Garden & Greenhouse


Repairing a Drought Damaged Lawn

Posted September 25th, 2017 by Mike McGroarty in , ,

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.

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 fill 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 unwanted grasses will not be controlled with an application of a weed and feed fertilizer.

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 isn’t as hot and the newly planted grass seed won’t need as much care. The first thing I do is survey my lawn with a can of inverted (the kind that works upside down) orange spray paint in my hand. I draw a circle around any unwanted wide bladed grasses and or weeds that need to be eliminated. After I’ve marked everything that I want to get rid of, I go around and spray just those areas with a generic brand non-selective herbicide that contains glyphosate.

The reason that I mark all the areas that I want to spray in advance with orange paint is so I’ll know where to spray, and 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-selective 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.

When you spray use one of those inexpensive 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. You need 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. The next step is easy, sprinkle grass seed over the areas that you sprayed, making sure to get good coverage over all the areas that were sprayed inside the orange circles, then water as needed.

During the next 10 days the areas that were sprayed will turn brown and look ridiculous, but at the same time the grass seed will start germinating and will eventually fill in the areas that were sprayed.  Keep in mind, your lawn will not look “normal” until next spring.

Repairing Large Areas of Lawn Damage

If large areas of your lawn 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.

Mike McGroarty is the owner of McGroarty Enterprises and the author of several books. You can visit his website at and read his blog at

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