser to replace it with something that will grow more easily.
  • Insects, fungus or disease. Grass with distinct brown patches may be suffering from fungal growth that is leaching nutrients at the roots. This can be caused by overwatering. Brown spots can also be caused by insects like chinch bugs and grub larvae, which feed on grass roots, causing it to die off in patches.
  • Animals and high foot traffic. Dogs that “do their business” on the same spots in the yard every day can cause yellow patches in the grass due to the nitrogen levels in their urine. Lots of foot traffic—meaning pets or people frequently walking or running over the grass—will damage the roots and wear down the grass over time.
  • Too much thatch buildup. Thatch is the dead grass that accumulates at the soil level. When this layer grows too thick, it chokes out water, sunlight and nutrients—all of which the grass needs to thrive. Dethatching and aerating the grass in spring can help bring light, oxygen, water and nutrients to the roots. This will stimulate new growth.
  • Grass can also die due to neglect. If grass isn’t watered often enough, it will die. It will also struggle and be more vulnerable to fungus and disease if it isn’t properly fertilized, mowed and otherwise maintained through the seasons.

For many people, keeping up with their lawn’s needs is too big of an undertaking. Hiring a professional for regular lawn maintenance is a great investment for your yard.

soil mixed with fertilizer

When to Fertilize Lawn

Knowing when to fertilize your lawn will help you keep your yard green and lush. But the right time to fertilize grass depends on several factors. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to fertilize once in early spring. You can fertilize when the soil temperature is consistently above 50 degrees. This is typically sometime between late February and April.

You’ll know this has happened when the grass starts coming out of dormancy and begins growing again. Around the first time you need to mow the grass is also a good time to apply fertilizer. Your grass should also be fine if you wait until the second or third mowing to apply your first round of fertilizer.

While fertilizer may be most important in spring, many people apply another round in the fall. This should be done a month or so before the first frost is expected. Grass should not be fertilized when it’s dormant—that is, after the soil temperature drops below 50 degrees on a consistent basis. If you fertilize after this point, the grass won’t be able to absorb the nutrients. Fertilizer should always be applied when the grass is actively growing, so it can take advantage of the product’s nutrients.

St. Augustine grass should do well with only spring and fall fertilizer applications. If you have Bermuda grass, it will also benefit from fertilizing every 45 to 60 days between the spring and fall applications. This might mean a total of four applications of fertilizer per year, for a Bermuda grass lawn. No matter what type of lawn you have, be sure to be careful. Using too much fertilizer can result in yellow patches in your yard.

What Fertilizer To Use

Along with the timing of fertilizer, it’s also important to know what kind of fertilizer to use on your lawn. Getting a soil sample from your yard and having it tested is the best way to know the exact levels of nutrients that are present in your yard. This knowledge will then tell you which type of fertilizer to use based on what’s lacking.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of having your soil tested, you can opt for a 3-1-2 or a 3-1-1 product in spring. All fertilizers show nutrient ratio levels expressed in three numbers. In fall, a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 fertilizer product will help protect your grass for the upcoming winter season.

Knowing when to fertilize grass and which product to use can be intimidating. A reputable lawn care specialist can handle all your lawn care needs, including seasonal fertilizer applications. A lawn care pro can also suggest products and steps you can use on your own to keep your grass lush and growing. They can also typically refer you to other professionals, such as landscapers, who can refresh the rest of your yard. These pros can do things like plant new flowers to make the rest of your yard as lush as your lawn.

a homeowner mowing their lawn

Best Height to Cut Grass

Knowing the best height to cut grass is important because cutting it too short or too long can affect how well it grows. If there’s a drought, for example, it’s important to avoid cutting your grass too short. Keeping it longer will help to keep in moisture and protect the roots from the hot sun. Cutting the grass too short can also damage the lawn mower itself, by scraping and dulling the blades.

In general, most landscapers and lawn care professionals recommend cutting grass to a height of 2.5 to 3 inches. The type of grass you have also influences the best height for mowing. St. Augustine grass should be mowed to a taller height, but Bermuda and Zoysia can be mowed shorter. These varieties can even be mowed down to an inch in height.

Lawn Mowing Tips

Keep in mind that it’s not a good idea to cut off more than a third of the grass’s height at one time. This is one good reason to keep up with regular mowing during the growing season, so the grass is always near its optimal height. It’s also not a good idea to mow when the grass is wet. If you mow only when the grass is dry, it will help to prevent fungus and disease. You can also leave the dry clippings on the grass as natural mulch and fertilizer.

A lawn care specialist can handle all your lawn’s mowing and maintenance needs. They can establish an effective lawn care schedule that is customized for your yard, to keep your grass green, thick and thriving.

ABC Can Keep Your Lawn Healthy and Green

Instead of playing the guessing game with your lawn, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our experienced lawn care team can create a lawn maintenance schedule that keeps your lawn looking its best. We also offer landscaping, pool services, pest control services and mole control services, so your time in your yard is enjoyable.

Amberlee Warner

Amberlee Warner is the Lawn Division Director and is responsible for Lawn, Landscaping, Holiday Lighting, and Irrigation Services for ABC Dallas, Fort Worth, and Tyler branches. Amberlee is a licensed irrigator and has over 25 years of experience in the lawn industry. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Horticulture from Texas A&M University. In her spare time, she likes to garden, snow/water ski, and spend time with her daughters.

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