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It’s a lawn owner’s worst nightmare – brown patches appearing and slowly spreading across your beautiful yard.

If you notice patches of brown grass, your lawn could be dead or dying. There are a few reasons for this, such as insufficient watering, poor soil conditions, or weeds.

A completely dead lawn won’t come back, but there are ways you can try to revive dead grass, such as:

If the old grass can’t be saved, though, you’ll need to fix your lawn by re-seeding or laying fresh turf.

So long as you know how to revive a dead lawn, there’s nothing to fear. Learn how to repair your lawn and maintain it, so your grass can grow on and on.


Is My Grass Dead or Dormant? Dead Grass vs. Dormant Grass

Bermuda grass lawn getting dormant

Before you get down and dirty, you’ll need to answer an important question: do you have dead or dormant grass?

Your grass may look dead, but it may just be dormant – think of it as your grass going into hibernation. It’s going to look brown and dry, but it’s just conserving energy.

Cool-season grasses typically go dormant in summer, while warm-season grasses go dormant during winter.

There are two ways to test if brown grass is dead or dormant:

  • Check the grass crowns at the plant’s base. Fresh, whitish crowns mean the grass is still healthy, but dried or discoloured crowns mean dead or dying grass.
  • Do a tug test by pulling at a small patch of grass. If it uproots easily and the roots are dried or rotted, the grass is likely dead. Any resistance means the roots are still healthy and the grass is just dormant.
  • Check the entire lawn and see what it looks like. If you’ve got brown grass all over, then your lawn is likely just dormant. But if there are patches of brown lawn, it’s likely those areas are dead.


What Causes Dead Grass?

There are several causes for yellow or brown patches of dead grass.

It’s essential that you identify the root cause (ha!) of your dying lawn so you can address it. Otherwise, you’ll continue to have dead patches later on.


Drought or insufficient watering

Particularly here in Australia, extreme weather conditions such as drought or heat waves can kill off healthy grass.

Alternatively, you may be watering your lawn incorrectly. If you water lightly but often, your grass will develop shallow and weak roots. This can eventually lead to the dying grass.

Watering less frequently but more deeply (soaking at least the top 3cm of soil) can encourage growth of deeper roots and healthier blades.


Too much thatch

Woman gardener's hands collecting dethatched lawn grass in the spring garden

Lawn thatch is a layer of decomposing plant materials (such as grass clippings and twigs). It forms between the soil and the grass roots, and accumulates from regular mowing and other maintenance.

Thatch is beneficial to your lawn in moderation. As it breaks down, it replaces nutrients in the soil. It also shields the roots from the sun, helping retain coolness and moisture.

However, thatch can build up over time and become a problem. It increases the risk of waterlogged ground or fungal diseases – which lead to dead grass.


Too much fertiliser

Fertiliser is an important part of lawn care, but improper application can hurt in the long run. Applying too much can cause fertiliser burn.

If you notice brown patches developing 1–2 days after you fertilise your lawn, you’ve “burned” your lawn. It’s usually due to excess nitrogen and/or salt or using the incorrect fertiliser for your type of lawn grass.

Excess fertiliser is a common cause of dead buffalo grass (since typical buffalo grass is resistant to pests, weeds, and drought).


Poor soil conditions

soil condition of a damaged lawn

Healthy soil is essential for a healthy lawn! If there’s something wrong with the ground, it can kill off even established lawns.

You can purchase a soil test to check the pH balance of the ground and see if it’s too acidic or too alkaline.

Some other common soil problems include:

  • Compacted soil (especially if you use a lawn roller)
  • Waterlogged ground
  • Poor nutrient density (e.g. too little phosphorus)
  • Compromised soil structure (such as holes or underground debris)

If you have a dog, letting it urinate outside can also cause your grass to turn brown or yellow due to the high nitrogen content in their pee.


Diseases or pests

Fungal diseases and pests thrive in the dark, moist environment underground. Fungi in particular are one of the most common causes of dead turf in Australia.

You can check for pests such as grubs by digging up a small patch of ground. Inspect the roots or overturned ground for beetles, grubs, and other pests.



dandelion weeds in the lawn

Unwanted vegetation can take away nutrients from your grass and kill it off. Weeds are the usual culprit – these can be native/non-native and invasive/non-invasive.

Invasive plants are a particular nuisance, though, and may be harder to deal with. (Tip: This is why you should only plant mint in pots, preferably indoors!)


How to Revive Dead Grass on a Lawn

If you’ve got bare, brown, or yellowing patches on your lawn, chances are it’s dead or dying.

Note that if a lawn is fully dead, then it’s almost impossible to revive it – and you may be better off reseeding your lawn or laying new turf.

You can tell grass is completely dead if it comes out easily when pulled and the roots are dried or rotted. If the grass is like this all over your lawn, there’s no bringing it back.

But if there’s still life in the roots and the crowns aren’t dead, then here’s how to revive a dead lawn in Australia.


Water the grass thoroughly

Automatic sprinklers watering grass

This is the most common solution for reviving dead grass in summer, when high temperatures can dehydrate the whole lawn.

Make sure you’re not expecting any rain or inclement weather so you don’t overwater.

Depending on the weather conditions (and any local water restrictions), aim to water your lawn around 1–2 times a week.

Do a thorough soak so that the water penetrates at least the top 3cm of the soil’s surface.

Additionally, try to water in the early morning so the moisture doesn’t evaporate too quickly.

You can consult with a professional gardening service to create a regular watering schedule for your lawn. If it’s feasible, look into irrigation systems or growing drought-tolerant plants.


Dethatch your lawn

Some signs that need to dethatch your lawn include spongy ground, yellowed blades, or weak grass. 

You can also manually measure the thatch layer by sticking your finger down until it touches dirt – if it’s over 2cm, that’s too much thatch.

For mild thatch that’s less than 2.5cm, you can use a simple thatch rake.

For moderate to severe cases of thatch in warm-season grasses, you can “scalp” the thatch using your lawn mower at its lowest blade height. Alternatively, try a cutting rake like this Gardena Cutter Rake Head and Tool Handle.

For cool-season grasses, you’re better off coring or aerating the lawn. Cool grasses (like ryegrass and fescue) don’t respond well to scalping.


Apply fertiliser correctly

lawn fertiliser

The best way to minimise the risk of fertiliser burn while still feeding your lawn with essential nutrients is to use a slow-release fertiliser.

This will release nutrients over time and keep your soil fed for longer. Try to look for fertilisers with a soil wetting agent that will ensure the nutrients and water fully penetrate the ground.

Alternatively, you can switch to homemade compost or mulch made of decomposing organic material.


Aerate your lawn

Part of proper lawn care is aerating your lawn regularly. It helps fix compacted soil, improve drainage, and encourage healthy grass growth.

It can also help revive dead grass by loosening earth to let the roots “breathe” and better absorb water or nutrients.

How to aerate a lawn? For small lawns, you can use a spike aerator (or if you wanna have some fun, try these lawn aerator shoes).

If you have a large lawn, though, you’ll be more efficient with a tow plug aerator.

Be sure to mow and water the lawn before aerating.


Fix soil problems

If you have issues such as an unbalanced soil pH or poor nutrient composition, you’ll need to amend it.

The best way to do this is by mixing in organic material like compost, mulch, or peat moss. Get your soil tested first to identify the specific deficiencies, such as too-acidic ground or a lack of phosphorus.

You can add agricultural or horticultural lime to soil that’s too alkaline, or sulphur to soil that’s too acidic. Follow the product instructions and amend in stages so you don’t shock your lawn and ruin all your efforts.

For poor soil texture, you can mix in organic material or different soil types. Clay soils are too dense and get waterlogged, so you can mix in sand or peat moss.

On the other hand, sandy soils are too loose, so you can amend them using compost or mulch.

For nutrient deficiencies, look for a specific fertiliser that’s rich in the nutrients you need. You can also check for specific types of organic compost or mulch that contain these nutrients (like manure for phosphorus).

Lastly, if your furry friend regularly pees on your lawn, flush out the ground with plenty of water afterwards!


Top dress the lawn

top dressing lawn

“Top dressing” a lawn (or lawn topdressing) refers to the process of spreading a light layer of composted organic matter.

It increases nutrient retention, strengthens ground structure, and promotes root growth. This all helps keep your grass healthy.

You can make your own lawn topdressing by combining 3 parts topsoil, 6 parts sand, and 1 part organic compost. Choose appropriate ingredients for your grass types.

To top dress dead grass, rake off any debris and aerate the soil. Then scatter the top dressing to a depth of about 1.2cm.

You can mix in some grass seed to speed up the revival process.


Remove weeds

How to get rid of weeds depends on the size of your lawn and the severity of the weed problem.

If you have a small lawn, you can just manually dig out the weeds or use a weeding tool. Hoselink’s Stand-up Weed Puller makes the process more efficient and easier on your back.

For larger lawns or more severe weed problems, opt for a selective herbicide that targets specific plants. Avoid products with glyphosate if possible.

You can also kill weeds naturally using horticultural vinegar (which is 20% acetic acid). Follow the product instructions and ensure you don’t get it on other plants, since vinegar is non-selective.

If you can’t find horticultural vinegar, substitute it with regular white vinegar – just add a cup of salt and a tablespoon of dish detergent per 3 litres of vinegar. However, do not use this solution too often as salt can “burn” the ground.

Follow up your solution with some pre-emergent herbicide to prevent new weeds from sprouting.


Do some disease or pest control

If your lawn has turned into the neighbourhood snack bar for birds, you’re going to have to do some pest control.

To get rid of lawn grubs, you can lay down some hessian bags soaked in soapy water. The grubs will attach themselves to the bags, which you can simply remove and dispose of. Alternatively, try a neem oil spray.

For other pests or fungal diseases, you may have to contact your local council or pest control company.


How to Repair a Dead Lawn with Grass Seeds

grass seed sprinkled on lawn

If none of the above solutions work, you may need to seed your lawn for new grass.

This is one of the best ways to revive dead Zoysia grass if organic compost doesn’t work. It’s also great if you need to repair a small lawn.

Purchase some new grass seeds from your local nursery or garden centre. Choose seeds that match your lawn type or that suit your local climate and environment.

Prep the dead patches beforehand by raking off any dead plant matter and debris. Aerate the ground and remove any weeds. If necessary, amend the soil with mulch or compost.

Rake some shallow furrows into the ground and scatter the new grass seed as evenly as possible. You’ll need about 25g of grass seed per square metre.

Lightly cover the seeds with soil, then gently water them. Keep the ground consistently moist while the seeds germinate.

Don’t break out the lawn mower until the green shoots are at least 5–7cm. Note that it will take several weeks for you to grow grass from seed.


How to Repair a Dead Lawn with Sod Pieces

This is more costly and labour-intensive, but you can also repair bare patches of your existing lawn with new sod.

If you have large patches of dead grass or several dead spots, laying fresh turf may be the more efficient solution. Additionally, you can only repair a dead buffalo grass lawn with new sod or turf.

You’ll need to buy pieces of sod from your local nursery or garden centre. Then you’ll need to cut out a thin layer of brown lawn and loosen the soil underneath.

Lay the new turf into the hole and dress the sides with topsoil or compost to fill the gaps. Water the patch well to help the sod adhere and “bond” with the surrounding lawn.


Prevent Dead Grass with Proper Lawn Maintenance

Following proper lawn care can prevent your lawn from drying. While it’s good to know how to revive dead grass, it’s better to keep a healthy lawn that won’t need saving.

Mow your lawn regularly to keep your grass healthy. If you want to know how often to mow the lawn in Australia – a good rule is every 2 weeks in the growing season, then less frequently (every 3–5 weeks) in autumn and winter.

Make sure to check what time you can mow your lawn – each state has different allowable times for the use of powered garden tools.

Follow proper lawn mower maintenance too! Regularly check the components, especially the mower blades, since a poorly maintained mower can damage your grass.

Water regularly and thoroughly, but be mindful of too much moisture. Some best practices are to water early in the morning and only once or twice a week.

It’s also better to do an infrequent but thorough soak instead of several light waterings.

About Author

Jamie Donovan

Jamie is an Australian horticulturalist and landscape designer. He enjoys writing about landscape architecture, garden design and lifestyle topics.


About Author

Jamie Donovan

Jamie is an Australian horticulturalist and landscape designer. He enjoys writing about landscape architecture, garden design and lifestyle topics.