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How to Repair a Drought Damaged Lawn

Last updated : 21 November 2014

Repairing a Drought Damaged Lawn is Fairly Easy to do.

People say to me; “I don’t water my lawn during the summer, I just let it go dormant.  It will come back.”  Well . . . there’s a fine line between dormant and dead and this year I’m seeing a whole lot of dead.

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It’s true that cool season grasses like we have here in the north will go dormant when it gets hot and dry.  But they still need a little water from time to time.  If your lawn doesn’t get any water during a hot and dry spell there’s a good chance that parts of your lawn will die and not come back if you’ve experienced a drought.

When that happens you really should repair the damaged areas.  If you don’t, those areas will fill in with weeds or wanted grasses.  Weeds you can control with an application of a weed and feed type of fertilizer, but when those areas ill in with unwanted, wide bladed, ugly grasses, you have a problem because weed and feed fertilizers are engineered to kill broad leaf weeds and not kill grasses.  Even undesireable grasses will not be controlled with an application of a weed and feed fertilizer.

So . . this is what I do.

Doing Spot Lawn Repair.

I wait until mid fall to do anything.  Usually here in Ohio the third week of September is ideal because it’s not so hot and when I plant grass seed it won’t need much care.

The first thing I do is survery my lawn with a can of inverted orange spray paint in my hand.  (you know, the kind of spray paint that works upside down) I draw a circle around any undesireable, wide bladed grasses and or weeds that I want to eliminate.  After I’ve marked out everything that I want to get rid of, I go around and spray just those areas with a non selective herbicde that contains glyphosate.  I usually use some generic brand of non selective herbicide that contains glyphosate.

The reason that I mark out all the areas that I want to spray in advance with orange paint is so I’ll know where to spray, then after I’ve sprayed I need to know where to plant the grass seed.

So I draw orange circles, ovals and triangles all over my lawn.  Then I spray only inside of those areas with a non selctive herbicide that will kill the unwanted grasses.  Don’t use a lawn weed spray because it won’t kill the unwanted grasses and will only kill broad leaf weeds.  You have to use something that is considered non selective but does not linger in the soil.  The most popular products contain glyphosate.

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When you spray use one of those inexpensive (didn’t want to say cheap) pump sprayers, the one gallon size is all I use and mark on the sprayer with a wide bladed permanent marker, “weed killer” so you don’t use that sprayer for anything else.

Be careful how you spray.  You have to be careful to not allow the spray to drift into areas of the lawn that you don’t want to kill.  I do that by adjusting the spray nozzle so the spray pattern is a little heavier and not a fine mist.  The heavier spray pattern is easier to control and pin point what you are spraying.

After you spray, just leave the lawn alone for 72 hours and give the herbicide a chance to be absorbed and translocated to the roots of the weeds and grass that you are trying to kill.  After 72 hours  the areas that you sprayed won’t look dead, but they are.  Just sprinkle grass seed over the areas that you sprayed, making sure to get good coverage of all of the areas that you sprayed inside the orange circles.

Water as needed.  Over the next 10 days all of the areas that you sprayed will turn brown and look ridiculous, but as that is happening the grass seed will start germinating and will eventually fill in the areas that you sprayed.  Keep in mind, your lawn will not look “normal” until next spring.

Repairing Large areas of Lawn Damage.

If you have large areas of your lawn that have been damaged by drought you can rent a machine called an over seeder.  What an over seeder does is slices the soil a little the drops grass seed as it moves along.  I’ve used an over seeder on my lawn and it worked great, but it was a bit of a beast of a machine to use.

When I did my lawn I had a lot of weeds that came in after drought damage so I first applied weed and feed over the entire lawn to get rid of all of the weeds then I did the over seeder thing.

So you can apply weed and feed to get rid of the weeds.  Then if you have thick bladed grasses that you want to get rid of you can do the spot treatment as well, before you use the over seeder.

I hope this helps.  Questions?

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Comments

  1. Lewis Crowell says

    You might as well have taken the words out of my mouth. It was exactly what I recommended a
    client (who is developing a 10 acre condo site
    that is severely drought stricken. ALthouh he as already sigend I was about to forward your article to him for fun. TWO COMMENTS/CHANGES, though: 1) I recommend “Labor Day” , not mid
    fall as the ideal time to reseed. Mid fall meaans October to many which is the WORST time to seed!

  2. Judy Stroud says

    Mike,
    Will try your suggestions before I ask my son to bring the tractor and plow to town! Our front yard is pretty much gone. Thanks so much for your timely emails throughout the year!
    Judy Stroud

  3. Lewis Crowell says

    I accidentally pressed Enter before finishing my post
    You might as well have taken the words out of my mouth. It was exactly what I recommended to a client (who is developing a 10 acre condo site that is severely drought stricken). Although he has already signed up I was going to forward your article to him for fun. TWO COMMENTS/CHANGES, though:
    1) I recommend “Labor Day” , not mid
    fall as the ideal time to reseed. Mid fall means October to many, which is the WORST time to seed!
    2) When a selective herbicide (“Weed ‘n’ feed”) is applied, you need to wait up to six weeks to reseed. As you said, with Glyphosate (“Roundup”) you can re-seed only a few days after application.
    Posted from Western New York (near Buffalo)

    • Mike says

      Lewis, I agree, I like re-seeding in mid September but Labor Day is fine as long as a person keeps the new grass watered once it starts to germinate. That’s for the info on WeedBGone.

  4. Kaite says

    Our front lawn was sodded over some very compacted soil in spots. It has high spots and low spots. Do you have any suggestions for us? Very frustrating.

  5. Mel R. Carey says

    Thanks Mike: Do you have any comments on Repair of St. Augustine – In Texas we have lots of this grass – lots are dead from the drought. Got my first Dividend on WHZ – about 17% yield on investment. Next Aug 30th, xdiv Aug 16th

    Mel

  6. joe catania says

    i live in northern NJ my lawn needs to be spot seeded can I use a product such as WEEDBGON and then seed as you say 72 hours later? thx JOE

    • Mike says

      Joe, Weed B Gone is for lawn weeds and crabgrass so it will take care of broadleaf weeds and crabgrass. But if you have thick bladed grasses such as quack grass in your lawn it won’t kill that. Weed B Gone is considered a selective herbicde since it won’t kill lawn grasses. In order to get rid of thick bladed grasses you’ll need a non selective herbicide.

  7. Maureen Badalamente says

    hi Mike,Thanks for the tips on the drought ridden grass. Same here in Southeast Michigan. If using the weed and feed before the over seeder, how long do I wait after applying the weed and feed before I go get an over seeder?

    Great articles youve been writing!! I have a file with your name on it and save all of them!!

    Maureen Badalamente

  8. Kim Lewis says

    Thanks for the lawn advice. We still have dead spots from last years drought. This method will be an easy way to get the lawn back in shape. Thanks a bunch! Kim Lewis

  9. Linda says

    Thanks for the article. Just in time, too. I now stare at a front lawn just full of weeds and was mulling around how I was going to handle it this fall. How long should I wait to over seed after putting down the weed & feed?

    Best Wishes Always

  10. Jim says

    I called Weed B Gone and they said not to reseed for 4 weeks. Therefore, if you are going to use a weed and feed you should do it now so you can reseed in mid-Sept.

  11. Patty says

    Would it hurt to use a pre-emergent more than twice a year? I have St. Augustine grass which normally chokes out weeds pretty well, but this year I seem to have a lot more weeds. I use pre-emergent in Fall and early Spring. What do you think?

  12. Eamon says

    Mike,

    Wish we had a bit of drought here in Ireland. Looked out this morning and my rose bed was an island surrounded by water. Very wet summer. Still my escallonia and fuschia cuttings are thriving. (White plastic bags are a great idea.) The cruise is getting nearer. Thanks.

    • Mike says

      Eamon, I’m glad you are having great success with your cuttings in Ireland! My father late father was Mount Charles in the Donegal area.

  13. Carole says

    Roundup is the most dangerous chemical on the planet. Serious, and varied, medical problems years later. My husband died after years of illness. Read about the side effects.

    • Mike says

      Hank, if you have a great deal of thatch in your lawn I’m sure it would help, but these days not many people or companies do any de thatching. Probably because picking up the thatch is a lot of work.

  14. Andrew Carson says

    When using any herbicides, whether non-selective or a lawn weed spray, I always add a dose of dish detergent to the mixture. The soap acts as a surfactant (grease-cutter)and allows the herbicide to penetrate the weed’s leaf structure much better than without the detergent. I also have used this method to successfully eradicate an invasion of gout weed and ground elder. After that, follow Mike’s advice on seeding.

    • Mike says

      Andrew, you are right about the dish detergent. Dish detergent mixed with water actually helps to break the tension of the soil surface to allow water to penetrate more easily. This is especially true when trying to wet any kind of soil that contains peat moss.

  15. Judy M says

    So if there’s kind-of large dead spots in hard dryed up sod how do you loosen the top of the ground so the seeds germinate?

    • Mike says

      Judy, a Mantis tiller would be perfect for that job but if you don’t have one you can loosen soil with “Four Tine Hoe”. Looks like a hoe but has four tines instead of a blade, available at any hardware store.

  16. Kinsella Berry says

    When is the best time to prune and shape a japanese maple (dark red wide leaves)? I also hav a small feathery starter that is growing crooked, how do I shape that?

    • Mike says

      Kinsella, you can prune a Japanese Maple any time of the year. I prune mine any time I’m walking by and see something that needs pruning. To straighten a crooked tree just put a stake next to the tree and tie the tree to the stake with strips of cloth.

  17. Teea says

    WE don’t do anything and our lawan will be fine and healthy looking next spring.I don not care for chemicals and herbicides in and around our property. If our summers continue like this, I say just let nature fix it.

  18. Eileen says

    Hi all…I used weed and feed on my entire lawn, and it did absolutely no good…I have more clover and crabgrass than ever. My entire back yard is loaded with crabgrass, the front with clover…looks ridiculous!
    So should I try the round up trick on selected crabgras, and all over the clover? Then wait 72 hours to reseed…mid September? I suppose it can’t hurt…The clover and crab grass moved in during the drought…hopeless in Cleveland!

  19. Juanita says

    I have a large portion of my yard that is damaged from drought. I had a man use the overseeder machine to seed the lawn and he said to water it every 3 or 4 days, leaving the sprinkler on about 45 minutes. I did this after he seeded the lawn but the next day it seemed dry so I watered again. Is every 3 or 4 days often enough? Also, I should have waited until fall, thought he should have told me this because it has been in the low 90’s here in Dayton, OH. The watering is going to cost a lot, watering 2 or 3 hrs. each time. Please advise.

  20. Wayne says

    I have a large area of grass with patchy spots and crab grass. I have used straight vinegar in a pump sprayer. Seems to kill the crab grass and then over seeded area 7 days later. Applied vinegar application after Labour Day.

    • Mike says

      Priddy, you can plant grass seed right up until mid October or so in Ohio. It might be slow to germinate, but by spring it should be up as long as the soil isn’t soggy over the winter. Then the seed can rot. but it’s definitely worth a try.

  21. Kathy says

    Live in lower Michigan. Between 5 years of neglect by prior owner, drought and moles, the lawn is trashed. Will all the above advice apply also?

  22. Kathy says

    Plus,how to treat for all the moles? The yard is pretty bad and I can’t track the mole tunnels enough to trap them.

  23. says

    Have you ever dealt with dodder vine. I have a upland behind me and suddenly this year dodder vine has taken over my wild flowers. I cut out the plants but I know lots of seeds dropped and I am afraid it is going to get in my yard garden.

  24. Raymond says

    Last year I fertilized my lawn with an anticipated rainfall within 72 hours which never came compounded with the drought we had last year. This year the lawn looks terrible, to put into perspective when I have shown people pictures they thought I had already begun the repair process mistaking the dead grass as Penmnulch.

    I have acquired bids for an irrigation system along with proposals for repair. I few contractors have pointed out I have a grub problem as well. I have been presented with repair costs ranging from $10k to $20k for my 1/3 acre lot which excludes the irrigation system!

    I am open to suggestion, however I am also looking for affirmation that I have correctly understood the advise contained with in this thread.

    Information worth noting:
    1. Live in the McHenry Illinois area
    2. Home is 7 years old (new construction)
    3. Sodded by builder with Kentucky Bluegrass

    Action plan:
    1. Install irrigation system
    2. Apply Scott’s GrubEx to entire lawn
    3. Wait 1 week
    4. Apply herbicide containing Glyphosate to entire lawn
    5. Wait 72 hours
    6. Seed entire lawn
    7. Hope for the best

    I appreciate any help/advice anyone is willing to offer, I do not want to be cheap but certainly do not want to over-spend either. Ultimately I want to do what is right so as to not to be in this situation again.

    Thanking you all in advance

    • Mike says

      Raymond,

      I think you are on the right track with your plan of action. The only concern that I have is re-doing the lawn so close to the time the irrigation system is installed. Installing the irrigation will involve some digging where they push the irrigation under the driveway and sidewalks. Make sure those digs have settled completely before installing your lawn.

      Think about your timing. It’s mid May, great time for seeding a lawn. But depending on how long it takes from today until the day you seed the lawn you could be trying to establish grass during very hot humid months of the year. Yes, you will have an irrigation system but keeping things watered as needed during the hottest days of the year could be tricky. A few things to consider.

      1. Small grass plants, once germinated are as tiny as a human hair. Just a few hours without water when they desperately need it and they will fail. Once that happens the seed is spent and will not re-grow.

      2. Watering when it is hot and humid can cause a condition known as pythium blight which is driven by humidity and it attacks Perennial Rye Grasses killing them off in areas of your lawn that hold too much moisture. Usually along driveways and sidewalks where the irrigation water runs off the concrete and makes the soil along the edges extra wet. That will leave concentrations of Bluegrass in your lawn. Sounds okay, but you’ll have dark, dark greenish blue spots when the rest of the lawn is lighter green.

      Whatever you do, don’t use a blend of grass that is mostly Kentucky Bluegrass. You need a blend with some nice perennial rye grasses. You don’t have to buy the most expensive seed on the market, but don’t go cheap either. Buy your seed from a full service garden center, they usually carry good stuff.

      Kentucky Bluegrass takes 28 days to germinate. Weeds take about four. Guess one will fill in your lawn first? Perennial rye grasses will germinate in four to six days acting as a nurse crop for the Kentucky Blue as it does it’s thing.

      About the pythium blight and the hot summer sun.

      1. Use straw even if you have a mulch similar to hydro mulch. It’s worth the extra effort. Straw actually shades those tiny grass plants.

      2. If at all possible, postpone the seeding until early to mid September. It would be so much worth the wait to get a really nice lawn and not fight with the elements of summer and humidity.

      I hope this helps. -Mike McGroarty

  25. Raymond says

    Mike,

    Thank you for your feedback, everything you pointed out makes complete sense. The difficulty is coming to terms with the fact that we and our neighbors will have such an eyesore for the summer, fortunately for us they are very understanding.

    Regarding the tip on the straw, if I am not mistaken this comes in rolls using a nylon mesh preventing it form blowing away in the wind. Do you have any pro-tips on how to remove the nylon later preventing it from getting wrapped up in the mower?

    Regards,

  26. Helen Rolene Wooldridge says

    Bermuda grass is taking over my farm. I have beautiful
    fescue. I hate this Bermuda grass with a passion. It
    will climb trees and is able to leap tall building in a
    single bound. Not to mention it is stronger than a locomotive and faster than a speeding bullitt. I’ve
    sprayed it with roundup. Tried overseeding it. I really
    need to get rid of this horrible stuff.

    • Mike says

      Helen,

      I’d suggest spraying again, then spray again once a week until it’s dead. Then over seed. Don’t do any digging, chopping or digging after you’ve sprayed for at least 72 hours after the last spraying.

  27. Debbie says

    HI Mike, what is the cheapest way to fertilize Bermuda, and is also safe around dogs. I live in southern California. I don’t have much money and I’m trying to spread Bermuda grass across to the other side of my yard (my dogs drag in so much dirt into the house) and this fall will try to fill in with grass seed.

    • Mike says

      Debbie, the cheapest and most effective way to fertilize a lawn is with a generic, private label fertilizer from you farm supply store. Is it safe for dogs? I don’t know, you’d have to read the bag.

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