Dormant Grass vs. Dead Grass: How To Tell The Difference

The sight of brown grass on your property can be both frustrating and confusing. However, before you try to address this problem, you need to determine what is causing it and if the grass is, in fact, alive.

A simple answer to why your grass is turning brown could be due to the change of weather. Nonetheless, that is not always the case and you should try to determine whether your grass is dead or dormant. 

dead or dormant grass  

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How To Tell The Difference Between Dead And Dormant Grass:

There are a variety of different ways in which you can distinguish between dead and dormant grass.

  • Try The Tug Test. 

The Tug Test is the easiest way to tell if your grass is dead or dormant. Simply grab a patch of grass and slightly tug on it. If what you grab easily pulls out of the ground, then the grass is most likely, dead. But the roots will tell more of the story. If the roots are white, then the grass could still be alive and just in a dormant phase.

If the roots are brittle or grayish, then it’s most likely dead grass and it’s not coming back. You will need to take a few steps to regrow your lawn.

This can be done by seeding or sodding to replace the grass. Otherwise, you can install new landscaping material. This could be mulch, rocks, or ground cover. 

If you wish to seed your lawn, you will need to mow it first. Keep in mind that the grass will need to be mowed shorter than usual so that the seeds can reach the ground better.

You should also collect the clippings as this will make it easier for the seeds to have access to the ground. I recommend you add some sort of soil amendment, as this will give the seeds a healthy environment to grow.  Here are some soil amendments for you to check out

Laying sod can be a tedious and expensive process. To do this, you will need to remove all of the dead grass and make sure the soil is prepped before laying down the new sod. 

You will need to continue to water and feed the lawn after its installation, whether you choose to seed or sod to ensure that the growing process is kept healthy and sustainable. 

Lawns: Grass Dead or Alive
  • Look For Patterns.

brown spots in grass Are there patches of brown grass or is your entire lawn brown? If your whole lawn is brown, your grass may be dormant.

However, if you can see circles or patches of brown grass, this is a good sign that these spots are dead.

Nonetheless, you will need to rule out other possible problems that have caused these patches of brown grass, as pests and diseases can cause similar symptoms. In this case, it’s best to hire a professional to investigate the brown grass and its soil, as this will help find the cause of the problem. 

  • Consider Temperature Changes.

As mentioned before, temperature affects the appearance of your grass. Cool-season grasses will become dormant during prolonged heat periods. Whereas, warm-season grasses will become dormant during the winter.

The grass is still alive and will turn back to being a lush, green lawn when the right temperature returns. However, if you wish to maintain a green turf all year round regardless of what the temperature may be, you can plant a mixture of either cool-season or warm-season grasses in your lawn. 

  • Follow A Watering Schedule.

You can get a better idea of what is causing the brown color to appear on your grass if you follow a consistent watering schedule.

In excessively hot and dry conditions, grass can become dormant. However, watering can help dormant grass return to its natural green color. Whereas, if dead grass is watered, it will remain brown. Follow this watering schedule for best results

Alternative Solution: Employ A Professional.

It can be extremely difficult to distinguish between dead and dormant grass, and even more difficult to resolve the problem.

For that reason, we would recommend hiring a lawn care company if you are unable to treat the problem. They will be able to effectively take care of the problem for you. 

Dormancy is a natural protection mechanism that allows grass to withstand weather changes. That said, dormant grass will return to its regular health when weather conditions improve.

Unlike dormant grass, dead grass needs to be removed and replaced. This can be an expensive and time-consuming process. That is why it is highly recommended to confirm the current state of your grass before taking these measures. 

What Causes Dormant Grass?

When grass is in a state of dormancy, it is conserving its energy and water to stay alive. This is done by absorbing vital resources from the roots and crowns to keep them alive while sustaining times of stress. That is why it turns brown, as no resources are being sent to help develop lush, green blades of grass. 

Grass can go into dormancy at the change of season when the temperature drops. Along with this, it can also occur in the hotter months when the grass is faced with a drought.

Limited water is available to the plant. Therefore, the grass goes into survival mode and saves the water for more important processes within the plant. Did you know you can thicken up your lawn with dormant seeding

It is important to take note that natural grass can only stay dormant for at least a month. In some areas, hot summers last for longer than a month.

Therefore, to keep your grass from dying, you would need to significantly increase your lawn’s irrigation routine. If the irrigation of the grass is not increased, it may result in you needing to replace some or even all of the grass after drought conditions improve or temperatures drop. 

How Can You Tell If You Have Dead Grass?

Dead grass usually has the same appearance as dormant grass. However, it does not go back to its green color after the weather improves or when you take the necessary measures to revive it.

Dormant grass can become dead grass if left in unfavorable conditions for too long. As a result, you will need to either reseed or replace the grass to have a green lawn once again. 


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