One of the lovely things that comes along with being a homeowner is getting to show off your luscious green lawn. Alas, no one wants to brag about a yard full of patchy or dry, yellow grass. Determine whether you have dead or dormant grass so you can give it the proper care and nurse your lawn back to health.
What’s the Difference Between Dormant and Dead Grass?
The first step to properly treating your brown or yellow grass is knowing whether it’s actually dead or just dormant. While dead and dormant grass will look incredibly similar, you can bring dormant grass back to life while dead grass is gone for good.
It’s hard to spot the differences between them, and you may have to wait until the seasons change to determine what state the lawn is in for sure.
What is Dead Grass?
Dead grass looks brown, lifeless, and dull. It no longer has its beautiful green color or upright posture as healthy grass should. When your grass dies, you will need to start over completely with new greenery.
Dead grass looks typically the same as dormant grass. However, unlike dormant grass, dead grass doesn’t come back when the weather gets a bit nicer or you invest in high-quality fertilizer. If it dies, reseed or replace the grass to once again enjoy a beautiful, green, and thriving lawn.
What Makes Grass Dormant?
Spotting dormant grass can be tricky, but it’s important to know what sets it apart from dead grass. The last thing you want is to invest your time and money into replacing your entire lawn just to realize you could have fixed it with some patience and tools. Dormancy in your grass will appear the same as if it were dead, creating brown and yellow grass.
Dormancy is a protective mechanism that allows cool-season grass to preserve energy and nutrients to survive the summer heat. When your grass goes dormant, it conserves water and vigor to stay alive during harsher seasons. Instead of sending those critical resources to make the grass green and luscious, it’s using them to keep roots alive.
Dormant grass is much easier to handle than dead grass because there are several things you can do to nurture it and make it as good as new. It’s relatively standard for grass to become dormant during the winter when the temperature drops and then come back as the temperature rises in the spring.
Grass can remain in its dormant state for about a year before it begins to die off and needs replacement. However, there are a few ways to determine the state of your brown or yellow grass that doesn’t require potentially harmful waiting.
What if My Grass is Yellow?
Several things can lead to a yellow lawn, but the leading cause is having major soil issues.
Causes of a Yellowing Lawn
- unhealthy soil
- changing seasons
- excessive pet urine
- past stress
A lack of nutrients in the soil makes grass susceptible to pests and diseases, which cause yellowing. However, if you notice yellow grass in the spring, it may have a nitrogen deficiency.
Why is My Grass Turning Yellow and Brown?
There are a variety of factors that may contribute to brown and yellow grass on your lawn. Typically, it turns brown in response to stress. So, what stresses out your precious green grass?
Stress in the lawn is caused by heat and drought, especially in the summer. Even warm climate grasses might turn brown and dormant for a few weeks at a time. It’s important to remember that during a drought, your yard can survive up to four weeks without water.
Depending on the area you live in, your grass might suffer disease if temperatures are in constant fluctuation. Weather changes may also lead to an iron deficiency. When there is heavy rainfall and a lack of iron, the turf will grow faster than it can take up nutrients, causing yellow grass.
Bermudagrass, in particular, can struggle more in the fall and winter. It’s a warm-season grass, so the harsh conditions make it difficult for this lawn type to thrive. You’ll notice that it turns predominantly yellow as the temperature starts to drop.
When you gotta go, you gotta go! For our furry friends, one too many bathroom breaks could lead to a yellowing lawn. Remember to flush the area with water regularly, because, of course, we can’t avoid pets taking care of their business. You may have to overseed these areas and even replace the topsoil.
How to Determine if Your Grass is Dormant or Dead
Since dead and dormant grass looks so similar, you might have to do some investigating to determine what treatment is needed on your lawn. There are a few different ways to uncover whether your grass needs to be replaced or just needs some TLC.
Methods for Determining if Soil is Dormant or Dead
- Observe how the lawn is browning.
- Check the irrigation system.
- Perform a tug test.
- Water the lawn.
Observe How the Lawn’s Browning
If your lawn starts to drift towards the brown and dull side, notice how your grass makes this transition. Does it happen uniformly? Does it all seem to brown around the same time or area?
Dormant grass usually doesn’t occur in patchy or inconsistent sections. The yard will typically turn brown or yellow unless a particular area doesn’t receive as much watering or sun. If your lawn looks luscious and green in some spots but dull in others, you likely have a different lawn issue than dormant or dead grass.
Checking Your Lawn’s Irrigation System
A patchy lawn might indicate that you need to check out the lawn’s irrigation system. If it only looks dry in certain spots, it’s possible your sprinklers just aren’t reaching every inch of your lawn. Try watering the dry spots directly for a week or so to see if the problem persists. If the lawn is dormant, it will begin to turn green over time. Grass that stays brown even after days of irrigation is probably dead.
How to Conduct a Tug Test in Your Yard
If the brown spots on your lawn aren't a result of disease or insect damage, you might need to try another method to determine its actual state. One of the tactics for understanding the state of the grass is conducting a tug test. To perform this test, simply pull a handful of grass from your turf.
It will be a bit difficult to pull grass right out of your lawn most of the time. However, it’s likely already dead if you can easily remove the grass from the ground with no struggle. If it’s more on the resistant side, it might be dormant instead.
Watering Your Lawn to Determine the Grass State
One of the biggest reasons grass goes dormant over time is that it’s not receiving the proper amount of water and nutrients. To determine whether your lawn is getting enough hydration, give it some extra water for a few days in addition to the standard one to two inches each week. Observe how your grass reacts to the increase in water.
There are a few instances, like extreme heat or intense drought, where a few extra days of water won’t be enough to bring back your lawn. If you fear that your grass is dead, it’s generally the best decision to wait for better weather conditions, so you can try an irrigation test once more before giving up.
If your grass gains some life and appears green once again, you will know that it was just dormant. If it remains lifeless even after generous watering, it’s likely dead for good. When dormant grass leads to a brown and yellow summer lawn, it’s vital to change your current lawn care procedures to meet your property’s current needs.
How to Protect Dormant Yellow Grass
Now that you know some of the leading causes of your lawn's troubles, how can you treat it and keep it from getting infected? If you’ve determined that it’s dormant and just needs some extra attention rather than a total replacement, help it before standard inactive periods. You should be watering the dormant grass deeply but infrequently, about once a week, for twenty to thirty minutes.
Taking the extra time to water the grass before summer dormancy hits encourages the grass to develop deep roots. Roots give it better access to moisture in the soil. Having strong soil is key to keeping a nice-looking lawn and reducing stress on your grass.
Limiting further stress on your lawn is the best way to prevent brown or dead grass in the future. During the drought season, try to limit your mowing until your grass is hydrated again. When you allow taller blades of grass to grow, they will shade the soil, reducing evaporation and retaining moisture.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you might want to avoid activities on the lawn for a few days. As much as you might want to feel the grass between your toes on a warm summer morning, wait until the yellow grass is back to its healthy, green state.
Caring for Dormant Grass
Although you can do things to prevent dormant and dead grass, sometimes lawn issues are inevitable. It’s essential to put a lot of care into your grass when it’s struggling because it’s more susceptible to damage than when it’s lively. Protection should be the priority when caring for dormant grass.
How to Care for a Dormant Lawn
- reduce foot traffic
- water only enough to keep the grass alive
- avoid fertilizing
- remove weeds by hand
- mow only as needed
Whether your lawn stays dormant in the winter or you experience yellow grass in the warmer months, it will still require care. You get to skip the steps of mowing, aerating, and long watering time, but it still requires regular maintenance.
If you have followed all these procedures and your grass is still looking yellow or brown, you need to attempt to rehydrate. Water your lawn so that the soil is wet down to a five-inch depth. While watering alone probably won’t transform the grass overnight, it will keep it afloat until better conditions arrive.
Reviving Dormant Grass
There may be some instances where you can revive grass without replanting a whole yard of new seed. Once you have limited traffic, you should start to notice a dormant lawn becoming green again. If it doesn’t, you may be able to reseed or replace small patches that are damaged.
As previously mentioned, avoiding the lawnmower will help nurse your dormant grass back to health. Once it does start to come back, wait until it’s grown a significant length before cutting again. The longer blades will help hold moisture in through the process of evaporation.
You might be tempted to chop off the brown grass to get down to the green, but this will harm your property more than it helps. Allowing the new blades to grow up through the brown or yellow will reduce stress on the lawn. Thick, healthy grass is in your future if you keep your patience strong.
Starting Over when Your Lawn is Beyond Repair
Does the grass seem damaged beyond repair? It might be time to find some high-quality grass seed and do a complete overhaul. When planting fresh grass, be sure to keep the top two inches of soil moist until the new grass reaches a mowing height of about three inches.
The primary concern when caring for dormant grass is to limit traffic. Pulling weeds by hand will help because they won’t use the nutrients and water grass needs to survive. In addition to holding off on fertilizer, wait to use herbicides until the lawn has had some time to recover.
Understanding the key identifiers for both dormant and dead grass will help your lawn look gorgeous once again. Have patience and give your yard tender love and care to get rid of yellow grass. Consider checking out a Simple Lawn Solutions lawn care box to fulfill all your grass needs.