Okay, what is the photo on the right? Is it a photo from Africa’s Serengeti National Park? It is the remains of a foolish attempt to grow a lawn in the Arizona Desert? Maybe it’s a farm that specializes in growing hay?
Sadly, it is none of those things. It is, unfortunately, my back yard. I live in New Jersey where we’ve been suffering from a heck of a drought for the past three months. In March we had double the amount of rainfall we normally get, but for April, May and June we’ve actually had only about 50% of the rain we normally get, so a lot of yards around my area look just like my back yard: mostly brown and nearly dead due to a lack of water.
I know that my grass is brown from a lack of rain and water restrictions in my town prevent me from doing much about it.
Is My Brown Grass Dead?
Yes, my grass is brown and actually a bit crunchy to walk across (never a good sign). The question of whether or not my grass is completely dead is still an open one. You can find out if brown grass has completely died or not by digging or pulling up a small clump of grass and basically using your fingers to tear it apart at the base where the stems meet the roots.
You’re going to be looking for anything green or soft. If you find any part of the grass plant that’s still soft or living then your lawn still has a chance to come back with a lot of water or rain. If you pull apart your grass plants and find some slightly spongy white material then your grass is still alive, but won’t last much longer. And of course if you pull apart your grass plant and find nothing but dried and crumbling brown stalks.
Will Dead Brown Grass Grow Back?
Short answer: No.
Long answer: If your grass is “mostly” dead but you can still find some green or some softer white tissue in the plant body when you pull it apart then all may not be lost. Add water (but do not add fertilizer or anything else) if you can. As a general rule of thumb, most lawns need about an inch of water a week to survive. That’s actually a lot more water than you might think.
If you want to find out how much water you’re getting on your lawn you can try this trick: Place an empty cat food or tuna can (both are about an inch high) in the center of your lawn where you normally run your sprinkler. Now run your sprinkler and every 20 minutes or so go out and check to see how much water you are really putting on your lawn. Every sprinkler is going to be different, so run this test for each type you might use. If you fill up half a can during an hour-long watering session then you know that you need to water your lawn with that sprinkler for two hours a week just to keep your grass looking green. Natural rain will, obviously, also count towards that total.
My Brown Grass is Dead. How do I Grow New Grass?
Ouch. If your lawn is really dead then you’re going to have to do some work. Whether your grass died from a lack of water or some sort of malnutrition or even a lawn disease, your first step is going to be to remove as much of the old grass as you can. You’ll want to use a garden rake initially to pull out as much dead material as you can. If your lawn was diseased you probably won’t want to put that dead material in any sort of a compost pile. You’ll want to throw it away.
Once most of the dead grass plants are removed you can use a shovel to skim off a thin layer of soil, taking out as much of the remaining grass plant that you can. Try not to remove any more topsoil than you need to. At this point you may want to have your soil tested at a gardening center or plant nursery. Your soil might be missing valuable nutrients that you should add.
Now it’s time to plant your new grass. Your soil should be loosened up by now, but if it isn’t go over it again with a rake once more to make sure the grass seed you put down will grow. There are several methods for planting grass seed from scratch. You could put down the seed on the existing top soil and take it in or you could plant your grass quickly by mixing your grass seed into new soil and then just spreading over your lawn area.
Once you’ve spread your grass seed you have just one more step: add water! Again, aim for an inch (or more) in a single week. You may want to be especially generous with the water if you can during the first few weeks when your new grass is just beginning to establish itself.
How I Killed My Grass
Sure, I tried to water it regularly with a sprinkler for a while. My home has a well-water pump just for watering the lawn and washing the cars and whatnot and I was keeping things pretty green for a while, but then I went away for a few days and didn’t trust leaving an automatic sprinkler hooked up while I was gone. When we returned we started watering regularly again, but by then it was clear that it was just too hot and too sunny for the grass in my backyard to keep healthy. Lately our town has started asking people to cut back on water consumption across the board to deal with this drought, so I’ve decided to sacrifice my back yard for the good of the community.
My back yard gets mostly direct sun for most of the day, which is ultimately what resulted in its ruin. Want to see how devastating direct sunlight can be to grass? Take a look at the photo on the right. In the upper left corner the photo is a tree that shades part of the grass in my yard. There’s a clear line where the green grass meets the brown grass. That’s the line where the tree’s branches and leaves shade the grass. It’s the same type of grass and that area received the same amount of water. My front yard, which is also partially shaded, is doing quite well, thank you.
A random sampling of my yard has shown that I do, indeed, have some truly dead grass out there. Some spots are actually not too bad, though. I may try using some Scotts EZ Seed if I can get it on sale later this season or I might just give it up and wait until next year. I have a lot of other home improvement projects in the works and I’m not sure if I really have the time or energy for another one. If I do go ahead and replant the grass in a large section of my yard I’ll post photos so you can see how much work it really is!