Dormant vs. Dead Grass: How to Tell the Difference

January 7, 2021


Dormant vs Dead Grass

You may be worried to see that your grass has turned dull and brownish or yellow. It can be difficult to tell why your grass looks like that, but the options are only two: dead vs. dormant grass. The good news is that if the grass is merely dormant, it will get back to its lush green color. When it goes dormant, grass redirects its nutrients and water to maintaining the roots and keeping them alive rather than using them to make the grass grow.

This is a natural process, and it allows the grass to withstand the harsh conditions that come with winter so that the roots can stay alive until springtime. The grass loses its green color because it lacks chlorophyll, a component required for photosynthesis to happen. The crown of the grass, which is the part where the grass blade emerges, stays alive during dormancy and recovers when the conditions are more suitable for growth. Warm season grass will turn dormant in cold weather, and cold season grass will go dormant during hot seasons.

What Causes Dead Grass?

Dormant grass is a way to withstand extreme temperatures and keep the grass alive. Dormant grass and dead grass may look similar, but different things cause them. While seasonal changes cause dormant grass, dead grass is caused by damaging insects, disease, wear and tear problems, or urine damage from pets.

3 Ways of Telling the Difference: Dormant vs. Dead Grass

  1. Observe how the grass on your yard is browning. A lawn browns out uniformly when the grass is going dormant and not in an inconsistent or patchy pattern. When you have a lawn with some brown patches while other patches are green, it means that the grass is dead. When you see that your grass has turned brown uniformly, use the other measures below to confirm whether it is actually dormant grass.
  2. Do a tug test. If you observe that your grass has browned out uniformly, you may conclude that the reason behind this is that the grass is dormant. However, you can go further to make sure this is the case by doing a tug test. Try pulling out some grass from your lawn. When you attempt to pull it out and feel some resistance, the grass is most likely dormant. However, if the grass pulls out easily from the ground, it is most likely dead grass.
  3. If it is still during the growing season, water your lawn. Dormant grass turns brown due to a lack of adequate water and nutrients, so try watering the grass for a few days to see how it behaves. If the grass begins to turn green, you know that the grass was dormant. However, if there is no change to the grass, it is likely dead. If warm season grass is browning out because of dormancy during the spring and summer, you should look into your lawn care practices to determine what is causing the damage.

You can also determine whether your grass is dormant or dead by talking to a professional. If you can, let them have a look at it for you. The good thing about having an expert is that they can also give you a solution to the problems your grass is facing.

Dormant vs Dead Grass [infographic]

How to Care for Your Dormant Grass

If you’ve determined that you have dormant vs. dead grass, you’re in luck. The good thing about dormant grass is that there is a natural resolution as the weather and seasons change. If winter has caused the grass’s dormancy, it will grow back as soon as spring comes. You can also have some green grass all year round by planting both warm-season grass and cold season grass on your lawn together. When one goes dormant, the other will green up, and they can take each other’s place.

Stress-induced dormancy, such as from a drought, can last about six weeks. After that, your grass can be permanently damaged so that it cannot be revived. Here are some of the ways you can take care of your grass so that it can go from being dormant to being lively and growing again.

Reduce Foot Traffic

If you find that you have dormant grass, one of the first steps you should take is to get foot traffic off the grass. Stepping on the grass while it is dormant can cause permanent damage. You may do this by fencing off the grass or placing posts and signboards indicating that the grass should not be stepped on. If there is a pathway on top of the grass, create a path elsewhere where the grass will not be affected.

Water the Grass Adequately

There is a big difference in how dormant vs. dead grass reacts to water. Water revives dormant grass and turns it from brown to green. You can’t restore dead grass by watering, but dormant grass will get back to its lush self after regular watering. If you are in an area that does not have watering restrictions for summer, then you can water your lawn one time a week to help it get through the dry period. Most mature lawns need one inch of water, and you can use a can to help you measure.

Another option is to use cycle irrigation to ensure that water does not run off, and it penetrates the soil. In one watering, grass will take in about one inch of water, on average, without running off. However, soil conditions affect how the ground absorbs water. So if you notice water pooling or running off, stop watering, let the water soak in, and start again, for a total of one inch of irrigation.

Get Rid of Weeds

Observe your grass regularly and take out all the weeds that may grow within the grass. The weeds may take up the nutrients and minimal water on your lawn and prevent the grass from growing back.

Avoid Fertilizing and Herbicides

When the grass is dormant, it is already stressed, and adding herbicides to it will only stress it more. To control weeds, you can simply pull them out by hand.


If you have any dormant spots on your grass, you may use overseeding to get rid of them. Overseeding refers to spreading grass seed over an existing lawn. It is helpful when you want to grow back grass that has thinned out.

What to Do When You Have Dead Grass

The first thing to do after you determine that your grass is dead is to eliminate it. You can do this by either mulching it or raking it off. After you have removed the dead grass, you may test the soil to determine its pH. This is important because it will help you to avoid over-fertilizing the soil. The best soil pH for grass is between 6.5 and 7.0, so you should aim to maintain it at that level.

The next step is to measure your lawn to find out the amount of seed that you need. After determining how much seed you need, you can choose the type of seed you want. You can also add a starter fertilizer to make the reseeding more successful, such as a fertilizer that has phosphorus. The goal of this is to speed up the grass growing process.

After planting, water the seeds daily. After some time, which could be up to a few weeks, the grass will begin to sprout and grow. It all takes some consistency and patience, and soon enough, you will see your lawn growing healthy new grass.

If you want a quicker way to grow grass, and if you appreciate high-quality turf, your best option is turf from The Turfgrass Group. You can learn more about our varieties on their individual pages, and you can find a grower here.


Determining whether your grass is brown because it is dormant or dead is the first step to help you determine how to get a green lawn again. You can determine which it is by observing how the grass is browning, doing a tug test, or just watering the lawn. If you find that a lawn is dead and beyond repair, you can always grow out different grass by reseeding, but you can get a much better lawn by installing Turfgrass Group turf. Talk to an expert to look at your yard and help you find a solution to the dormant vs. dead grass that you may be facing. Taking care of your lawn will help you maintain a lush and healthy layer of grass.

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