dormant or dead lawn

Dormant Grass vs Dead Grass | What’s the Difference?

In Lawn & Garden by Jamie

You tend your lawn with care, and you see how beautifully lush and green it is growing. But after a few months later, you observe something odd that’s happening.

What seems to be a pool of green grass is slowly turning brown. What’s curious about them is that it’s not entirely brown! Just a part of it, particularly the blades.

There could be many reasons why your grass is turning brown. But could there be another reason for this specific phenomenon where the browning only occurred on the grass blades?

Why is There Brown Grass Under Green Grass?

There are two possible reasons why there is brown grass under your green grass: the grass is either dormant or dead.

Grass turning dormant or dying is a common occurrence in many lawns. Your grass can eventually turn brown in its life. The important thing is to know is what’s happening to your grass because we all know that early detection and diagnosis gives you a higher chance of reviving your lawn at the soonest possible time.


Dormant Grass vs Dead Grass

Knowing the difference between dormant grass vs dead grass can help you give the proper fix to it. Since they look very similar from afar, let’s try to point out the key differences between the two and what is the right fix.

What is Dormant Grass?

According to Utah State University, dormancy is a grass’s way of protecting itself from extreme heat or cold caused by the weather or climate. This physiological process is its way of protecting itself.

Dormant grass looks like it is dead, but when you look closer, only the blades are brown while its crown is still green. This is because when your lawn starts its dormancy phase, it ceases from growing. When your yard starts to look like it’s dead, you can check its undersides if the crown is still green. Then, you are assured that your lawn can recover after the summer or winter.

The extent as to how brown your grass will turn also depends on the grass species you planted. Some grasses can withstand the summer heat more; others can withstand the winter. Either way, your lawn will turn dormant on seasons that they are more sensitive to.

How to Wake Up Dormant Grass in 6 Steps?

As we now know, dormancy is a natural process that grass uses to protect itself from extreme weather conditions. Hence, it’s something that you shouldn’t worry about.

Leave the grass at that state during the winter. There’s really nothing else you can do but to leave them in their dormant phase. Dormancy is their measure of survival, so don’t do anything to it.

If it’s dormant during the summer, it would be ideal to water them a little. Do not over-water them since it will be a futile move. Your grass will only need enough water to nourish its roots. No amount of water can revive them when they’re dormant.

All efforts in trying to wake up your dormant grass should be made when summer or winter is over.

We wrote an easy guide on how to revive your grass in 8 steps after the winter. See the article by clicking here.

6 Steps on How to Wake Up Dormant Grass:

1. Weed Out

Weeds will eventually grow on your lawn while it is dormant. Make sure to remove them from your yard to prepare for your grass to grow again. The existence of weeds will only attract pests and insects. It’s better to get rid of them than to deal with the pesky creatures as your grass grows.

2. Aerate and Move It Around

Your soil might be compacted over the winter. Aside from increased absorption of water, there might be other damages to your soil, especially if you set up any play or party equipment.

Aerate to loosen soil and move the grass around to wake up dormant grass. Typically after winter, the weight of the snow will flatten your grass. If you do not go out and move it around it will remain brown, I wouldn’t use a steel rake because it would rip it apart. Throw a pair of gloves on and move them around to help the grass stand up tall to begin growing again.

3. Water

Your grass is probably ‘thirsty’ if hit by some warmer days. Just like our bodies, plants need to be rehydrated after exposure to extreme heat.

Water your grass lightly and make sure it doesn’t begin clumping or flattening to the soil. Do not overwater them because it might cause more damage than it is reviving them. Just keep an eye when the soil starts to get dry before you water them again. The key is not watering them all in one go but watering them just enough multiple times in a day, usually early morning and later in the evening.

4. Fertilize Lightly

Aside from water, your lawn also needs some fertilizing. Look for a fertilizer with less nitrogen at this time and more phosphorus to aid root growth and function. The healthier your roots will be, the faster your grass revives from dormancy.

I recommend GreenView fertilizer during dormancy stages, apply lightly early spring to establish root development early in the year. You may not even need to fertilize at this stage, but if your lawn is in rough shape after the winter season you can give this a try.

5. Mow

Once your grass recovers and it starts growing, it’s time to maintain its length and mow. Remember to check if your lawnmower is sharp and cutting well, dull blades can rip your lawn apart making recovery even harder.

6. Reduce Traffic

Understand that your grass – and even the soil – is still recovering from the season that passed. So, reduce foot traffic on your lawn as much as possible.


What is Dead Grass?

The physical characteristics of dead grass are closely similar to that of the dormant grass. However, if your lawn is dead, it is most likely that it was due to several reasons.

  • Over/Under Watering. You may have unevenly watered your grass. It could die if you wet it too much or if it doesn’t receive enough water at all.
  • Thatch buildup can choke the healthy grasses causing them to die. Also, it is susceptible to being infested.
  • Over/Under Fertilizing. Just like water, too many nutrients or the lack of it could kill your lawn. Always check for the NPK ratio of your fertilizer and apply them evenly.
  • Dull blades and tank leaks from lawn mower can damage your yard, and the grass will eventually die.
  • Pet Spots. Your pet’s waste may be too acidic, which is harmful to your grass.
  • Check your grass for pests, insects, and fungal diseases. Any of these may be the reason why your lawn is browning and dead. It should be addressed right away by the use of pesticides or insecticides.

Can You Revive Dead Grass?

So, can you revive dead grass? The straightforward answer is no.

When you have dead grass – whether it’s because of the weather or pests or insects infested it – it is already dead.

The best way to deal with dead grass is to start over. You don’t have to worry, though. You can check which parts of your lawn is dead and which part is just dormant. We’ll discuss more about determining between the two below.

But first, how do you fix the dead patches of grass on your lawn?

You need to remove the dead grass by raking it, including its roots. Then, you can start all over like you do when you plant new grass seeds.

Aerate the grass to loosen it, making way for new seeds to grow. Spread grass seeds on the dead spots and add compost. Add a starter fertilizer like Scotts Turf Builder Starter Food for New Grass with an NPK ratio of 24-25-4. This will help your new seeds to grow faster and catch up with the growth of the rest of the lawn.

Water it regularly and evenly, make sure to monitor its overall health to address any problem immediately.

How to Determine if Grass is Dormant or Dead?

Is your grass dormant or dead?

There are a few ways you can do to determine if the brown patches of grass on your lawn is dormant or dead.

One is doing the tug test. Try to tug the blades of your grass gently. If there’s a bit of resistance, your lawn is probably just dormant. But if it quickly gets pulled out (most especially if the roots get pulled up, too), then it is likely dead.

Another is observing the browning patterns. If they are evenly brown on your lawn, then they are just dormant. But if the brown patterns are just in certain spots of your lawn, then it is likely dead, but now its time to determine what’s causing it; either your pet’s waste, pests, insects, or fungal disease.

Lastly, you can observe how the brown grass reacts to watering. Water the area and move it around, see if it turns green in a few days. If it does, then it was just dormant grass. Otherwise, the grass is dead.

Dormant Grass vs. Dead Grass: Natural Phenomena with Their Fixes

Learning about both dormant grass vs dead grass, we can all conclude that these are natural occurrences on your lawn.

Grass goes dormant to protect itself from harsh weather conditions. Grass dies because it could be infested by pests, insects, fungi, among many other reasons.

The good news is there’s a fix for either, and doing so is no different than your usual tending. What’s important is that you determine the problem correctly (if it’s dormant or dead) to fix it accordingly.

As for dormant grass, timing is also essential with the fix. This means that you just have to be patient until the extremity of the weather condition of both summer and winter is over before you start fixing your yard.