Image of dried out lawn

Dead Lawn, What to Do?

Dear Sam,

Help!  What can I do to rescue my burned out lawn in this hot, dry summer?Dawn


Dear Dawn,

Minnesota is experiencing a drought.  Currently, 72% of Minnesota is categorized as being in severe drought and 20% is categorized as being in extreme drought.  Minneapolis is currently “only” experiencing moderate drought conditions but with no significant rainfall in the forecast, that may change.  (

In the past week, both Minneapolis and Saint Paul and many of the surrounding suburbs have instituted water use restrictions requiring that lawns only be watered every other day and early in the morning to conserve water.  The Minneapolis water restrictions are described here. Be sure to stay up to date on the most recent water restriction being put in place.  As the drought worsens, the water restrictions are likely to get more severe.  

As a result of this summer that has been hot and dry so early, many of us are seeing brown, burned out lawns.  Don’t fret too much about this because your grass is likely not dead.  Rather, for the most part, the grass has simply gone dormant and will return as green grass next year.  Abiding by the city water restrictions is more important than having a lush, green lawn this year.  Embrace the brown grass in the name of water conservation.

If seeing all the burned out grass has made you curious about turf lawns and how to take care of them, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency offers turf maintenance videos that provide good, comprehensive, information about how to water, mow and keep lawns healthy while minimizing water usage and pollution impacts on water quality. Find their videos here.

Interestingly, while the turf lawns have really suffered, the rain gardens and pollinator friendly gardens seem to be managing the dry, hot conditions much more beautifully.  I took a walk past many of the gardens listed in the Self-Guided Tours of our Resilient Landscape Workshop and they were still green and blooming.  I stopped to talk with the homeowner, Alison, at 5517 Pillsbury Ave and asked her how often she is watering her garden this summer due to the heat and dryness.  She said she really hasn’t watered it at all this summer.  Since the garden was installed several years ago and is well-established, the root systems are deep and mature and so the garden doesn’t need to be watered regularly.  

Alison’s garden is beautiful and contains many native plants and lots of pollinators and perennials that are all surviving this hot, dry summer.  She installed her resilient yard in 2011.  While she said it required a lot of effort to install and needed a lot of watering in the first and second years, once the garden was established it has been pretty low maintenance and she doesn’t need to water it at all.  The garden is also graded to be lower in the middle to prevent stormwater runoff.  Her garden provides interest and variety to her neighborhood while also feeding pollinators, conserving water and protecting against stormwater runoff.  

If you’d like more information on planning a resilient yard or would like to do the self-guided tour of Tangletown’ Resilient Gardens, check out the video of our Resilient Landscape Workshop on Facebook.  

Stay cool,

Sustainability Sam