Dead Grass? Here is how to fix it.

by admin on November 4, 2010 · 4 Comments

in advice, Animals and Pets, Grass and Lawns, Problems and Solutions

Need Help Repairing Your Grass?

Here is an excerpt from my eBook GROWING GREAT LAWNS

Typical dog urine damage or fertilizer burn

One of the most popular posts here is one I wrote called, “Is dog pee killing your grass? Here are some solutions.” That’s a pretty common question for people with dogs but there are lots of reasons why you may need to patch a spot in a lawn. Maybe you had a broken sprinkler or misapplied some weed killer. Whatever the cause the repair is pretty much the same. Here are some simple instructions.

Before I go any further let me discuss the difference between renovation and repair. When I discuss repair I’m talking about the need to fix smaller areas of grass where some sort of damage has occurred, like when you have the situation where dog pee is killing your grass leaving yellow or brown spots everywhere. When I discuss renovation, I am talking about a planned cultural practice that is not done in response to damage, but rather, is a technique used to reinvigorate a neglected lawn. For the purposes of this blog post I will discuss lawn repair. You can find information on turf renovation in my soon to be released eBook on the subject.

First, let’s discuss timing. So what is the best time of year for making lawn repairs?  My answer is that small repairs can be performed anytime the turf is actually growing. So, how can you tell if now is a good time? Well, my easy answer is: if you have had to mow your lawn recently, it’s in a growing state – it’s as simple as that!

My more technical answer to the question is: most cool season grasses (e.g., Kentucky Blue grass, Perennial Ryegrass, Fescue) can be repaired any time except in the dead of winter. Warm season grasses (e.g., Bermuda grass, Zoysia, Bahia and St Augustine – located in the southern states only) have a much shorter growing season concentrated in the spring and summer.

To repair a damaged lawn, there are certain steps that must be followed.

1) First, stop whatever was causing the damage. If the damage was the result of dog urine killing your grass, there are several solutions. You can read about some solutions to the dog pee problem in my previous post on the subject HERE. If chemicals or oil/ gasoline caused your damage, you will first need to remove all of the contaminated soil. If it was a broken sprinkler, then you must fix the sprinkler. If it’s pests, eradicate them with a lawn-safe pesticide or other organic solution. Don’t waste your time with the next steps until you have eliminated the problem.

2) Next you will need to prepare the soil. Compacted soil will make it difficult for the new roots to penetrate so you need to fix that problem. All you need to do is take a pronged rake, a claw hammer, or any tool you can plunge into the top four inches of soil and loosen the soil up. I also suggest adding 1-3 handfuls of organic soil conditioner. Work the conditioner into the soil and then tamp LIGHTLY with your foot; or better yet, have a toddler walk on it for a few seconds. While you are working with the soil, rake out any clods or large rocks, and then blend the soil into the surrounding grass so that the dirt is at the same level or even slightly above.

Loosen the compacted soil and add compost or some potting soil.

3) To seed or to sod? Patching with sod is faster and requires slightly less care while the roots get established, but it is also more expensive. I usually use seed because it’s cheaper, and it works well. If you choose to use sod, all you have to do is cut it into the desired shape, tamp it down lightly, and then water. If you choose to use seed, you have a couple of additional steps. After you have worked the organic soil conditioner in and leveled and tamped the soil, you must scratch the top layer to roughen it a bit. The seed needs some cracks and crevices to fall into. Next, dump the seed on. I mean really dump it on. I suggest that you double, triple, or even quadruple the amount of seed that the package recommends you use. You’ll have a much better chance of success, and the spot will blend in much quicker if you dump on lots of seed. Grass seed is pretty cheep so just take my word for it. You really can’t over-apply the seed.

4) Top-dress. This is one of the extra steps with seed I spoke of. You need to use a bit of the soil conditioner I mentioned earlier to cover the seed you have just put down. Nothing too difficult here except that you can overdo it. A thin layer of no more than ¼ inch (3mm) is enough. Apply just enough to shade the seed from the direct sun and to provide a layer that will hold some moisture. Now find that toddler again and have him or her tamp the area down with their feet lightly again. (unless you have a “stomper” on your hands, and then maybe it’s best to have the grownup do this step). You don’t want the seeds compacted down into the soil too much.

5) Once you have finished the seeding or the sodding, all you will need to do is to start watering. Water, water, water until the sod is well rooted or the seed is up and growing strong (7-10 days depending on type). If you’ve planted seed, to water properly, mist the area very lightly so you don’t cause any run-off that will move the top-dress mulch or the seed. You only need to moisten the top inch or so of soil as there are no roots below that yet, so short gentle showers are best. YOU MUST NOT LET THE SEED DRY OUT. This means you will need to moisten the area several times a day at first depending on wind and heat. You should start seeing sprouts in 7-10 days.

Gentle but frequent watering

6) Mowing your new grass. The first mowing can be as soon as three weeks later. You will know it’s ready if it’s rooted. How will you know? Well, if you’ve used sod, just go grab a handful and tug. If its roots are attached, it won’t pull up, and it’s okay to mow. If you’ve used seed, just wait until the sprouts are as tall as the surrounding grass. Here is a little *secret*…if you have done a good job of keeping the soil moist, your mower will leave ugly tracks in the ground that will make your lawn bumpy and lumpy forever. My suggestion is that 2 days before you are planning to mow, stop watering and give the soil a chance to firm up, so your mower won’t leave ruts. I’ll offer up a couple of other gardening *secrets* in my new eBook, GROWING GREAT LAWNS available at Rainforth Home and Garden

If you want more information on fertilizing your lawn here is another post on that subject.

I hope this helps. Leave me a comment if you have more questions and have fun with your project and remember water, water ,water……..



Hi Phillip, thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you liked the article.

Phillip Estenson

Great post, enjoyed reading your article on how to fix or revive dead grass. Thanks for sharing…

steve hatton

for patch repairs do you recommend raking out dead grass first?

steve hatton

also – would the grass ever recover if left without any treatment?

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