Is My Grass Dead or Dormant? {How to tell the difference}

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It’s natural to panic when your grass turns from green to brown, and that will have you thinking if it’s dying.

However, that might not be the case, especially if it happens in summer or winter, because dead and dormant grass look lifeless and brown, so the big question is, how do you differentiate them?

When grass goes dormant, the entire lawn typically turns brown uniformly and then comes back to life when the weather becomes more conducive.

On the other hand, your grass could be dead if your lawn appears patchy or brown spots occur among the green grass. Also, dead grass pulls out easily while dormant grass is more resistant.

Is My Grass Dead Or Dormant?

Is My Grass Dead Or Dormant

To test your grass to determine whether your grass is dead or dormant, grab a handful of the grass and give it a quick tug.

 If it pulls out easily with no resistance, the grass is dead and the grass is just dormant if it resists. 

You can employ different strategies to determine if your grass is dead or dormant.

Here’s what you will need to do:

1. Tug The Grass

The tug test is the quickest way to determine whether your grass is dead or dormant. All you need to do is slightly tug a patch of grass on your lawn, and if it pulls out effortlessly from the soil, your grass is probably dead, but if it holds fast or is resistant, the grass is dormant.

Moreover, your grass is probably dormant if the roots of your grass are white and will turn green in spring after the winter or summer is over.

Grayish or brittle roots are a sign of dead grass, and you will need to reseed or install new sod to re-establish your lawn.

2. Examine The Lawn For Patches

You can differentiate a dead grass from a dormant one by checking if the brown grass only appears in patches or if the entire yard is brown.

Typically, the whole lawn turns brown when the grass goes dormant until the conducive temperatures return.

Also Read: Why is my grass turning yellow

For instance, your warm-season grass like Bermuda will become dormant in winter because it doesn’t like the cold.

On the other hand, cold-season grass will go into dormancy in summer.

It would be best to let nature takes its course, especially if your grass is too far into dormancy, as it will naturally come back into life afterward.

It is worth knowing that your grass isn’t always necessarily dead if the brown patches in grass appear.

You must rule out other issues that can turn your grass brown, like diseases and pest infestation.

How to Tell The Difference Between Dead and Dormant Grass

Differentiating between dormant and dead grass can be a tall order because they generally look the same.

However, the easiest way to tell if your grass is dormant or dead is to water more. If your grass is dormant, it will begin to turn green again after watering more, but if it stays brown, it is probably dead.

Nonetheless, let’s dissect each situation starting with dormant grass.

Dormant Grass

Dormancy in the life of grass refers to the state in which it goes into hibernation when the weather conditions are not conducive to its survival.

Depending on the type of grass, this can be in the summer or winter.

If you have cold-season grass, expect your lawn to turn brown in summer when it’s hot and dry.

On the other hand, plan for a boring brown lawn in winter if you planted warm-season grass.

Grass usually becomes dormant because of water scarcity to withstand prolonged, harsh climatic conditions, and activate the natural protection mechanism.

By going into dormancy, your grass will divert the resources it usually uses to develop lush green blades to the crown and roots to stay alive in the current harsh period.

The crown is of utmost importance because the tillers and shoots grow from it.

Therefore, the crown’s vitality is essential during dormancy if the grass is to come back to life when the weather improves.

Dead Grass

Unlike dormant grass, dead grass won’t go back to its usual green color once the climatic conditions become favorable.

You will need to re-establish your lawn if your grass dies by laying new sod or reseeding the patchy areas and take care of it by watering it well until your fresh grass matures.

Different circumstances can lead to the death of your grass. These include:

1. Drought

Drought is a major cause of grass death since the dry weather and lack of water stress the grass and deprive it of moisture needed for survival.

While grass naturally becomes dormant in summer and survives in that state until the temperatures drop, extended spells of dry and hot weather will kill your grass if you do nothing to remedy the situation.

The majority of lawns can survive 4 to 6 weeks of drought but turn from green to brown. You cannot revive your grass once it dies from drought.

2. Pests

If you let pests terrorize your lawn, you won’t have grass after a while. Pests mostly attack neglected lawns, over fertilized grass or overwatered lawns, so it should be your priority to take care of your grass, ensuring they are healthy and pest-free but don’t overly pamper your yard.

Watch out for the pests common to your area.

3. Improper Watering

Water can either be really to your lawn or wreak havoc on it. You should water new grass deeply, not daily, to promote the growth of deep roots that can keep with the summer heat and also ensure you maintain the correct moisture levels in your yard.

Shallow roots are susceptible to drought and diseases. Moreover, overwatering your lawn covers the air pockets, thus suffocating and killing your grass.

4. Salt Damage

If your yard is adjacent to a sidewalk, driveway, or street, your grass may suffer salt damage.

While a good watering session will help dilute the salt, the damage may be too severe, killing your grass; hence reseeding the lawn will be necessary.

Knowing what kills grass helps you monitor and avoid them and, in turn, gives your grass the best chance of staying alive.

Read more: Why is My Grass Different Shades of Green

How To Wake Up Dormant Grass

Since dormancy is a process that occurs naturally, it would be best to let your grass go through it without stressing it to protect itself from extreme weather.

Don’t worry much about the brown color because your grass will regain its green color once winter or summer is over.

Lightly water your grass if it’s dormant in summer to help nourish the roots, stay off the grass to protect the crowns from being damaged, and control weeds.

Any effort to wake up dormant grass should not be made in the middle of summer or winter but rather when that season ends and the temperatures are more conducive.

The cooler temperatures will signal the grass that it’s time to wake up.

Read more: Can sod grow in shade

If you are going to try to wake up your dormant grass, do the following:

 1. Irrigate Your Lawn

With the cooler temperatures helping you, start watering your grass every day for 5 to 6 days, ensuring the soil gets ½ or ¾ inch of water every morning. This will help stimulate the grass to wake up.

After 5-6 days, cut watering to every other water like you usually do, and if you are lucky, you might get help from the rain.

A good nourishing rain will help the situation a whole lot better than irrigation.

 2. Fertilize

Fertilizing your grass when your start watering will help the grass blades grow faster by supplying nutrients.

However, don’t over-fertilize and don’t apply nitrogen to your lawn at this stage because it will boost turfgrass plant growth.

Examine your lawn after ten days to check the areas that turned green and those that didn’t.

Dig into the brown spots up to the edge that turns green, looking for grubs (they resemble white shrimp).

If there are no grubs, chances are the grass in the brown areas died during dormancy. In such a case, you can aerate or overseed your lawn.

How Long Does It Take Dormant Grass To Turn Green?

Generally, dormant grass takes 2 to 4 weeks after the roots come out of dormancy for the top growth to begin and the grass to turn green. The roots break hibernation first to help sustain the development of the new top.

Will Watering Dead Grass Bring It Back?

Watering dead grass is a lost course since grass won’t come back to life once it dies. You will have to re-establish your lawn if your grass dies by seeding or installing sod.



It’s incredibly frustrating when you can’t tell if your grass is dead or dormant.

Luckily you can perform a quick test to determine whether your grass is dead or dormant by:

Grabbing a handful of the grass and give it a quick tug. If it pulls out easily with no resistance, the grass is dead and the grass is just dormant if it resists. 

Alternatively, you can test your lawn to determine if your grass is dead or dormant by watering it more for a couple of days. Dormant grass will soon turn green, while dead grass will remain brown.

Differentiating dead grass from dormant grass is essential as that will guide the next steps you take.

Before diving into sodding or reseeding your lawn, make sure the grass is really dead and not hibernating due to adverse weather.

Confirming the state of your grass could save you a lot of money and hours of lawn work.

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