Should I Rototill My Dead Lawn?

If your lawn has completely died with no green grass left at all and there’s no chance of it coming back, you might be wondering what’s the best way to deal with it. Should you just go over it with a rototiller so that you can reseed it or put sod down?

Rototilling a dead lawn is a good option to prepare the ground for new grass, but care must be taken to prevent weeds from coming to the surface and taking over. Another option is to remove the lifeless grass with a powered scarifier or dethatcher and overseed the area without tilling it at all.

I’m going to take a closer look at your options for dealing with a dead lawn and how a rotary tiller can help you create a beautiful area of grass to replace it. Discover the things you need to look out for when tilling dead grass into the soil for the best results.

Making Sure Your Lawn Is Actually Dead

The first thing to do is to make sure your lawn has completely died off and that there’s no chance of reviving it.

Signs Of A Dead Lawn

Recognizing the signs of a dead lawn is crucial before thinking about starting over. 

First of all, look for brown or yellow patches of grass that do not respond to watering or fertilizing. 

Dead grass is usually dry, brittle, and easily uprooted. Additionally, you will probably have areas of completely bare soil with no grass on it at all.

Dead grass

Common Causes Of A Dead Lawn

Several factors can contribute to a dead lawn. Insufficient watering, especially during hot and dry periods, can lead to dehydration and death of the grass.

Sometimes grass can still recover from this which is why it’s important to try watering it for a week or so before destroying it.

Poor soil conditions, such as compacted soil or imbalanced pH levels, can also cause the grass to wither. Pests, diseases, and overzealous lawn care practices, such as mowing too short or over-fertilizing, can contribute to your lawn dying off as well.

Killing Off Remaining Grass And Weeds

If there are patches of living grass amidst the dead areas, it may be necessary to kill off the remaining plants and any weeds using a non-selective herbicide before proceeding with any lawn renovation methods. 

This allows for a fresh start and ensures that new grass can thrive without competition from the existing struggling grass or rampant weeds.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Rototilling A Dead Lawn?

If you’re sure that there’s nothing you can do to revive your grass, the next thing is to decide if you are going to use a rotary tiller to start a new lawn.

Before taking that on, it helps to know what the benefits and drawbacks of going over it with a rototiller are:

Pros Of Rototilling A Dead Lawn

Saves on preparation time: Removing the dead grass completely and digging over the area takes a lot of time and hard work. Using a rotary tiller instead makes the job a lot quicker and easier.

Improved soil aeration and drainage: Rototilling dead grass breaks up a compacted surface, and adds organic matter into the soil allowing air and water to reach deeper into the ground. This promotes healthier root growth and improves overall drainage.

Better nutrient absorption: By loosening the soil, rototilling enables nutrients to penetrate deeper, making them more accessible to the new grass as it grows. 

Better seedbed preparation: Tilling is a great way to create a loose and receptive seedbed, making it easier for new grass seeds to establish themselves. 

Better surface to lay new turf or sod: If you’ve decided to lay new sod instead of seeding, then using a rototiller is a great way of preparing the soil ready for you to level it using a hand rake.

Lastly, if there are any uneven areas in your lawn, this is a good opportunity to level them using your tiller. However, some tillers are better for this purpose than others, depending on the size of your lawn and a number of other factors – you can read more about leveling your lawn with a tiller here

Cons Of Rototilling A Dead Lawn

Potential weed and pest issues: Rototilling can bring weed seeds and pests to the surface, potentially making existing problems worse or introducing new ones. It’s important to address these issues both before and after rototilling to prevent further complications.

Soil disruption and compaction risks: Excessive tilling can disrupt the soil structure and lead to compaction over time. This can hinder water drainage, root growth, and nutrient absorption in the long run.

Old grass may grow again: If the old grass is not completely dead, it may start growing again amongst your new seedlings or sod, which may cause issues if it’s a different variety

Alternatives To Rototilling

If you’re looking for an alternative to tilling the dead grass into the soil to start a new lawn, there are several options you can consider: 

Overseeding Without Rototilling

One option is to overseed the area by simply mowing what remains of the existing grass to a low height and raking the surface to allow for good seed-to-soil contact. 

You may find it’s better to use a lawn dethatcher or power rake to remove thatch and promote better seed germination.

Slice Seeding

This method is similar to overseeding but involves using a machine that slices through the soil and deposits grass seeds directly into the cuts for improved seed-to-soil contact to promote better germination. 

Using A Powered Scarifier

By using a good quality powered scarifier you can remove most of the dead grass and rake the soil surface all in one go, leaving you with a very usable seedbed to spread new grass seed over.


When your lawn has completely died off, going over it with a rototiller to mix the old grass into the soil improves the soil structure and is a good option to start a bed for a new lawn.

It can be a lot of work though and you may find that simply overseeding after removing the old grass with a scarifier or even just a garden rake works just as well. 

It really depends on the condition of the soil and how much work you’re willing to put into the finished project.

Peter Toth

Hi! I'm Peter, the owner of BackyardGadget. Working around the house has always been a big part of my life. I've created this site to share my experience, and to help people choose the right tools for the job. Thank you for stopping by!

Recent Posts