How to Revive Dying Grass

How to revive dying grass

The reason for grass dying is usually because of not enough water or poor underlying soil. Grass most often turns brown with a dying appearance in Summer due to lower rainfall and higher temperatures that dry out the soil.

Even if grass has turned brown due to drought, it usually revives and turns green again after rainfall.

Grass dying in Winter is usually because the underlying soil is boggy, due to a high clay content which prevents good drainage and excludes oxygen from around the roots, which interferes with root respiration and cause the grass to turn yellow.

New grass dying is usually because of not enough water or compacted underlying soil.

If the grass is dying in patches, the solution may be to dig up the patch, replace the soil and sow grass seed.

Grass is incredibly resilient and can turn brown and dormant in periods of drought only to turn green again after a bout of rainfall.

Keep reading to learn the cause and how implement the solutions to revive dying grass…

Grass Dying in Patches

Patch of grass turned and died back due to a fuel spill from a lawn mower.
Patch of grass turned brown and died back due to a fuel spill from a lawn mower.

The most common cause of grass dying in patches is usually a combination of drought and poor underlying soil. Sandy soil or rubble underneath the turf does not retain moisture or nutrients which causes the grass to dry out and turn brown in hot weather.

However, there are a several reasons why grass can die in patches which I have summarized below:

Probable Causes of Grass Dying in PatchesReasons for Grass Dying in PatchesSymptoms
Applying too Much Fertilizer or Uneven Application:Grass is very sensitive to excess fertilizer and is too much is applied in one area or the applicator is not spot on, then dying, scorched looking patches or stripes show on the lawn.Brown streaks or patches, where the fertilizer is most concentrated.
Drought:Brown, dying patches can correlate with scorching weather. Usually the soil underneath is particularly sandy or well draining where the dying, brown patches have appeared.Lawn turns brown/yellow, in response to low rainfall or heat waves.
Dog Urine (Primarily Female Dogs):Both female and male dog’s urine contains a high concentration of nitrogen which can burn the grass causing the brown, dead patches. Female dogs tend to squat and wee in one place which concentrates on one patch whereas male dogs spray to mark their territory. For this reason female dog urine is more likely to cause brown patches.Brown scorched areas with lush green margins.
Spilled Oil, Petrol or Gas:Any fuel or oil can burn the grass and cause dying patches in the lawn.Any grass that has come into contact with fuel scorches brown and dies back.
Underlying Rubble, Underneath the Turf:Rubble or builders waste is sometimes partially buried and turfed over, particularly with new build houses. The underlying rubble does not retain nutrients or moisture which causes the grass to turn brown.Brown patches appear above where the rubble is concentrated.
Compacted Areas of Soil:Compaction of the soil, can be as a result of driving over the lawn, foot traffic or due to heavy clay soil which compacts to the extent that roots cannot establish in the soil properly and therefore cannot uptake moisture and nutrients to sustain the grass. Wide spread areas of brown or yellow grass or poor growth or concentrated patches where the soil is most compacted.
Specific Lawn Diseases such as Fusarium Patch disease or Dollar Spot Disease.The most common lawn diseases are Fusarium Patch disease and Dollar Spot Disease, both of which can cause brown dying patches in the lawn.Dollar spot disease causes, small, circular brown patches around the lawn. Fausarium disease happens after long standing snow has melted causing yellow patches.

How to Revive Grass Dying in Patches

The good news is that grass is incredibly resilient and can often be revived or treated if certain patches are dying:

How to Repair Grass Dying in Patches

1.First cut around the perimeter of the dead patch of grass with either a half moon or spade.

Dying patch of grass
A half moon is the best tool for removing a patch of grass.

2. Lever the turf up with the half moon to remove the dead patch.

Repairing dead patches of grass.
Dig 2 inches below the turf to remove the dead patch of grass.

3. It is best practice to use a loam based compost to fill the hole and to use enough compost so that it sits between 1 and 2 inches proud of the surround lawn. This is important because the compost inevitably compacts when the lawn is back in use so that the new grass should equal the same height as the rest of the lawn.

Loam based compost contains clay and organic matter to help retain moisture, creating the optimal conditions for the new grass seed to grow.

Once you have applied the layer of compost, water it in generously before applying the seed.

Repair dying grass
Ensure the height of the compost is at least 1 inch higher then the surrounding turf, so that when it compacts down, it is the same height as the surrounding lawn.

4. Apply the grass seed liberally to the surface of the soil. Avoid watering in at this point as the water is likely to displace the grass seed, so that it is unevenly distributed.

Grass seed to repair dying patches of grass.
Apply the grass seed liberally.

5. After applying the seed sprinkle some more compost on top then press the compost down with your hand or a flat surface to compact slightly. This is important as the grass seed should be in contact with the compost to facilitate germination.

The surface layer of compost also obscures the grass from the view of birds, which are likely to eat the seed.

Once you have sprinkled on the compost and firmed it slightly, water the top layer lightly.

The grass seed should germinate and start to grow within 2 weeks.

6. This is the same patch two weeks later and the grass seed has grown significantly thanks to frequent watering and lots of sunshine.

Two weeks of growth from grass seed.
Two weeks of growth from grass seed.

Avoid standing on the area or mowing for at least a month to give the grass roots time to develop so that it is resilient to stress.

After 6 to 8 weeks the grass should be hardy enough to walk on and mow.

Revive Grass Dying from Excessive Fertilizer: As grass is so sensitive to excess nitrogen, it is imperative to follow the manufactures to avoid applying too much and ensure that the method of distribution is set up properly. Always apply fertilizer just before rain is forecast as this helps mitigate against the risk of scorching the grass.

Water the affected areas generously to dilute the concentration of nitrogen and leaves the area to recover. If the affects of over fertilizing is moderate then the grass can sometimes recover if the grass is watered well.

However if it is severe then the roots die back and the grass does not recover, in which case you can either re-turf the lawn is the affected is large or use a half moon or spade to cut out any dead grass, apply compost or top soil and sow some grass seed to replenish the affected patch.

Revive Dry Brown Patches Due to Drought, or Sharp Drainage: Grass is surprising resilient and often revives from drought of its own accord after a good spell or rainfall, even if the grass dries out and turns completely brown. This is because grass adapted to surviving drought by turning dormant in response to a lack of water and revives once it has access to moisture.

However if there are individual patches dying and turning brown during hot and dry weather it is worth assessing whether the soil is too sandy and therefore not retaining the moisture that the grass needs to stay green.

In which case I recommend spot treating as shown in the photos above by removing the affected turf and laying some compost or top soil before sowing grass seed.

I recommend a loam based top soil for dry brown patches as loam contains some clay and organic matter which really helps to retain moisture and nutrients.

Revive Dying Patches Due to Dog Urine: Water the area as quickly as you can as this helps to dilute the concentration of nitrogen, which is the cause of the dying, brown patch. However, digging out the affected brown patch and reseeding the area is often necessary.

Note that both female and male dogs can cause brown dying patches in the lawn, however female dogs are usually responsible as they squat whilst urinating which concentrates the urine in one place.

Revive Dying Patches due to Fuel Spills: If oil or fuel have spilled from your lawn mower or other garden equipment then the grass, then the grass does not recover. Dig out the affected patch reseed the area.

Always refuel your lawn mower in the garage or shed, before using it on the lawn to limit spills.

Avoid Placing Hedge Cutting Equipment in the Grass After Use: Whilst working as a landscape gardener, I once placed a hedge cutter on the grass after hours of use and there was a small metal plate on the underside of the hedge cutter that actually managed to scorch the grass in a small patch.

Fortunately in this instance, the grass was long enough that the scorched brown area was on the tips of the grass and the burnt area was removed after mowing, without leaving a trace.

Revive Brown Patches due to Underlying Rubble: Use a fork to detect whether there is rubble or builders debris under the turf. If so, try to cut the turf out of the lawn without damaging it, remove the rubble and replace it with at least 3 inches of top soil and reseed the lawn.

Revive Dying Patches due to Soil Compaction: If the underlying soil is heavy clay or there has been vehicles drive over the lawn or perhaps someone has walked the same path on the lawn, then compaction can occur.

Compaction restricts roots growth, pushes oxygen out of the oil and prevents water from infiltrating properly which all results in dying patches of lawn.

The best way to revive the lawn is to use a fork to help aerate the soil. By forking over the affected area, you create space within the soil which allows air to the root (important for root respiration), allow water to infiltrate properly, so that the grass can benefit from the moisture and ease the compaction which helps the roots grow.

Go over the affected areas with a fork, creating holes every 5 inches and then water the area.

If you suspect your lawn is being affected by disease then this requires an article in its own right to address the problem.

Grass Turning Brown and Dying

  • Symptoms. Brown tips to the grass or a brown scorched look.
  • Causes. Dull mower blades not cutting the grass properly or drought due to a lack of rainfall or poor quality soil underneath the turf. Cutting grass too short increases vulnerability to drought, increasing the risk of brown grass due to drought.

The most common reasons for grass turning brown is because of a dull mower blade, drought and due sandy soil that drains too quickly for the roots to draw up moisture. If the grass turns brown, this usually indicates the grass is dormant due to a lack of moisture and turn green again after heavy rainfall.

It is important to avoid cutting grass too short when mowing to prevent the grass from turning brown. Ideally grass should be kept at at least 2 inches tall to help retain moisture and a green appearance.

You should avoid mowing more then 1/3 the length of a blade of grass in any one mow, so that it can retain its green appearance.

Cutting the grass too short also make the lawn more vulnerable to drought as the grass cannot retain moisture as effective and the roots are more exposed to blazing sunshine which results in a scorch brown appearance.

A sharp blade is imperative for a healthy green grass.

If the lawn mower has been used for many years, or perhaps the blade has been damaged by hitting stones or tree roots, then the mower blade does not cut the grass cleanly and instead bruises the grass which results in brown wispy tips over the lawn.

Grass of course turns brown in response to drought, but the brown appearance does not necessarily mean the grass is dying, it is often the case that the grass is dormant and can be revived after a bout of rainfall.

If the grass is turning brown for most of the Spring and Summer, it is usually because the underlying soil is sandy or stony and drains too quickly for the grass’s root to draw up, leaving the lawn dry and brown.

For a lawn to stay healthy and green, it is important that the underlying soil retains moisture.

Note that some trees have roots that grow near the surface of the soil and compete with the grass for moisture. Tree roots are very effective at drawing up moisture resulting in drought stressed, brown grass.

How to Revive Brown, Dying Grass

  • Only mow 1/3 of the grass’s height at one time and avoid mowing too short. If the grass is slightly longer then it can retain more moisture and is less vulnerable to drought in blazing sunshine. Mowing consistently, and only cutting one 1/3 of the grass is also much easier on the lawnmower and makes the job much easier.
  • Do not cut the lawn too short during Summer in hot climates. Shorter grass retains less moisture and dries out quicker during drought, so avoid cutting your lawn on the lowest heights of your lawn mower leaving at least 2 inches of growth. Mowing consistently is the key to a healthy, weed and moss free lawn.
  • Inspect the mower blade for damage or bluntness. If the grass has brown tips has wispy ends then you can take the mower to be serviced, and they are likely to either change the blade if it is damaged or sharpen it if it is just blunt, which is a much cheaper option then buying a new mower. The grass should easily revive once it is mowed again with a sharp blade.
  • Brown, drought stress grass does revive once it has had a generous soak. Even if the grass appears scorch brown/yellow and completely dead, it is likely the lawn can recover once it has access to moisture, as grass goes dormant as a survival strategy to cope with drought. Ideally avoid, watering it with a hose pipe as this is not a good use of a scarce resource in drought prone climates. Instead use rainfall from a water butt that can connect to the down pipe of guttering from either your house, shed or green house to soak the lawn if necessary.
  • If brown, dying grass is a result of sandy, fast draining soil, then you can dig back the turf, and lay top soil to improve the moisture retaining capacity of the soil before re-turfing or reseeding the lawn. If the soil is particularly sandy, then watering it to keep it alive is likely to be short term and relatively ineffective. Loam based top soils contain a proportion of clay which improves the moisture and nutrient retaining capacity for the soil, creating the ideal conditions of healthy green grass. This is however very labor intensive, particularly on a medium to large size lawn, so it is best to get a quote form a local garden landscaping company to judge whether it is worth the expense.

I must emphasize that it is usually not necessary to water grass in most climates as it can turn dormant in the absence of moisture and look completely brown, yet still turn green again and revive perfectly well after a bout of heavy rainfall.

Watering your grass is likely to be a waste of an important resource. I would only advocate watering established grass if you use rain water collected in water butts, if you want to keep your lawn looking green and healthy.

You can use water your grass in combination with wetting agents which help the moisture to infiltrate in the soil.

In which case water your lawn once a week with an inch of water, or enough to dampen the top 8 inches (to reach the grasses roots).

You can also look into growing species of grass that are far more drought tolerant if you live in an arid climate.

Grass Turning Yellow

  • Symptoms. Grass turning yellow with poor growth
  • Causes. Most likely due to poor underlying soil that does not hold much nutrients, combined with a lack of soil moisture. Sometimes run off from herbicide can cause yellow grass. Compacted soil is also a likely cause

Grass turns yellow in response to a lack of nutrients and soil moisture. Sandy, poor quality soil with a deficit or organic matter in its composition, does not provide or retain nutrients for grass to maintain its green appearance and drains too quickly for the grass’s roots to draw up the moisture resulting in a yellow, dying appearance.

The main nutrients that grass need in the greatest quantities are nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, all three of which are water soluble in some form, which means they can dissolve in rain and therefore drain away quickly in the sandy soil. (Nitrogen is the most important nutrient for green grass).

This of course leaves the grass with a nutrient deficit and a yellow appearance.

This is why, after feeding a lawn, the grass can look green for a time, but once there has been consistent rainfall, all the nutrients dissolve and drain away in the sandy soil without being retaining which turns the lawn yellow again.

The best soil for growing grass is loam soil, which is composed of clay, organic matter (leaf mold compost etc.) and some aggregates like sand or grit.

Clay has a structure that is able to retain moisture and nutrients and the organic matter also provides nutrients, moisture and structure whilst supporting the soils ecosystem.

The sand or grit mitigates the compaction of heavy clay to allow for good drainage and an aerated structure, creating the optimal conditions for healthy green grass.

If your lawn is on very sandy, dry soil then it is likely to stay yellow and exhibit poor growth.

Note that compacted soil due to heavy clay, or because of vehicles driving back and forth over the soil (which is very common with new build property development) contribute to yellowing grass as the compacted soil restricts roots growth and roots respiration, therefore the roots cannot access the nutrients they need to stay green.

How to Revive Yellow Dying Grass

  • If your yellow grass is being caused by sandy, nutrient poor soil there are 2 options. The first is to dig up the turf, lay down loam based top soil and either reseed, or re-turf the lawn. This should help to keep the grass green for the long terms as the loam soil, retains nutrients and moisture, creating the optimal conditions for green grass. However it is very labor intensive and expense, so it is worth getting a quote for local landscaping companies to assess whether it is worth the cost.
  • The second option to address yellow grass due to nutrient poor soil, is to feed the lawn each Spring and mow the lawn without the collection box. The problem with feeding lawns with poor quality soil is that the lawn turns yellow again after the nutrients are dissolved.
  • However if you mow without the collection box the green grass from the well fed grass is evenly distributed across the lawn. This grass readily decomposes and is incorporated into the soil which increases the organic content of the underlying soil, improving moisture retention and retains some of the nutrients from the fertilizer, which is then recycled, resulting in higher nutrient availability and greener grass. Mowing regularly keeps the lawn looking tidy and the evenly distributed grass clippings quickly integrate into the lawn..
  • Watering the lawn and regular Spring feeds, in general help to improve the appearance of lawns with yellowing grass.
  • If the ground feels particularly firm then compaction is likely a contributing problem to the yellowing grass. In which case, aerate the lawn (ideally with a machine if the lawn is large) or with a fork on smaller lawns, creating three inch deep holes every 6 inches. This eases compaction and allows water and nutrients to infiltrate the soil and reach the roots whilst also facilitating root respiration, resulting in a healthier lawn.

Grass Dying in Winter

The reason for grass dying in Winter is because the underlying soil retains too much moisture due to high clay content, which when combined with higher levels of Winter rainfall, prevents root respiration causing the grass to turn yellow or brown and die back over Winter.

During Winter the rate of evaporation is also much slower due to cooler temperatures and a lack of light means the lawn can be saturated for a long time after rainfall.

Whilst established grass is very hardy, grass cannot survive in consistently saturated soil as the excess moisture excludes oxygen from the soil, which interferes with root respiration, so that the roots cannot draw up the nutrients and moisture they need, resulting in dying grass.

Boggy soil in Winter is most often due to a high clay content in the soil which can become impermeable and prevent water from effectively infiltrating the soil, although boggy soil can also be as a result of low lying areas or even natural springs in the garden.

How to Revive Dying Grass in Winter

To revive dying grass in Winter it is important to ease compaction in the soil, so that excess water from Winter rainfall can more effectively drain away.

This can be achieved effectively with 2 steps:

  1. Aerate the soil in the Spring and Fall, either with a garden fork or aerating machine, if the area is large. Creating holes in the clay means that excess water can drain more effectively, rather the pooling around the roots if the grass.
  2. Use a topdressing of compost on the lawn. Adding organic matter, improves the soils structure, so that it is more porous and to improve the drainage.

This method is much easier and amazing effective at improving the soil structure of heavy clay, making it far easier for the grass to grow.

If you lawn has a natural Spring or it is naturally low lying and boggy then it is likely too difficult to maintain a good lawn during Winter, however it could well restore its appearance in the dryer, Spring and Summer months.

New Grass Dying

The reason for new turf dying is because of drought due to lack of watering or because the roots cannot establish properly in the underlying soil due to compaction. If the roots cannot uptake moisture effective then the turf shrinks in size, turns brown with a dying appearance.

Grass is one of the hardiest plants in any garden, and the only time it is particularly vulnerable is when turf has just been laid or grass seed has just started to grow.

It is best practice to prepare the ground before laying turf and ideally lay the turf (or plant grass seed) in Spring to give it the best chance of survival as the roots can establish in the early cooler weather of Spring so they can efficiently uptake moisture before the high temperatures and blazing sunshine in Summer.

However grass can be planted at almost anytime of year (except Winter) if it is watered sufficiently.

New grass should be soaked almost every day. Always water generously as this promotes the roots to grow deep in the soil which means the grass should be much more resilient to drought.

Watering too lightly only moistens the surface which causes the roots to grow shallow and be more vulnerable to drought stress in hot weather.

If the new grass is dying despite generous watering, then it is likely the underlying soil drains too quickly or the roots cannot grow into the ground as the soil is so hard and compacted.

This is quite common on new build housing developments as heavy vehicles drive over the area which compacts the soil and often the soil is composed of rubble from the building work.

Ideally the area should be forked over or a rotavator can be used to break up the hard surface of the soil and create more favorable, aerated, porous soil for growing grass.

If the soil is sandy, stony or particularly fast draining then I recommend applying compost or top soil on the surface of the soil to help retain moisture before laying the grass.

However if you have already laid turf then keep watering it with a generous soak (watering little and often does not help much) every day until the grass shows signs of reviving.

Grass is resilient and even if it has turned yellow or brown, it can often be revived given enough water.

Key Takeaways:

  • Dying grass is usually because of drought and compacted soil. Grass turns brown and goes dormant during Summer in response to high temperatures and low rainfall. If the soil is too compacted the grass roots cannot draw up moisture and nutrients efficient which results in brown or yellow grass with a dying appearance.
  • The reason for grass dying in patches is usually because of dog urine, too much fertilizer or fuel spills. Dog urine causes circular brown patches with a bright green boarder due to too much nitrogen whereas excess fertilizer and spilled fuel scorches the patch brown and do not recover.
  • The reason for brown grass is either because of drought or a dull mowing blade. If the mowing blade is not sharp then it bruises the grass causing it to turn brown with straggly ends. Grass turns brown in response to low rainfall, high temperatures and dry, sandy underlying soil.
  • Grass turns yellow if the soil is saturated with water for too long. Damp soil excludes oxygen from the soil and prevents root respiration, which causes the roots to die and the grass to turn yellow as a sign of stress. Yellowing grass can also indicate the soil is low in nutrients.
  • Dying grass in Winter is usually because the soil has too damp. Evaporation is much lower in Winter and rainfall is often much higher then any other time of year. This causes the soil to remain consistently boggy which can cause the grass to turn yellow and die back.
  • The reasons for new grass dying is often because the soil is too compacted for the roots to establish or the new grass does not have enough water. New grass stops growing, turns brown and dies back due to insufficient rainfall or watering. If the soil is too compacted the new grass roots cannot access the water and nutrients they need, and results in dying grass.
  • To revive brown, dying grass, use a fork to aerate the soil if it is compacted and wait until it rains. Most lawns revive very quickly and turn green again after heavy rainfall, even if they have turned completely brown.

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