Dormant grass vs dead grass can sometimes be hard to tell apart from one another. It is not uncommon to see the grass turning brown and wispy when lawn care is not going that well.

Dormant Grass vs Dead Grass

It is important to figure out if it is dead or has just gone dormant for a while. In this article, you will learn how to tell them apart just like a professional grass keeper.

Features Dormant Grass Dead Grass
Appearance Yellow then brown Brown or black
Texture Dry and thin Feels dry, spiky and brittle
On Tugging The Grass Out Shows resistance Comes out easily
Mode Of Turning Brown Turns brown uniformly Turns brown In patches

How Is Dormant Grass Different From Dead Grass?

Dormant grass is resting and can turn back green from brown. Grass that is dead looks like it is dormant initially with dry, stiff, and brown leaf blades. Over several weeks it begins to decay and turn visibly dead, losing its color by patches.

We understand that it might not be easy to tell dormant turf apart from a dead one just by looking at it or holding it in your hands. In that case, you can perform a very simple test to figure things out in under five minutes. Please pull up a tuft of grass using your finger and see how it goes. 

It would be best if you held the grass blades firmly and as close to the ground as possible. When grass is dead, its roots resist being uprooted from the soil. Dead tufts of grass will come out easily, while dormant tufts will resist significantly.

If you are still determining if the grass is dead or dormant even after a tug test, then there is another test you can carry out. It takes time to yield results and needs patience on your part. Please take out a small section of grass about three by three inches and place it in a pot. 

Put this pot of grass in a sunny spot near an eastern-facing window. Water this pot just like the grass in the lawn for the next two to three weeks. If it turns back green this time, it is dormant; otherwise, the grass is permanently dead.

Understanding Dormant Grass

The dormant grass is one that would have a full switch of color, and would look dull in the warmest weather. Although the dormant grass still requires irrigation, as it requires little care, however, it will only come back at its right time.

Dormancy is a natural part of the lifecycle of all grasses, as they face temperature fluctuations throughout the year. Adverse care conditions like drought or disease might also force certain grasses into dormancy.

– Switching Colors

Warm-season grasses go through a period of dormancy during cold temperatures from late fall till early spring. The popular grass types like Bermuda, St Augustine, and Zoysia grass are the ones that would be quick to switch their colors and to get into a dormant phase in their health. These grasses can handle temperatures as high as 90 degrees Fahrenheit and survive with minimum water and nutrient levels. 

Even during the peak of hot summer when water is scarce, these grass types do not turn dormant. On thee contrary to the notion, this process is only when the temperatures start dropping is this phenomenon observed, and for most warm-season grasses, the cut temperature is 55 degrees, after which they become dormant. 

Certain warm-growing grasses like Zoysia can tolerate low temperatures down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If the grass variety is perennial, it will come out of dormancy when the temperatures start rising in the spring.

Dormant Grass Characteristics

– Looking Dull During Summer

There is a reason why cool-season grasses like Fescues, Perennial ryegrass, and Kentucky bluegrass cannot be grown in the eastern and southern states of the US. They go dormant as soon as the temperature rises too much to their liking, again, grass have different types, just like plants do, which means that dormancy would vary at times from one type to the other. 

For most of these grasses, temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit are too hot. Some resilient species might last up to 70 degrees but will go dormant beyond this. These types of grass are ones that will always go dormant during hot summer unless grown someplace with very mild summers. 

They also require more water when compared to the warm, loving grasses. Which means that, it is rare to see grasses go through hot and dry summers without turning dormant. Being dormant is their survival mechanism to prevent death from dehydration. 

– Still Requires Water

Dormancy is the survival mechanism by which grasses prevent themselves from dying, which means that they are still keen to grow, as they do require water even in this period of time. Every week, all grasses require half an inch of water to keep them hydrated. This water can either be in the form of rain or your sprinkler. 

Still Requires Water

When this water requirement is not fulfilled for a long time, the grass grows dormant unless regular watering is resumed. Now, different grass varieties have different tolerance levels for watering. Some varieties remain dormant yet green during conditions of drought, or sprinkling of water. 

Some varieties turn brown and dormant after two to three weeks of drought. Drought-resistant varieties like Bermuda and tall Fescue can resist dormancy without adequate water for as much as four to five weeks.

– Little Care is Needed

When grass undergoes a period of normal dormancy according to its lifecycle, its maintenance will differ from that of non-dormant grass. When grass is undergoing summer or winter dormancy, it is more sensitive and prone to getting damaged, even with regular care that is provided to them, note that they are in a vulnerable position.

Ask your family to decrease going out into the lawn during this time. Even if the grass is a foot-tolerant variety otherwise, it becomes weak and unable to repair itself during dormancy. Try to decrease walking on such grass or moving anything over it.

The growth of grass almost ceases during periods of dormancy, and there is very little, if any, need for lawn mowing. In most cases, you will not even need to mow the grass during the few months of dormancy. 

Surprisingly, when the grass is dormant because of temperature fluctuations, its watering needs also decrease. If you still water this grass with one inch of water every week, you will end up overwatering it instead. Decrease the quantity of water to barely half an inch per week until dormancy ends.

Fertilizing is a big no-no when treating dormant grass, which means that you should not even put in the efforts to tackle this matter. The grass does not need nutrients during this time. Fertilizing will have the opposite effect on hibernating grass and will burn it instead. However, this period is considered the best time to carry out chemical and manual weed removal from the lawn. The grass is thin enough to isolate patches of weed and dig them up. 

– Coming Back to Life at its Right Time

You can easily get your grass out of dormancy if you put your mind and effort into it, however, you should remember that it needs its right time to come back out of dormancy. How to fix dormant grass depends on what caused dormancy in the first place.

Grass will come out of dormancy if the external weather and temperature conditions are right. Any effort you put in, like irrigation or fertilization, might damage the grass unless the weather becomes right. What you must do is to keep a close look at the weather forecast to know exactly when to start putting in the effort, because the weather plays a vital role.

Sometimes the grass becomes weak from a disease or an infestation and goes dormant. You need to treat the dormant brown grass with an appropriate antifungal or pesticidal treatment to bring it back. Try going for milder and natural remedies first before resorting to chemical treatments.

Gently fertilize dormant lawn grass in the early spring when all grasses start coming out of dormancy. You can always have the choice to go for organic compost or slow-release grass fertilizers, as these are low-risk and safe for such grass.

Remember that it has gone into dormancy because of lack of water needs proper irrigation to bring it out. What you must do is to start watering the lawn every day until you see grass blades turning green again. You better use sprinklers for this; the watering time should be from early morning to noon each day.

Understanding Dead Grass

Dead grass is when the greens are left dry for an extended period of time, and as a result it will start turning brown in patches. Moreover, it is the result of weak care during dormancy, it could result after a disease or infestation. Lastly, no matter the given, it cannot come to life again.

When grass dies, it turns brown or black and becomes extremely dry and brittle. Unlike dormancy, the grass always dies in uneven and separate patches.

– Left Dry for Too Long

These days drought-resistant grasses are all the rage. Some Bermuda hybrid varieties can go six to eight weeks without watering, and they would become weak and die, almost impossible to bring them back, which means that the given time was their life span. There comes a time for all grass types, no matter how drought resistant when they can no longer survive without water. 

Technically, an average green lawn goes dormant after two to three weeks of constant drought. After this, they can be revived with constant watering for two to three weeks. Otherwise, the grass dies from dehydration, and the lawn must be watered over again.

Dead Grass Characteristics

– Brown Color

When grass dies, it turns brown, dry, and crispy to the touch. To the uninitiated eye, there is no way to tell both conditions apart. First, you should know that grass rarely turns brown in patches unless there are problems with drainage or shade in a particular section of the lawn. Comparatively, when the grass dies for one reason or another, it mostly does so in patches, as the color would change. 

Very rarely will the grass all over the lawn die uniformly? Take a handful of grass and roll the leaf blades between your fingers. Dead turf grass will generally be more brittle and dry. Allow about three to four weeks to pass on because the dead turf will eventually start decaying visibly, and patches will start changing their color. 

– Result of Weak Care

Lawns that are not watered properly will end up dying eventually. In many cases, improper watering might lead directly to grass death instead of causing dormancy first. Overwatering is one such instance that makes the grass extremely vulnerable to infections by fungi and bacteria. 

Result of Weak Care

Excess water in the soil causes the roots to rot, and they can no longer sustain themselves. Overwatering occurs when you give the lawn more than one inch of water per week or when the water does not evaporate properly from the soil.

When the soil has not been aerated for several years, it becomes compact, and drainage becomes a problem. Turning the sprinklers on at night is also a problem because the grass stays wet all night, causing roots to root, and if it isn’t managed in a quick manner, it will be a fatal situtation.

– Aftershock of Disease And Infestation

It is common for a small number of pests to reside on the lawn, and we consider it no big deal. However, sometimes an infestation becomes so severe that it kills your grass in large patches, and in the long run it will be impossible to bring it back. These pests eat the grass and take away its nutrients, starving it, this is when the grass will begin to die in places where the pests are heavily concentrated.

Fungal and bacterial infections of the grass are another common reason why grass dies. Grass succumbs to these infections primarily when overwatered. In cold regions, dormant grass gets infected under a layer of frost. As a result the grass underneath is revealed to be dead when the frost thaws in early spring.

– Cannot Come To Life

Once the grass is dead, it needs to be removed manually so new grass seeds can be sowed. Take this opportunity also to carry out weed eradication through a non-selective herbicide. Do not worry about using these herbicides because the grass is dead anyway.

Next, you need a dethatching rake to remove the thatch and the finished pieces of grass from the top layers of the soil, because remember that this dead grass doesn’t serve a purpose now, and what you will be doing is cleaning it out. 

Once you are rid of the grass and the thatch, it is time to till the soil. Take a tiller to till the soil to a depth of about five to six inches. If you can get your lawn to be aerated, that would be better than tilling. 

Now is a good time to carry out professional soil testing to see if it needs to have any amendments added to it, make sure it is in early spring, because the germination process would establish and succeed during this. In any case, take a handful of peat and compost as sources of nutrition and moisture control in the soil, even out the top layers of the soil, and plant new grass seeds using a seed spreader. Do not bury the seeds deep in the soil but gently use a roller over them so that they have intimate contact with the soil.


Now, you know so well the difference because you read about the simple methods to test whether grass has died or gone dormant. While dormant grass can be turned back green, the dead grass must be removed manually from the ground.

Seasoned lawn owners can tell both apart because dead turf grass is way more dry and brittle. However, you can carry out the tug tuft test or the potting test to be 100 percent sure that the grass is dead or dormant.

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