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Monday, September 2, 2019

Lawn Dies in Midsummer

Q. My father’s lawn is tall fescue and completely went dead this summer. I’d like to know what we did wrong because we watered twice a day. We are anxious to plant a new lawn ASAP and want some advice on how to plant a new lawn from seed and the best seed to use. The lawn gets full sun.

A. Whatever killed the lawn is most likely gone. I know you watered twice a day, but death of an entire lawn during the summer is nearly always due to an irrigation problem. There are diseases and insects which cause damage, but they always leave behind telltale patches of green. These patches of green, to a trained eye, are clues to the cause of dying grass.

Lawn disease

Leave it Alone

            Wait until the temperatures cool down a bit, perhaps sometime between late September and mid October, to begin planting a new lawn. In the meantime, leave the dead grass in place to shade the soil and prevent weed growth. This layer of “mulch” reduces weed problems that might pop up if you were to remove it. In the meantime, continue irrigations because there are probably plant roots in that dead lawn that need the water.

Lawn brown spots due to irrigaiton

Check Irrigation

            Check the irrigation system and make sure it's working properly and the irrigation controller is functioning. Kill and remove any weeds in the new lawn area. If using a weedkiller, spray a week in advance so the herbicide has time to disappear before planting.

Soil Prep

The day before planting the seed, irrigate to soften the soil. Rent a core aerator to punch holes all through the lawn area and rake it to remove or break up these cores. 

Reseed and Topdress

            Apply 10 pounds of fescue seed blend per thousand square feet of lawn area. Don't skimp on the cost of grass seed. Good grass seed is expensive. Bad grass seed is cheap.

Fertilize or Not

This is also the time to apply a fertilizer on top of the grass seed if the compost is not a “rich” compost. If the compost has fertilizer in it (a rich compost), don’t apply any fertilizer. Cover the seed with a 1/8-inch layer of compost and water twice a day. When the grass starts coming up in about five to seven days, reduce irrigations to once a day in the morning.

Mow to Thicken the Lawn

            You will see grass emerge first in areas where there is good irrigation coverage. Where the grass is growing slowly, work on improving the irrigation system for better water coverage. Mow the grass no closer than 2 inches when the grass reaches 3 inches tall. Mowing causes the lawn to become denser.


  1. Can you recommend a good fescue grass seed? I did not have great success with the local nursery brand that was "made" for our desert climate that I used this Spring. Would even order online if product not available locally. Thank you.

    1. The blend called Water Saver should work fine if you prepared the soil and planted it with the right amount of seed. Why dont you send me some pictures if you have them or explain what happened in an email to me at Extremehort@aol.com

    2. Just don't use Kentucky 31 aka K31 grass seed. It's very coarse in texture. It's great for a park but I consider it a highway grass... It looks good at 50 miles an hour.