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How To Revive a Dead Lawn: Step by Step

If you love your lawn, then seeing it bright green and full of life is magnificent, but when that bright green lake of grass turns crispy and brown, it can be so devastating.

Even if you buy a new property and have found out that the owners have left their grass to die, it can be a daunting task to know what to do next. 

There is a way to solve this, and it isn’t the end for your lawn.

How to revive dead brown grass

It isn’t easy, however, and in some cases, you may have to fully replace your turf, but you can revive and repair a dead lawn.

In this article, we’ll give you a step-by-step guide on what you need to know and do to revive a dead lawn.

Why is My Lawn Dead?

This is usually the first question on anyone’s mind when their lawn dies, especially if you take care of your lawn and don’t neglect it.

When you see that parts of your lawn or your whole lawn have turned brown or dry you may want to get straight into reviving it and getting a lovely green lawn back.

You can’t rush into reviving your lawn without knowing what went wrong in the first place.

If you don’t find out why your lawn has died then sooner or later you’re going to be back to square one again, staring at a brown and dry patch of grass in your beautiful garden. 

This is step one. You need to find the cause of death, there are a few common reasons why a lawn may die, and we’ve listed a few of them to help you crack the case.

Type of Turf and Location

Not every type of turfgrass is suited to every type of location, and there are many types of turfgrass, all needing a different climate to thrive.

If you have the wrong turfgrass for the climate you are in, it is likely that this is the cause of the lawn dying. If you decide to go ahead and re-plant that turf, you’re going to end up with the same outcome.

In the U.S. you have three turfgrass growing zones that all depend on the climate of the area.

The Southwest and Deep South are what comprise the warm-season zones and require grasses that are warm-season grasses.

These grasses are greener in the summers and do well when retaining water so as not to fall into drought.

The northern half of the United States is a cool-season zone and requires cool-season grass, this grass doesn’t require as much sunlight and usually is greener in the winter months. 

If you live in between these two areas, then you are living a grass lover’s dream as you are in the transitional zone.

This means that you can plant either warm-season or cold-season grass, you can even plant a mixture of both which means that your grass will be as green as possible all year round.

This is recommended for people who live in the transitional zone as you can then see which grass would be better suited to your local climate.

It isn’t just climate that can affect your turf type, however, if you live in a hot climate but the majority of your lawn is in the shade it could have detrimental effects on your warm-season grass.

If your grass is fully in the shade then it will be hard for any turf type to thrive, and it may be worth looking into artificial grass.

If your lawn is only partially in the shade there are some types of grass that can tolerate this. One of these types of grass is Zeon Zoysiagrass which is known as one of the most shade-tolerant varieties of turf for the warm-season climate.

If your lawn is constantly in partial shade. it may be a good idea to look into this type of grass.

If you live on the coast in any region of the United States then this could also be a detrimental factor to your grass.

The closer you are to the sea, the saltier the air and the soil are, too much salt can kill any type of grass.

There are some types of turf that can survive in climates saltier than others, such as TifTuf Bermudagrass.

However, if you live too close to the coast, then the air and soil may be too salty for even these most salt-tolerant varieties, and you may need to look into alternatives to grass. 

Can dead grass be revived?

Disease and Infestation

Grass and turf can fall to disease and infestation, this could be the reason that your grass has become dry and brown.

Turfgrass can either be killed by diseases from pathogens or mycelium and the most common cause of the disease is a fungus.

When talking about infestation you are likely to find parasites like grubs. To check if your grass has been damaged by disease or infestation, first pull out a clump of grass in the area that you think has been affected.

The grass is likely to come out very easily if diseased due to the attack on its roots. 

The easiest way to determine the disease or infestation that has succumbed to your grass is to take a handful, including the soil and roots, to a garden store or Extension Office.

Here they can analyze the type of disease or infestation and give you an idea of how to fix it.

If the soil that your grass is planted on is diseased or infested then you will need to resolve these problems before reviving or replacing your lawn.

Cultural Practices

Everything you do to maintain a beautiful lawn in the turfgrass industry is referred to as cultural practice. This list includes the likes of mowing, aerating, irrigation, and fertilizing.

All of these cultural practices have to be done properly in order to maintain a healthy lawn and if you aren’t performing these correctly then that could be the reason that your lawn has died. 

Dead or weak grass could be caused by infrequent mowing and letting your grass grow too long. This is a common cause of killing off the grass.

If you let your grass grow too long and then mow it, you could be taking off more than one-third of the grass, therefore stunting its growth and stressing the plant.

During the peak growing season, which will be summer for the warm-season grass and winter for the cold-season grass, you should be mowing your lawn at least once a week (see also: 5 Tips to Mow Your Lawn Like a Professional).

However, outside the growing season for your grass, you should refrain from mowing your grass too often, as mowing dormant grass can also cause stress for your lawn. 

Not watering your lawn the right amount can also cause stress and affect your lawn, it is important to know exactly what your grass is doing and how much water it needs.

If you live in a region with consistent rain, and you rely on the rain to water your grass, that is fine! Most turfgrass can survive without water for four weeks.

However, if you are having a dry spell or a drought, you may notice that your grass has gone dormant and could even look like it has died.

If it has been under four weeks since the last rainfall, do not worry. This is a survival technique that grass uses to help retain water and moisture. 

To check if your grass may be dormant or dead, you can try watering your grass manually and waiting a few days, it could then start to regain its color.

If you can’t wait a few days or want to know the result a little quicker, pull a clump of grass from the base of the blades.

If the grass is dormant it will still have a healthy root system and will be tougher to pull out. If the grass is dead then its roots will also be dead, meaning that the grass should pull out easily.

Fertilization of your lawn will rarely be an issue but if you have not fertilized your lawn at all, it could lack the relevant nutrients to stay alive and that is why it has died.

Your lawn will get a majority of its nutrients from the soil it is planted in, but some soil is more nutritious than others.

If you want to find out how well your soil does at fertilizing your lawn on its own, then you can take a handful of soil to the Extension Office for analysis. They will send you your results in a few days and normally include recommendations for fertilizers.

Alternatively, you could buy lawn fertilizer and use it four times a year on your lawn, and your grass should be fine. Always cross-reference the fertilizer you buy with your grass type.

Reviving Your Dead Lawn

Now you have found out exactly why your lawn has died, and learned from your mistakes, solving the problems that have led to the lawn’s death in the first place.

You can begin the process of reviving your dead lawn

Preparing the Lawn

Before you get a new lawn it is important to prepare the site where your old lawn is.

The likelihood is that this entire lawn is dead, therefore, use a non-selective herbicide that can kill off any leftover grass or weeds.

Make sure to pick a dry day to do this as most herbicides will need at least two hours to set in before they are rainproof.

As well as a dry day, it might be beneficial to wait until there is little wind as well.

If it is a windy day, you risk having your herbicide spread to places you won’t want it or possibly even kill a neighbor’s good lawn.

You must give the herbicide a week or so to kill off the grass and weeds before continuing the reviving process. 

Dethatching the Lawn

After all the grass and weed has been killed you will have to dethatch your lawn, thatch is a layer of material that is decomposing between the blades of grass and the surface of the soil.

Having some thatch on your lawn can be a good thing, as it insulates the soil and helps maintain moisture.

Too much thatch, however, can suffocate the roots of the grass, which will inhibit your grass from accessing water and nutrients.

When dethatching an area you can either use a vertical mower, which you can rent from most lawn stores or a dethatching rake, which is normally used for smaller areas that need dethatching. 

Tilling the Soil

When the vegetation is killed and a good amount of the thatch is removed, you can begin to till your lawn.

Tilling is the act of turning the soil over to a depth of five or six inches including the dead organic material that has been killed by the herbicide. Now you have to add some organic material like compost or manure and till once more.

The organic material will have to introduce vital organisms that help generate enough nutrition for your lawn.

The tilling will also help improve water retention for the best possible grass growth. 

Fertilizing the Soil

Before planting the new grass seed, you will have to determine the number of nutrients that are in your soil.

To do this you can take a sample of the soil to the Extension Office, and they will test it.

In a few days, they will send the results and some fertilizer recommendations that you could use on your lawn.

Once you know exactly what your lawn needs in terms of fertilization, you can go to your nearest garden store and pick up the right fertilizer. Then you can proceed to apply it to your lawn.

Can you revive dead grass?

Planting and Maintaining the Grass

When you decide to plant your new grass, remember to choose carefully which grass you are planting and whether it is more suited to colder regions or warmer regions.

You have two ways of planting new grass. The first way to plant new grass is to lay down seeds. This can be done by getting a bag of grass seed and spreading it over your lawn evenly.

Alternatively, you can rent a seed spreader from a garden store, this will be useful if you have a particularly large lawn.

When your seed is laid down, you need to cover it with a thin layer of soil.

The second way of planting your seed is using sod. Sod can be bought from garden stores and is the grass that is already growing, it comes in squares of turf with roots still attached.

When laying down sod you need to simply place these squares over the soil, making sure that they are close and compacted with other squares of sod.

After scattering seed or placing down sod, you should then roll your new grass. When rolling sod, you help the roots press down into the soil, when rolling seeds you help them down into the earth so the root can grow further down.

Now you have planted your grass you need to begin maintenance.

Water the seeded soil frequently but not too much, it must be enough so that the soil is moist but never soggy. As the lawn starts to come through you can water your lawn less frequently but with larger amounts of water.

It is important not to stress the lawn as it is in its first growing stages, avoid foot traffic and keep mowing to a minimum.

You will be able to tell when the lawn is fully established when you can pull on the grass, and it doesn’t feel like it is pulling away from the ground.

When it comes to first mowing your grass properly, mow only after the grass has grown over its recommended height by about one and a half times. Make sure you have nice sharp blades on your mower so you cut the new grass clean.

The recommended height changes with each type of grass so make sure to research this number.

Raise your mower to avoid cutting off too much of the blade, you should only be cutting off one-third of the grass blade each time.


There you have it, you have successfully revived your dead lawn and can now enjoy it to its fullest.

Make sure to properly maintain this lawn according to your grass type, keeping up with the right amount of mowing, watering, and fertilizing, and always look out for signs that could mean your grass is dying again.

Ian richardson

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