The one good thing about dealing with a dead lawn is that it can only get better. However, many homeowners aren’t sure where to start or what to do. So today, we’re going to lay down a few tips and tricks to reviving a dead lawn to help get back that lush, green grass you deserve.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Look for Problem Areas
If your lawn has problem areas, the first step is to find out what is causing them. Is the problem related to a pest, soil or an environmental problem, such as excessive shade or the uneven watering? These should be corrected before planting grass or beginning any long-term lawn maintenance plans.
Pests can invade and ruin even the most well-manicured lawns. Keep an eye out for brown spots, dead grass patches, bite marks on grass, weak or wilting grass blades, holes in the soil or thinning/missing roots. Below are 3 ways to test for pests in your lawn.
The Visual Test
A sure-fire way to tell if you have bugs is to actually see them. Some common yard bugs will fly or jump away when you walk over the spot, others may be underground and in need for further testing.
The Dig Test
Dig a small patch of your lawn deep enough to see the roots. Pull it out and place it on a piece of paper. The contrast of the white paper will help you see any bugs or larvae living in the soil.
The Soak Test
The object of this test is to soak the ground with an unfavorable solution so the bugs will come up to the top of the soil. Mix 1 gallon of water with 4 tablespoons of dish soap. Saturate a 1 foot section within your problem area. Wait for 10-15 minutes. If you have bug larvae under the grass, they will appear on top of the soil.
Too much shade can kill your lawn because like most plants, grass needs sun to grow. Excessive shade is easy to identify. Shade is caused by large or overgrown trees or structures. Look at various times a day to check if your specific spot is receiving sun.
Excessive heat, draught or cold can cause a lawn to lay dormant. This means that over these times grass does not grow. This is a normal occurrence but can lead to browning, yellowing, patches and other unsightly yard problems.
Underwatering and overwatering can both be culprits in a dead lawn.
Overwatering drowns the grass suffocating the roots by removing the air pockets under the soil the grass needs for healthy growth. It also creates the optimal condition for weeds and microbial organisms to grow. Overwatered grass is often spongy, yellow, patchy or weed infested.
Underwatering deprives your grass of one of the most important elements it needs to grow, H2O. Brown spots, curling grass blades and easily pushed down grass (ie if you walk across the grass and your footprints remain) are all signs of an under-watered lawn.
Sprinkler System Problems
Over or underwatering can be caused by a misadjusted sprinkler system. Leaks, pressure problems or misaligned sprinkler heads can be causes of overwatering. Uneven coverage, underpressured and incorrectly set/broken sprinkler heads could lead to underwatering. Check your system for glitches by turning it on and walking around your lawn. Monitor each head to make sure it’s working, it’s covering each head’s allocated area and it’s free of surrounding debris.
Figuring out what is causing your grass to die is the first step to reviving a dead lawn. It may be one or a combination of the above problems.
Step #2: Resodding vs Plugging or Seeding
Once you’ve determined and fixed the problem plaguing your yard, it is time to revive its appearance. If your lawn is in pretty sparse, you may want to consider planting seeds, plugs or sod. A good rule of thumb is if the damaged area is 50% weeds or dead grass resodding is usually the most successful option.
Resodding Your Trouble Spots
Sod is the most expensive option, but it also provides immediate gratification. Resodding covers trouble spots giving your lawn a brand new, lush green appearance. In comparison to plugs or seeds, sod leaves the homeowner with a denser lawn that also helps prevent soil erosion and weeds. Sod is known for its quick establishment, meaning in only a few weeks it is rooted and ready for normal “lawn traffic.”
Plugging or Seeding Dead Grass
Planting plugs or seeds is much less expensive, but requires more patience. It’s a relatively easy process, making it a great choice for even the most black thumbed homeowners. In comparison to sod, seeding has more choices enabling you to choose the best grass for your geography, naturally occurring pests and weather patterns. However, due to it’s gradual establishment period and sparse initial coverage, plugging or seeding your lawn makes it vulnerable to weeds, erosion, insects and disease.
In the end, the type of grass you choose may determine the planting method for you, as some species can only be laid as sod, while other require the use of plugs or seed.
Step #3: Cultivate Regularly
Cultivation is an age old practice dating back to the earth’s original farmers. It is made up of two main steps; weed removal and loosening the top soil. Both are extremely important to allow for optimal growth of your lawn.
Weeds compete with your grass for sun, soil/space, water and nutrients. Weeds are often stronger and more resilient than grass. Removing them not only looks better but gives your lawn a fighting chance to grow healthy and strong.
Aerate Your Yard
Aerators create small holes in your soil, so water, air and nutrients can reach down to the grass roots. As a natural result of the elements in our environment, the soil develops a dry crust. Aeration breaks up this crust which helps the grass grow deeper and break through to the topsoil as it grows. If your roots are at least two inches deep, your lawn could benefit from aeration. While lawns that have been seeded or sodded should not be aerated for at least one year, post-aeration is the perfect time to add grass seed, fertilizer and compost. It is important not to disturb or damage plant roots when cultivating.
Step #4: Fertilize
Fertilizers are designed to make your lawn green, healthy and more resistant to higher temperature and heavy traffic. Fertilizer also increases leaf and root growth, aids recovery from pest damage, reduces weeds and supplies your lawn with nutrients it can’t always get from soil alone.
Determine Which Fertilizer
When shopping for fertilizers, you’ll want to look for slow-release kind that’s high in nitrogen and potassium, and low in phosphorous. It takes longer from your lawn to benefit from slow-release nitrogen, but the effects last longer and cause less pollution.
The Best Time To Fertilize
There are good times and bad times to fertilize. Here are a few tips to help you determine the best time for you:
If you recently seeded or sodded your lawn, wait for 30-60 days before fertilizing.
Only fertilize grass that is actively growing – do not fertilize during a drought or during the winter, when grass is dormant.
Do not fertilize if it is about to rain in the next 24-36 hours.
Once you’ve determine that it’s an ok time to fertilize, the most important thing to remember is to read the instructions on the fertilizer bag. When you apply fertilizer properly, you’ll get maximum coverage and a healthier lawn.
Step #5: Don’t Give Weeds a Chance
The best defense against pest is a healthy lawn. If your turf is thick enough, potential weeds won’t get the nutrients or the sunlight they need to grow. However, sometimes spot-treating with pesticides can be beneficial for problem areas. Just remember to follow county guidelines with regard to application or to call a professional to do the job for you.
Step #6: Water Efficiently
When your irrigation system is set up properly, every inch of your lawn receives the amount of water it needs. Also, when you water more in less time, your lawn can grow deeper roots, which makes it more resistance to extreme weather.
An experienced irrigation specialist can take a look at your current system and recommend changes to help you optimize water coverage and efficiency. Plus, some companies even offer maintenance plans, which take the guesswork out of caring for your system, once improvements are made.
Step #7: Don’t Cut the Lawn Too Short
Every turf species is different and you’ll want to make sure yours is always cut to the proper length. However, in general, the longer the grass, the deeper the roots and deeper roots = stronger grass. Just make sure you aren’t cutting any more than 1/3 of the grass blade at any one time. After a while, you may reduce your mowing frequency altogether.
We hope these tips will help you bring back that beautiful lawn. If you have any questions, contact us. Our irrigation systems make it easier to get your lawn back on track and keep it healthy for years to come.
Former U.S. Coast Guard and Tampa-native Joseph Swett is the owner of Sunrise Irrigation, a Palm Harbor-based company that has been providing sprinkler and irrigation services in the Tampa Bay Area, Florida, for more than 20 years. A RainBird-trained landscape specialist, Mr. Swett is dedicated to helping Florida homes and businesses implement effective irrigation technologies and transition towards smart water conservation. In his spare time, Joe sponsors and plays in two men’s softball leagues, but also enjoys surfing and going fishing with his family.