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Will Your Grass Bounce Back From the Drought?

August 6, 2012

Your lawn has shut down during the drought, turned brown and looks dead.  So you are wondering, “Will it come back?”

Most lawns do recover when moisture returns.  How can you tell if your lawn is one of those that will bounce back?  Within a week (and often as soon as a few days) of a significant rainfall of an inch or so, brush away the tops of the brown blades and look at the base of your brown grass.  If you see light green growth at the base of those dead looking plants and new grass blades beginning to pop through the soil your lawn is on the road to recovery.  (See photo below)

New grass growth from dormant grass after a drought. This is a good time to feed your grass, especially if you are beginning to see rain return or are able to water

However, not all lawns will recover.  If your grass roots were weak because they were starving going into the drought, or if the roots were not fully established because the grass was recently planted, or if insects like sod webworms, chichbugs or cutworms attacked your grass as it was going dormant; you may need to plant new grass this fall.

If your lawn is not dead, you can help your grass revive itself by feeding it with Turf Builder as the rains return.  To further strengthen your grass, plan a second feeding this fall about 6 weeks after your next feeding.

If your lawn is on the way to recovery, and rainfall is sparse, the best rule of thumb is to water ½ inches, 2 days per week, so that the top 6-8 inches of soil remains moist.

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  1. Well, other than telling me I “need to plant new grass this fall”, this article was useless in telling me how to take care of the dead areas of my lawn due to drought. I’m a new homeowner. Do I need sod? Will seed do it? Do I need to rake the lawn first?

    • Hi W:
      Sorry you have dead areas in your lawn. This blog posting was meant to show folks how a lawn will bounce back from the drought even though you may think it is dead. I will be doing upcoming blog postings on seeding a going into fall (in addition to the one I did a while back on starting over with a new lawn). Tell me where you are located and I will be glad to give you some specific info.

      • Eugene Roop permalink

        I have the same dead spot problem as W. I live in the northeast corner of Indianapolis and wonder what grass seed I should use. Most of the reseeding will be in the sunniest area of the lawn. Thank you

      • Hi Eugene
        The Scotts Turf Builder Heat Tolerant Blue grass seed blend will do very will in Indianapolis. Full sun will not be an issue.

      • norm Cohen permalink

        Most of lawn has recovered from drought but lots of brown patches remain. I looked for grubs and found none.

      • Hi Norm Cohen
        When there is a mixed lawn of different grass types, some grasses do not come back from drought as quickly as others. Sometimes there is insect and/or fungus problems that have attacked the lawn during the weaker state. If you find some white or pale green plant tissue when you peel back the brown grass blades at the base of the plant, you will likely see the grass bounce back when you feed it and give it some water. If there is no white or light green at the base of the plant, then you will likely need to seed those spots this sometime during the next few weeks. You will find that feeding with Turf Builder or Scotts Natural Lawn Food or Scotts GreenMAX will really help. If you seed then feed with Scotts Starter Lawn Food for new grass.

  2. darlene brand permalink

    our grass was very nice ,thick an fertilized with scotts. we have always gotten remarks,asking how we keep our grass looking like thick carpet. now our grass looks like the mojave desert. what can we do to get our grass back.we thatched the dead looking areas, it does not look like it is going to come back,cannot see any life in the dead grass, help?

    • Hi Darlene
      The key thing to look for a week after getting at least an inch of rain is a hint of green shoots beginning to break thru the dead-looking grass as shown in the photo in this blog posting. If you really think your grass is dead, let me know where you are located and I will give you some specific suggestions.

  3. Tony permalink

    I live in the northwest corner of Ohio. We had a severe drought in this area. I did not water my yard ( never have ), but have always kept it fertilized and weed free.
    We have had a couple inches of rain in the last 10 days. Should I fertilize now ? I was thinking about pluging my yard this fall. Should I plug it this fall with all the stress that it has been under ?

    • Hi Tony
      The kind of grasses grown in your area really love extra feedings in late summer/fall. With the recent rain, you should be seeing little tips of green poking thru the brown dormant grass, especially if you get a string of weeks with an inch of rain. This means a feeding of Turf Builder in the next week or so, followed by water will help kick start your grass out of dormancy. Follow this with one or two more feedings this fall at 6 week intervals to build extra roots and you may be able to cut back your spring feedings to one time. If you have total brown areas with no sign of green, you will likely need to seed this fall and plugging or slit seeding will help make sure the grass seed comes in contact with your soil.

      • Tony permalink

        I put down Scott’s Turf Builder last week, as you suggested. The grass is mostly coming back, but there are several small dead spots, plus 2 or 3 large dead areas. I plan on aerating and slit seeding around Labor Day. If I do this, as scheduled , do I fertilize again when I overseed ? If so , what type fertilizer should I apply ?

      • Hi Tony
        Even though you fed last week, I would still put down Starter Fertilizer in the areas you are seeding Labor Day Weekend.

  4. Steve Bukosky permalink

    I appreciate the article and it affirmed what I suspected. I’m west of Milwaukee
    Wisconsin and the heat and drought was severe. I applied Turf Builder in the spring and the grass in the shaded areas is doing very well. That in the direct sun has either gone brown dormant or has been fatally damaged. It looks darker than that which is dormant and has a grey to black shade to it. There are some green shoots of grass here and there. I have a fresh bag of Turf Builder plus Iron at hand and have been watering the bad areas to soften up the ground. I’m thinking that I should apply the fertilizer, water it in and hope for the best unless you tell me otherwise.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Steve
      Based on where you live, I think you have the right idea about kick starting your grass to see if you get a response, especially if you are able to water during any upcoming dry periods. The cooler nights will help and this will tell if you have some areas that need to be seeded.

  5. john permalink

    I live north of Detroit and before the drought had applied the first 2 steps of the scotts fertilizer, in the last 2 weeks we’ve had roughly 3 inches of rain and most of the lawn has not come back, the article was helpful in that now i know for sure that its dead and not dormant. My question would be, should i dethatch and arerate the lawn before seeding this fall ( i was going to in spring anyway) or just rake, fertilize and seed? If i dethatch etc this fall should i do it again in spring? Also should i start now or wait until the middle of september? Thank you for any help.

    • Hi John
      Sorry your lawn is not coming back. Labor day weekend would be a good time to seed and spread Starter Fertilizer. The seed needs to come in contact with your soil, so you can rake or dethatch/aerate prior to seeding, whichever way helps to give you some soil exposure and groves for the seed to lodge. You will not need to dethatch again in spring. Feed again with Turf Builder or Step 4 about a month after seeding.

  6. I live in the southwest corner of Ohio and with care my lawn has done pretty well in the drought. Because some weeds have taken advantage of the stress though, I want to Weed n Feed – but also apply Insect Control as they too have appeared. Can both these products be applied at the same time?

    • Hi Kathleen
      Since the insect control needs to be watered after spreading and the weed and feed goes on moist foliage, Spread Ortho BugBGon MAX first, water with a half inch of water. Apply Turf Builder with Plus 2 the next day that you have morning dew and no rain is expected for 24 hours.

  7. R.J. Nicholson permalink

    HELP!!!! I live just outside of Phoenix Az. and I can not get grass to grow.(Weeds are doing just fine) Soil tests show a high Alkaine, what do I do? RJN

    • Hi R.J.
      If you have some grass, however it is thin, feeding your Bermudagrass now with Scotts GreenMax will help it spread. Water after feeding. You can spray the weeds with Ortho Weed B Gon when your daytime temps start to drop below 90. If you do not have much grass, and if you are going to plant bermudagrass seed or lay bermudagrass sod, you can help your soil fertility and capacity to hold water by mixing a couple of inches of a good compost (like Miracle Gro Moisture Control Garden Soil) into the top 4 to 6 inches of soil. If you can find Sulphur in your local garden center, this will help lower your soil pH (make your soil less alkaline). Follow the info on the package of how much to use (or a recommendation from your soil test may supply this info). Mix the sulphur into your soil when you are mixing in the compost. If you seed or sod, the better lawn food choice would be Scotts Starter Fertilizer. Feed your lawn 3 to 4 times a year with Scotts Southern Turf Builder or Scotts GreenMAXto encourage your Bermudagrass to thicken up.

  8. Mark Kapsky permalink


    I live in NJ, My front lawn is simply full of thick crabgrass. I have taken to pulling the weeds out with handtools in preparation for seeding and fertilizing in early September, but with a 40 x 60 ft area, it is time-consuming. Do you have any other suggestions for removing or treating the crabgrass in preparation for fall seeding and fertilizing?


    • Hi Mark
      You can spray the crabgrass with Roundup (this will kill all vegetation in the area you spray). You will see the crabgrass start to die within a day or so. Once you rake out the dead crabgrass you will be able to seed anytime (as soon as 1 week after spraying Roundup).

  9. Sheela permalink


    I lived in CA. We bought a house around january the lawn was very good condition but when the springs came in, our lawn went drought. we bought a fertilizer and applied it after we mowed it. We watered it everyday but we still havent see the results. Any suggestions?? thank you

    • Hi Sheela
      Let me know where you live in California so I can figure out what kind of grass you have. I am wondering if your lawn was seeded last fall with an Annual Ryegrass to provide green cover during the rainy season. This grass is more temporary. Also, please describe your lawn to me: is it totally brown or is there some green, does it grow more upright between mowing or more prostrate to the ground? Also, let me know what you put down and when. Thanks.

      • Sheela permalink

        we lived in El Cajon, CA. Im not sure if they put the Annual Ryegrass. Our lawn looks brown but it still has a green on it. A garderner told us that it still alive thats why we bought a fertilizer. we applied it like 2 weeks ago. we put Scott’s lawn feeder

      • Hi Sheela I still can not be positive of what kind of grass you have. Bermudagrass is grown in your part of the state as well as other grasses. Many folks will plant ryegrass in the fall on Bermudagrass lawns so the lawn is green in winter when Bermudagrass is brown and dormant. Then the ryegrass dies out as the weather warms just about the time that the Bermudagrass is starting to turn green. Feeding helps the Bermudagrass grow out of dormancy along with regular watering. If you can, water twice a week putting down a half inch each time. You can figure out how long to run your sprinklers by putting a glass on your lawn and measuring the depth of the water in the glass. You may find that you will need to run your sprinklers an hour or so to put down a half inch of water. You should begin to see new growth within a couple of weeks.

      • Sheela permalink

        Hi Ashton, We do have Bermuda grass. Do we have to apply ryegrass or get a new grass seed or get another lawn feeder?

      • Hi Sheela
        The only time you would want to seed ryegrass in your Bermuda grass lawn would be in fall to provide winter green color. This is probably what was done when the house was on the market to make the lawn look better for showing. Some folks do this, others just allow their lawn to go dormant in winter. For now, feeding your Bermuda grass will help it fill in the bare spots. Scotts Turf Builder is good for this. If you do think you want to put some grass seed down because much of your lawn is bare soil, then you can put down Bermuda grass seed. If you do this, rather than feeding with Turf Builder, feed with Scotts Starter Lawn Food instead. If you seed, you will need to water much more frequently than I said before while the grass seed is germinating. You will water for shorter periods of time on a daily or several times a day basis.

  10. Hi Ashton, I just found the blog and already gaining invaluable knowledge. My wife and I just moved into a new home with new sod (I’m not sure of the type of grass), in the middle of a drought. We’ve been trying to water as often as we can but it isn’t always possible. There are some sections of the grass that have taken well, established roots, and are thick and green already but I’m also seeing sections of the grass get yellow and still other sections that are starting to look almost grey. What do the different colors suggest?
    I live right outside San Antonio, TX and the heat here lately has been pretty extreme. I’m a rookie when it comes to tending to my lawn. Is there anything I can do to either help it recover or do I need to put seed down soon on the sections that aren’t doing to well?

    • Hi rubendealba
      Keep your new sod watered as best you can. You should have good rooting within a month of laying the sod and you should be able to lengthen the time between watering. The grey look is a sign that the grass needs water. The yellow look is the next stage where the grass is starting to go dormant due to a lack of water. If the grass turns totally brown and you can not find any white or light green shoots when you peal back brown growth, then the sod might be dead. I would check with the folks who installed your sod about care suggestions. Generally a feeding of a Starter Lawn Food is put down when sodding and then a follow up of Turf Builder Lawn Food is put down about 4 to 6 weeks after sodding and the grass is rooted.

  11. Slipstreamer permalink

    Hi Ashton. It is now Feb 2014 and California is in the driest year on record. I live in Sacramento area and want to see what I can do to prepare my lawn for what I expect will be a year with strict water restrictions. Is there anything I should do now to make sure that my lawn will bounce back when we – hopefully – get the rain back in the fall? Thanks!

    • Hi Slipstreamer
      Feed your lawn with Turf Builder with Halts Crabgrass Preventer prior to March 1 timing your application to take advantage of any spring rain you are getting now. Preventing crabgrass and other germinating weeds will keep these plants from stealing any available moisture from your good grass. If you do not use the preventer, then feed with Turf Builder prior to a spring rain. (looks like you may be getting moisture right this week based on the forecast that I see for Northern California. Keeping my fingers crossed for you.) Then as the seasonal rains stop, if you are able to water to encourage deep roots, water no more than twice a week putting down at least a half inch of water at a time. Feed at two month intervals if you are able to water… this will encourage maximum root growth to take advantage of any soil moisture that is available. If your lawn goes dormant because you are not able to water, this heavier root system will help your lawn survive. Good luck!

  12. tony…is it possible that a removal of a tree can cause grass to go into shock. I am writing from iowa. The summer of 2014 has caused brown spots. I don’t know if it is dead .I was told that maybe the grass has gone into shock after we removed some trees that were in the yard. Is this possible. How can I know and can I revive the lawn without reseeding.

    • Hi Larry Zobel
      Sometimes the raw sawdust that is left behind causes the grass to yellow as any available nitrogen in the soil is depleted. Feeding your lawn twice this fall will help. Another possible cause is your grass varieties are more adapted to shade now you have full sun. Feeding and water will help, however you may need to put down a seed blend that likes sun.

  13. Wende permalink

    I am in Denver and bought a house that’s lawn was watered every day so the neighbors tell me, but little else was ever done. (To the lawn or the house) Now, the house will be gutted and a construction zone all spring, summer and fall. My intent (and my own instinct) is to power rake, aerate and fertilize it now, right before all of this begins. Then water and care for it as long as I can, so when the property gets fenced and becomes a construction zone and it can’t be watered, let it go, as I will have no choice. It will go brown and ugly and then hopefully when next spring arrives I can start watering and caring for it again, and it will come back and be green again. How is my amateur thinking flawed? Any advice would be much appreciated.

    • Hi Wende
      Feeding your lawn now will help to strengthen it prior to all the upcoming activity/abuse. I would skip the power rake and aeration now a potentially plan it prior to a future seeding after your construction project is completed. At that time you can seed some of the better grass varieties that do well in your area. Scotts Heat-Tolerant Blue is a good choice as are others with the improved tall fescue varieties. These kinds of grasses like extra feeding in the fall to build the roots during the cooler time of the year. So having said all that, feed your lawn now with Turf Builder or Scotts GreenMAX.

  14. Jerry A Cline permalink

    I have a well established Bermuda lawn outside of Atlanta, GA. It has been beautiful for 10 years. The major drought this summer and the heat above 90 degrees has taken its toll. I have a lawn service who tend to it via fertilizer, pre-emergents etc
    We finally got three rainfalls this past week. My grass looks horrible, Brown and dead. I will check close as you recommend. Is there a chance it will come back next year if not this year?

    • Hi Jerry A Cline
      If your lawn gets back to an inch of water a week I would suspect it will bounce back. Bermuda is pretty resilient. There may have been a situation that your lawn was dry during the time it was fed and it did not receive any water following feeding resulting in some temporary discoloration.

  15. I live in Northern California, Sacramento area and I have let my lawn go for the last two summers because of the drought we have been experiencing. I am hoping to be able to get it nice and green again by next year. It came back a little over the rainy season this past year but there were a lot of green weeds mixed in with the grass as well. Is there a way to bring this back to a nice quality green lawn? Also, when would I want to start planning to get this as nice as possible? We are still experiencing weather in the 100’s on a regular basis so I don’t think now would be best but you are the expert.

    • Hi Rob Wolff
      You have a couple of lawn options in Sacramento depending if you have full sun or part shade and if you are going to be able to water during the dry season. If you have full sun, your best option is one of the warm season grasses like Bermuda. This option will provide you green grass during the warmer time of the year if you are able to water. This kind of lawn would also go dormant in winter depending on where you are located in the Sacramento area and how cold the weather is during winter (such as in the higher elevations). You can sod this grass most anytime of the year or seed during spring thru late summer. If you have part-sun or shade, your best option is a blend of turf-type Tall Fescue which would be best seeded prior to the rainy season in fall. You would have a nice looking lawn during the cooler, rainy season. If you decide to not water your lawn during the dry season next year this kind of lawn would go dormant and possibly thin out like you have seen during the previous couple of years. You would seed again next fall to repeat the green winter color. This kind of lawn can also be sodded this fall. Hope this extra info helps you decide what to do.

  16. Sarah permalink

    We have just bought a house in Palm Desert, CA. The water was shut off for a week or two before I could occupy the home. Within a few weeks the lawn went completely Brown. I think it’s a hybrid Bermuda variety. It’s been very hot and we move in this week. It’s perfectly healthy green about 3 weeks ago.

    How do I know if I need to invest in new sod or not? I don’t want to waste water in the Southern California drought.

    • Hi Sarah
      If this was an established lawn, with an established root system (and not newly laid sod), your lawn is dormant and will green up with water. If you can see some white or light green leaf blade tissue at the base of the grass plant when you peel back the brown dormant blades, your grass will come out of dormancy when it starts to get regular moisture. To minimize water waste, make sure your sprinklers are adjusted properly to reduce the watering of hard surfaces. Also, it is better to run your sprinklers for a longer period of time so you are putting down a half inch of water twice a week rather than a smaller amount each day. This helps to encourage deeper roots.

      • Sarah Sherter permalink

        Great. Thank you for the reply. I’m pleased to know I don’t need a new lawn.

  17. Dave in Poole UK permalink

    If you live in an area which suffers from long periods of drought, you have two choices. 1. Regularly water the lawn, feed it, and lightly mow leaving some cuttings until a reasonable level of thatch has built up, also scarifying and reseeding in the autumn with drought resistant seed mix. 2. Be thankful for the long periods of dry lawn which does not need mowing, only the tougher drought resistant grasses will survive and will look good again in the autumn and spring when it has recovered, though reseeding may still be necessary. I’ve been told that in Canada they spray brown grass with green dye for special occasions when they need it to look good- cheaper than astroturfing. Like all plants, you have to have patience and resign yourself to the fact that some gardens are just not suited to having grass lawns which look good all year round. After 30 years in my property I still have a lawn which looks good some of the time, and there are many plants I’ve tried which have not survived and others which are real stars which can be relied upon to give far more viewing pleasure than a pristine lawn.

    • Hi Dave in Poole UK
      Thanks for your gardening/lawn insights for drought. Some types of grasses do remarkably well during long periods of dry weather. They go dormant (brown) for a month or more and then bounce back when moisture returns. By the way, I lived and worked south of you down in Surry (Godalming) during the “hose pipe” ban in the summer of 2003. I am very fond of your country.

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