Dead Grass: Opportunity for Improving Lawns Organically

Photo: Turf that was dormant and is now reviving.
Turf area that was dormant and is now reviving.

The long, hot summer has taken its toll on many plants, including lawns. Many areas of desirable turfgrass lawns have died, and lawns infested with crabgrass and other annual weeds will die as autumn approaches. Dead lawns mean a loss in ground cover and greater risk of storm water runoff. Ground cover is needed to prevent rains from washing bare soil into streams, lakes, rivers, and bays. Eroding soil contains sediment and nutrients (N and P) which are a severe risk for water pollution. Therefore, lawns with 60% or more loss of ground cover need to be repaired to prevent soil erosion and protect water quality.

What to do? Dead lawns need to have the soil re-covered. Now is the best time to reseed a lawn. The cooler air, warm soils, and more frequent rain of August and September present ideal conditions to seed lawns and ensure establishment.

Seed blends and mixtures containing a grass called perennial ryegrass will provide the quickest and easiest repair of lawns. It is also wise to include other grasses in the seed mixture. Interested in developing a lawn with lower maintenance requirements? Look on the seed label for grasses called tall fescue, hard fescue, Chewings fescue, or creeping red fescue. If you use seed mixes containing them, these grasses become established in the lawn over time. These grasses can survive with less water and fertilizer. Tall fescue is a very good choice if you can seed before September 15th while perennial ryegrass, fine fescues, Kentucky bluegrass can continue to be used later in the fall when the soil cools.

Photo: Home with beautiful lawn.

Test the soil to determine what nutrients, if any, are needed. Amending the soil during lawn renovation provides the opportunity to treat the whole root zone, rather than just the soil surface. Consult your county extension office for information on soil testing or search for soil testing labs on the internet.

Aerating and dethatching the lawn before seeding is very beneficial. Seed falling into the openings created by aeration and dethatching is more likely to establish because the seed and soil contact is improved. You can also spread a light layer of compost over the lawn after aerating and seeding. Compost acts like a mulch, retaining moisture for the seed. Compost also adds nutrients and organic matter to the soil, both of which are beneficial to the survival of your lawn.

  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences