Reviving a Dead Lawn

When you picture the idyllic American home, it doesn’t have a dead, brown lawn in front of it. There’s a pristine, lush carpet of immaculately groomed green grass that’s begging to be admired during a barbecue or a pool party during the height of summer. If your lawn is brown and patchy, there’s still hope. You can revive a dead lawn with some elbow grease and understanding why it’s dead in the first place.

CAUSES OF A DEAD LAWN

  • Drought: Many cities enact water restrictions during droughts which will keep you from watering your lawn. If it doesn’t rain, your grass will go dormant after 2-3 weeks without water and will brown during 4-6 weeks.
  • Excessive Thatch: Thatch is a layer of decomposed plant matter (grass, leaves, etc.) that sits atop your grass. While it adds nutrients to your lawn as it decomposes, it can smother your grass if it’s more than 3/4″ thick.
  • Poor Mowing: Cutting your grass too short removes a significant portion of the leaf which damages its ability to photosynthesize causing it to starve. Naturally, this will kill your lawn.
  • Improper Watering: Watering your lawn incorrectly can be as damaging (in the long run) as not watering it at all. Frequent, short watering sessions can create a shallow root system that won’t be able to handle hot summer days. Be sure to correctly water your lawn.

Tips on How to Revive a Dead Lawn

It’s always easier to maintain a healthy lawn than to bring one back from the dead, but it’s not impossible. Sometimes, your brown lawn is just dormant and a couple weeks of deep watering will be enough for it to spring back to life. However, if your lawn is dead, you’ll need to do a little more to bring it back.

WEED

Weeds love all the same things that grass does. If you start watering more, they’ll suck it up. If you fertilize, they’ll eat it up. Before you do anything to bring your grass back, you want to make sure your lawn is weed free. That means walking your lawn and identifying dandelions, crabgrass, ground ivy, ragwort, white clover, and so on to know what needs to be dealt with.

Some weeds are easier than others to deal with, looking at you crabgrass, but they can be removed by hand or with a natural weed killer. You can cut down on the work here and save yourself a wheelbarrow full of back pain by spreading a pre-emergent herbicide in early Spring.

AERATE

Aerating your lawn is pretty much like give it a breath of fresh air. Aeration, regardless of which type, gives water, oxygen, and fertilizer direct access to the soil beneath your grass as well as its root system. This allows for a faster exchange of nutrients and encourages healthy lawn growth. It also gives your lawn room to breath by improving the circulation of water and air throughout your lawn.

SEED

If you have empty patches of dirt or thinning areas in your lawn, you’re going to have to re-seed it. We don’t want to leave these areas empty and let weeds have room to grow. Depending on your grass type, Spring or Fall will be the best time to re-seed your particular lawn, but if it’s June and you have a 4 foot gap in your lawn, you might as well go ahead and just get it done.

Side note: it’s important that you keep the same grass species throughout your lawn. Don’t just grab the cheapest and biggest bag of lawn seed. Take the time to find out what kind of grass you have and pick up that kind of seed. Trust us, you don’t want half a lawn of St. Augustine, a quarter Bluegrass, and a quarter Buffalo. It’s a pain to manage, it looks ugly, and it’s a headache.

Before you seed, you’ll want to water your lawn well and then sow the thin areas with your lawn’s specific grass species’ seed. This will give the grass seed a better chance of taking root and growing shoots. Don’t mow these problem areas until you see healthy new grass growth. You don’t want to stunt, or kill, the new growth.

FERTILIZE

A growing lawn’s gotta eat. A bag of fertilizer will do wonders to revitalize your lawn. You’ll want to pick up a fertilizer that works for your lawn’s particular grass species, and one that contains nitrogen. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter to revive your lawn.

Also, be sure to wait until after the previous step before fertilizing. You want to make sure that your new growth is healthy and solid. Otherwise, it may go back to being brown again.

WATER

Sometimes a brown lawn just needs a few watering sessions for it to be reinvigorated. However, watering incorrectly can cause even more damage. To do it the right way you’ll want to water deeply 1-2 times per week when trying to revive a dead lawn. This is primarily to help encourage deep, healthy root growth which will in turn lead to a full, lush lawn. Watering correctly can be an art so be sure to check out our how to water your lawn guide.

MOW

When repairing your lawn, you should minimize your mowing or not mow at all. Getting grass seed to set and grow is a delicate process that can be decimated by mowing too early. Mowing around these new growth areas is always an option if it’s taking a while to set and the rest of your lawn is starting to look shabby. Just be sure to keep the mower, kids, and pets off until it’s filled in.

You can also spread fresh grass clippings to the areas you’ve seeded to help naturally fertilize it and help it grow faster.

RECAP

A dead, brown lawn is not the end. You don’t have to rip it out and lay down sod or start from bare dirt. You can revive your dead lawn. All it takes is a little bit of hard work and consistency to make sure the work takes root and you’ll have a lush, beautiful lawn that you can fully enjoy before barbecue season’s over.

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