nice grass lawn house fence open

Dormant Grass vs Dead Grass: How to Tell the Difference

Is your lawn turning brown? If so, you might be wondering whether your grass has died.

It’s easy to assume that a brown lawn is dead. Since grass is supposed to be green and vibrant, a lawn that is brown and dull certainly looks like it has died. 

But did you know that dormant grass looks very similar to dead grass?

It can actually be pretty difficult to tell whether you have dormant grass vs. dead grass. If it does turn out that your lawn is truly dead, fortunately, there are some steps you can take to start over.

In this article, we’ll help you determine how to know if grass is dormant or dead. Dormancy is a natural protection mechanism for your lawn and is therefore a good state for it to be in when needed.

Here are some ways to tell the difference between dormant vs. dead grass.

Is My Grass Dormant or Dead?

We understand that brown grass can be frustrating. Most people tend to assume the worst. But if it turns out your lawn has gone into dormancy, its normal color will be restored. 

Unfortunately, dead grass will not come back. When grass has truly died, you’ll need to regrow it (or have it sodded).

Here are a few ways to tell the difference.

Look for Patterns

As you seek to determine dormant vs. dead grass, it helps to look for patterns on the lawn. 

Is the entire lawn brown or is it just patches? If it’s the latter, more often than not, the grass is dead due to a condition like a lawn disease or a pest problem. Diseases and pests tend to attack the lawn in “areas” and it’s not all going to die at once.

thin lawn with brown spots

But with dormancy, the entire lawn is likely to go into dormancy at the same time. 

It’s important to identify whether you are dealing with a disease or pest as these problems can be highly detrimental to your lawn over time. Even though your entire lawn may not be dead, certain pests and diseases can be aggressive. 

Lawns in New England are subject to a number of different pest and disease threats. It is important to get a problem under control quickly.

Attempt the “Tug Test”

One big difference between dormant and dead grass is the root system. But how can you see the state of the roots? That’s where the tug test comes in handy!

This simple test is exactly what it sounds like. You give a gentle tug to the grass in any area of the lawn that has turned brown. If the grass comes out easily with no resistance, then it is dead. 

lawn care technicican inspects grass at home

This is because dormant grass still has an active root system and will remain firmly attached to the ground. 

Sometimes homeowners pull too hard with the tug test and pull out dormant grass. So, you’ll also want to look at the roots. If they are white, it’s probably just dormant. But if the roots are brittle and gray, it’s likely that your grass has died.

Consider the Time of the Year

Another consideration as you consider whether your grass is dormant or dead is what time of year it is.

If it is summertime and we’re experiencing drought conditions, then your lawn might have gone into dormancy as a defense mechanism. An established lawn can generally stay in a drought-dormant state for as long as 3 to 4 weeks without actually dying. But it will be important to properly rehydrate the lawn as it comes out of this state.

yellow lawn with bare spots

Drought dormancy is a state of reduced metabolism and water usage. During this stage, your lawn is focusing its energy on surviving. While the grass will turn brown during drought dormancy, its roots are still alive.

Lawns can also go into a state of dormancy for the winter. Much like animals that hibernate in the winter, you might think of your lawn as being in a period of “rest”during this time.

If the growing conditions are good, and your lawn is turning brown, it’s possible that it’s not dormant and that something else is going on.

Try Watering

Intense heat and drought can definitely lead to a state of dormancy. But if that goes on long enough, your grass can still die. That can make the dormant vs. dead grass question even more difficult. 

It’s possible that your grass was dormant but has started to die as drought conditions did not resolve.

sprinkler heads water grass

This is why watering is important.  Watering will help dormant grass become green again. But dead grass will remain brown.

Try to get on a regular watering schedule. People often underestimate how important regular watering is for their lawn’s health. Like all living things, lawns need ample water in order to survive.

My Lawn is Dead, Now What?

If it turns out that your lawn is simply in dormancy, then there’s nothing else for you to do. But if it turns out that your lawn is dead, then you might be wondering what happens next.

People sometimes ask, Can I bring my dead lawn back to life?

Unfortunately, grass that has already died isn’t going to come back. But you can take steps to regrow healthy grass with a service called lawn aeration and overseeding

core aeration machine pulls soil plugs

If you can have a little patience and trust the process, lawn aeration, and overseeding is a highly effective solution to dead grass. But there is always the option of sodding for those who want an “instant lawn.” It’s just important to know that sod is expensive and will need a lot of “TLC” to ensure it becomes established and succeeds. 

While it can be overwhelming to think about restoring a dead lawn, you’ll want to lean on a professional for help and guidance.

Going forward, it is also helpful to figure out why your lawn died in the first place. As you explored the dormant grass vs. dead grass question, you might have discovered that your lawn suffered from a problem like a disease, pest, or even an environmental stressor. 

You’ll want to make sure that you correct whatever caused your lawn to die in the first place so that it doesn’t happen again.

This is why it can be so beneficial to partner with a lawn care professional. One of the huge benefits is that they’ll be able to diagnose problems and implement solutions that will get your lawn back on track.

Choosing Lawn Care Services in Southern NH, ME, and MA

There is no question it can be hard to decipher between dormant grass vs. dead grass. And even if you figure it out, you might not be sure what to do next.

Hiring a lawn care service in Southern NH, ME, or MA can help.

A professional will be able to tell you exactly what’s going on with your lawn and what you should do about it. If it does turn out that your lawn has died, they should be able to perform lawn aeration and overseeding to help restore it.
While the puzzle of dormant vs. dead grass can be a source of frustration, you don’t have to figure it all out on your own.

At Seacoast Turf Care, we want to be your guide toward a healthy lawn. We can make recommendations and assist with proper lawn care so that your lawn is as healthy as it can be. 

Want to learn more about what makes us a great choice for your lawn care needs? At Seacoast Turf Care, we service NH towns near Stratham, North Hampton, Exeter and many more. Get lawn care pricing for your Southern NH, Southern Maine, or Northeastern Massachusetts property. 

Talk to a Lawn & Pest Expert

Image Source: sprinkler heads

Ready to get the lawn you've been wishing for?

Talk to a Lawn & Pest Expert