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Repairing burnt summer lawns

Updated: Apr 30

Scorched, burned or brown grass is quite a rare summer event but as weather patterns seem to produce longer spells of wet, cold or dry then this may become a more common event towards the end of the hot Maryland summer.

Where to start:

During the heat, just about the only thing you could undertake is watering and spiking the lawn to allow water and rain to penetrate. Using lawn sandals, rolling aerators or a garden fork you will only be able to prick the lawn surface initially due to it being very hard. Water afterwards and spike repeatedly as the surface softens. You can't overdo either at this stage.

We do this because we don't know if the lawn is dead or just brown. Leaving a brown lawn for an extended period may mean it really is a dead lawn. Trying to revive it may save you a lot of time and expense later on!

Recognized revival routine for brown lawns

Most times when you start to water a very hard dry lawn water just runs off and it takes forever to start getting it wet. You may be familiar with trying to re-wet a dry hanging basket - really difficult!

Brown grass vs Dead grass

They tend to look very similar and the only way to tell which it is is to add water. Dead grass is dead, and like anything dead it can't be reversed. Brown grass (not dead grass) is in a dormant state and can be brought back to life. It generally takes a couple of inches of steady rain to start the process of greening after summer drought and then in a week or so you should know where you stand. Unfortunately, you may find that even though most of your lawn revives it may be patchy and thin in areas. If you're lucky and end up with total recovery all you need to do is four things:

  • Keep the mower on a high setting until the middle of next spring

  • Give the lawn a generous feed with autumn fertilizer so that the grass re-builds depleted carbohydrate levels before the winter

  • Spike the lawn to ensure penetration of further rainfall. Initially the lawn will be hard, but even pricking the surface will help

  • More spiking - you can't do too much

  • Next year vary your mowing height

If not then read on.

Do NOT neglect dead patches

Hoping for the best once the rains have started may well cause you a lot more work in the future. Some dead areas may remain dead with an unsightly mat of brown grey grass which will not decay and thus prevents grass growing back. Yet other areas where the grass is thin or bare are a target area for weeds, weed grasses and moss. Once established they create even more work so you need to repair all areas with your chosen grass seed before problem plants take over.

Coarse Grasses and Weeds

You may find some unwelcome plants have started to establish during the drought. Some coarse grasses from fields and the countryside may have survived and prospered as they are deeper rooting than your lawn grasses. Similarly, some weeds with deep roots will also be more obvious. If this is the only problem you have, then it would be best to dig out the grasses and spray or manually remove the weeds.

If your lawn also needs repairing and over seeding, DO NOT use any weed killer as this interferes with the seeds. Dig out the weed grasses and any of the larger weeds, follow the repair process below and live with the remaining weeds until spring next year.

Seed germination

Dry warm weather makes for testing conditions particularly if it has been dry for a period of time before seeding. This means there is no moisture in the soil and therefore any watering you do is gone in minutes; this is why we suggest building a reservoir of moisture in the soil prior to seeding. This can mean watering with a sprinkler for at least 8 hours just in one spot and a medium lawn can take days to water.

The seeds need to be soaked continuously for about 24 hours to flush out germination-inhibiting enzymes within it. Unfortunately, light watering 2 or 3 times a day just means it goes through a cycle of wet, dry, wet, dry throughout the day which doesn’t get rid of the germination inhibiting enzymes. You can help the situation by:

  • Building a reservoir of moisture in the soil by heavy watering for a few days before seeding

  • Cover the area with a thin layer of polythene (available quite cheaply from builders merchants) to prevent evaporation. Remove once the seedlings are 2-3cm high

  • Soaking the seed in a mesh bag (a pair of tights will do) for 24 hours. Unfortunately this makes the seed hard to spread so is only suitable for small areas or patching

  • If in doubt about moisture levels, try the moisture test below

Finally make sure you feed the new seedlings. Use the starter fertilizer if you're sowing a new lawn or the autumn fertilizer if over seeding. It's usual to apply them at the time of seeding.

Keeping a greener lawn for longer

Good lawn care practices have always been the backbone of maintaining a green healthy lawn and it is no different here:

  • Match the mowing height to the conditions

  • If watering, do it the right way to improve grass root depth

  • Maintaining good fertility helps grass tolerate heat stress and develop deeper roots

  • Aerate the lawn to keep the lawn surface open to showers - solid spikes not hollow tines

  • If your lawn is naturally dry or a burned summer lawn is a common event for you try over seeding with a drought tolerant grass.

Dry patches or fairy rings

What we're talking about here are patches of dry grass or rings of dry brown or dead grass in otherwise green lawns. These conditions still occur in dry weather but usually occur most years in certain lawns after only short periods of drought. This is more a lawn and soil problem rather than a climate problem and is something that you can quite easily address by using a wetting agent.

Still need lawn help? Rooted In Nature offers high-quality, professional and timely lawn and landscape services with a smile. Contact us at 443-846-0199 or

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