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How to Tell the Difference Between Dormant and Dead Grass: The Homeowner’s How-to Guide

Hibernation might make you think of a bear in a cave during winter, but did you know that your grass can hibernate too? Dormancy protects grass and conserves its energy in the off-season, but it can be confusing for a homeowner, as dead and dormant grass looks very similar. 

Cool-season grasses, in particular, dry up and go dormant in the summer months. If you live in a warm climate, one obvious fix is investing in high-quality, warm-season grass seed to keep a green yard year-round. In the meantime, don’t go pulling up your grass just yet. There may be hope yet. 

Suppose your lush green lawn is suddenly brown and dull. How can you know the difference between dormant versus dead grass? You’ll need to channel your inner landscaper and your inner detective. These three critical questions can help you understand whether your lawn is pushing up daisies or just napping through the off-season.

How does the grass feel?

Take your shoes off and walk around your lawn. If the grass feels crunchy, you can rest knowing the roots are probably healthy. This crunchiness signals a thirsty lawn. Give your greenery some extra water and check again in a few days. 

If the grass feels spongy, fungal disease, pest problems, or other lethal lawn threats may be to blame. You’ll need to clear out the dead grass so that it doesn’t choke any new growth. 

Is the grass easy to pull out?

Commonly known as the tug test, one of the easiest ways to distinguish between dormant and dead grass is to try and pull a patch of grass out of the ground. 

If you can easily pull the grass out and the roots are brittle or gray, it’s likely dead grass due to drought conditions or high temperatures. On the other hand, if the grassroots are white or you feel resistance, it’s probably dormant and will come back to life when it’s ready. 

How does the grass look?

Dormant and dead grass both appear brown, so you might need to pull out your magnifying glass on this one. 

Dead grass appears in patches, with brown or dry spots in no particular pattern. Dead grass will also lose its ability to stand upright. 

On the other hand, dormant grass stands up and appears brown all over with little or no breaks in between.

Final thoughts

Once you’ve determined if your grass is dead or just dormant, you’ll have a better idea of what your next steps are. 

The good news is that dormant grass can survive for a few weeks before it starts to die. With a bit of extra TLC and water, it’s likely to get its color back, and you’ll be ready to enjoy your beautiful green lawn. However, dead grass requires the homeowner to use new grass seed and start fresh, which means you’ll have work to do before you’re back to that enviable green. 

With this in mind, you can back out on your lawn sooner than later. Happy landscaping, and don’t forget to stay off the grass. 

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