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Why is My Lawn Brown?

July 5, 2012

How do you know if the brown spots in your lawn are caused by the heat (that you can not do anything about) or something else (that you can do something about)?  I know it can be a challenge to provide possible answers to this mystery.  However, I think you may be able to use these photos to figure out what could be causing brown spots in your lawn.

Photo 1:  Do some areas of your lawn always seem to turn brown first?  Probe the brown spot with a screwdriver and compare this with the healthy lawn areas.  I have found that the typical brown, tan-colored “dry spot” can show up because of a pocket of poor soil, a buried rock that is just below the soil surface, or an area where lawn sprinklers don’t provide complete coverage making it tougher for the screwdriver to penetrate.  So you think your lawn is getting adequate water, however this dry spot is the first area to go brown.  Solution:  Short term:  Give extra water to this area until you are able to improve the soil in this spot, dig up buried rock or adjust sprinklers.

Dry, dormant grass next to grass with enough moisture

Photo 2:  Does the grass look different in this area which would indicate a different grass type than you have in the rest of the lawn?  Some grasses like Annual Bluegrass (Poa Annua), Redtop, or Poa Trivialis turn brown more quickly in hot, dry weather than the more hardy grasses found in today’s better seed blends.  Solution:  Longer term plan to kill poor grass in these spots with Roundup and plant stronger grass in these spots.

Poa annua (Annual Bluegrass) just prior to turning brown in summer next to healthy grass

Photo 3:  Are the brown grass blades mixed in with the green grass blades in no particular pattern almost like the lawn is dry, yet you have been getting rainfall?  This could be an insect problem or your lawn could be starving if it has been more than a few months since the last feeding.  One clue to look for with insects is the presence of lawn moths when you mow.  The moths do not damage your lawn, however they lay eggs for sod webworm, cutworm and other lawn damaging insects.  Chinchbug damage also looks like the grass in this photo.  Solution:  Feed and protect your lawn with an application of Turf Builder with SummerGuard.  Be sure to water after spreading.

Lawn that needs feeding and has insect damage next to healthy lawn that is well fed and protected from insects

Photo 4:  Are the brown spots following a particular pattern such as a circle?  Within the circle the problem may start with some of the grass blades turning brown with spots on them.  There are a range of lawn fungus problems like dollar spot, brown patch, red thread and summer patch that show up as circular patches in your lawn.  These problems can crop up when you are getting higher temps during day and night and more rain and humidity.  Solution:  Treat your lawn with Scotts Lawn Fungus Control.

Brown Patch lawn fungus on Tall Fescue

If you still can not figure out your brown spot problem, you can contact our Scotts Help Center to have onoe of our lawn experts help you figure it out.

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52 Comments
  1. Judy turner permalink

    My brown grass areas showed up right after I used Scott’s weed and feed, so what did I do wrong. I had the spreader on the correct setting and was very careful not to over spread. Frustrating.. And the crabgrass is taking over!,, it loved the weed and feed!

    • Hi Judy
      Sorry to hear about your brown grass. Some grass types are sensitive to weed controls when temperatures are in the 90′s or above, especially during dry weather and if the product is applied too heavy. This damage can be temporary as the grass can begin to recover once growing conditions improve. Water the areas good. If you do not see improvement in a month or so, the areas will likely need to be seeded this fall. Also, the typical weed and feed does not control crabgrass. Ortho Weed B Gon MAX plus Crabgrass Killer can be used, however I would not spray the grass in the brown areas, especially if the temps do not drop.

    • Richard permalink

      I had the same conditions and results. What do you suggest now? September 18 in Raleigh NC

      • Hi Richard
        The primary grass in your area is Fescue, which benefits from two or three fall feedings with the last one around Thanksgiving. Bermuda and Zoysia are also grown in your area, which generally only need a single fall feeding. I looked back at Judy’s description of her problem and my suggestions. If you need more info tell me more about your specific situation and I will make suggestions.

      • Richard permalink

        What is your procedure to kill grab grass if we are also seeding this month?

      • Hi Richard…. Two choices. Wait till the crabgrass is killed by frost which might be too late to seed, or kill the crabgrass with Roundup and then seed 7 days later.

  2. DKJ permalink

    HELLO FROM COLUMBUS, OHIO. No rain, to speak of, here in weeks. My lawn is basically dead. Or looks it, anyway. I don’t have a weed problem. Lawn was in great shape before the long drought. Is there anything that i could/should be doing to nurse it back into some kind of semblence of the lawn that I had earlier this season? DKJ

    • Hi DKJ
      Sounds like your lawn was well fed prior to going into dormancy. As long as you were protected from insects like sodwebworm and chinchbug, your lawn can stay in that dormant state for 4 to 8 weeks and bounce back fine when you start getting regular rainfall. You can feed with Turf Builder plus SummerGuard when you start getting rain again or when you are able to begin irrigation. Minimize the amount of foot traffic on your lawn while it is dormant.

  3. Joe permalink

    Can you use the ortho weed b gon max plus crabgrass killer after using Scott’s summer guard

  4. Joe permalink

    Also, should I mow before I put down the summer guard?

    • Hi Joe
      If your lawn needs mowing, go ahead and give it a cut prior to putting down Turf Builder plus SummerGuard. You should water after putting down this product. You can then spray weeds with Ortho Weed B Gon plus Crabgrass Killer a few days later.

  5. Joe permalink

    Ashton,
    Thanks for the response. Your website is amazing. This is my first season with a green plush lawn but with the hot dry month of July on long island with no rain, my lawn seems to desperately need the summer feed as well as the ortho as the weeds have been popping up like crazy. Two questions, can I spray the entire lawn with the ortho as the weeds are very sporadic or will it kill the lawn? Last, what are your thoughts with water in ny in July/august ( long watering for 30 minutes or so a couple of times a week or do you recommend everyday for short periods). I have been doing every night for 30 minutes.
    Thanks again,
    Joe

    • Hi Joe
      You can spray your entire lawn with Ortho Weed B Gon MAX if the weeds are everywhere as this product will not injure your good grass. Pick a day when temps are in the 80′s or lower. It is better to water 1/2 inch twice a week than a little bit each day. Put an ice tea glass on your lawn and measure how much water you collect with a half inch watering. You then can calculate how long to run your sprinklers to put down a 1/2 inch of water.

  6. Peter Wingerter permalink

    I have a question about fertilizing and small pets. How harmful is the fertilizer to pets?

    • Hi Peter
      Lawn Fertilizer is not harmful to pets. (As a long time cat owner, I keep the cats inside while I am spreading so there is no chance of dust blowing into their eyes.) If you use a lawn fertilizer combined with a weed control or insect control check out the directions for your pets. You will find that with a weed and feed you should apply to moist foliage and keep your pets off the lawn for 24 hours so that the particles will stay on the weed leaves to get absorbed into the plant. For a lawn fertilizer plus insect control it is best to water after applying, then pets can go on the lawn after the grass has dried.

  7. Joe permalink

    Thanks Ashton!

  8. Joe F. permalink

    I used the Scott’s Summer Guard on Saturday and watered after putting the product down. We got hit with a storm Sunday night and got about 6 inches of water. My property is on a hill with a slight slope. Do I need to re fertilize since we had all that rain?

    • Hi Joe
      Suggest you wait to do your next feeding around the end of August. Even with the heavy rain, my thoughts are that your grass plants trapped the granules in place. If there was bare soil and the rain did some erosion, then some of the lawn food may have washed.

  9. I am in Illinois and no rain. My grass is very brown, can I water and then immediately fertilixe? Ray

    • Hi Ray
      Yes, you can water and feed with Turf Builder, GreenMax or Turf Builder with SummerGuard insect control. It would also be good to water after feeding since you have been dry. Hope you got some rain with the weather pattern yesterday in the midwest.

  10. Sandy LaCroix permalink

    I have the Scotts lawn service this year.I am wondering about the crab grass. I have been trying to pull it..and can continue. However, it leaves rather large dirt patches. Do I just leave those alone until the fall , then have to seed them? or does Scotts do that for me?

    • Hi Sandy
      There are a couple of ways you can go depending on your lawn situtation. For that reason, I suggest you contact Scotts Lawn Service directly to have them tell you the approach they suggest based on looking at your lawn. There is a customer service phone number for your local area on the billing info and other materials they have left with you. Good luck with your lawn!

  11. dick domm permalink

    I USE TURF BUILDER ONCE A MONTH BUT IS THERE ANY WAY TO OVER SEEDTO GET A BETTER QUALITY LAWN GRASS HOW OFTEN AND WHEN IS THE TIME TO LIME

    • Hi Dick
      You can overseed in early September. If your lawn is fairly thick now, much of your seed will not grow well if it does not come in contact with the soil. If your lawn is thin and you can see soil in some areas, break the soil up a little bit with a shovel or rake so the seed has a place to germinate. You can lime anytime this fall. A soil test will tell you how much to put down. The general recommendation is for 50 lbs per 1,000 sq. ft.

  12. Renee permalink

    Hi Ashton,

    Last year mid summer, I used Scotts Quick fix to fill in bare spots in my lawn. The new seeds sprouted quickly. The lawn looked beautiful Turf was thick and healthy. This year with the drought conditions, everywhere I filled in with the temporary grass (which I know now was an annual ryegrass) are brown while my original ground cover is still green. I have been able to maintain it with watering. How do I go about restoring these areas? Do I overseed with a more drought tolerant perrenial and dethatch the dead temporary grass over the next few months?

    • Hi Renee
      You can seed your spots with Scotts EZ Seed. This supplies your grass seed, a special mulch and a starter fertilizer. All the grass varieties are perennial.

  13. Joe F permalink

    Ashton,
    Is it bad to use the ortho weed b gone plus crabgrass after you mowed? (mowed this morning). Also, next four days are mid 80′s. Is that okay?

    • Hi Joe
      Since you want the spray to hit the weed leaves, as long as they are exposed, it is ok to spray after you mow and temps in the 80′s are just fine.

  14. Ron permalink

    I am using KLEENUP and the sprayer has stopped working with the bottle still 3/8ths full.

    Help please

    • Hi Ron
      Sorry you are having a problem. KLEENUP is sold by one of our competitors. Check to see if they have info on their package to contact them.

  15. Erika permalink

    Ashton
    I just found out I have a grub problem, Once I put the Grub ex down will it help the dead grass turn green again or do I need to add other products to help my lawn, The rest of my lawn is still green, only patches of my grass has become brown and has died. Please Help.. Thanks!

    • Hi Erika
      GrubEx will not turn your brown grass green. However, if the active problem is now gone, your grass may fill in depending on what type of grass you have. Let me know where you are located and I will suggest your next steps. Also let me know when the damage first showed up and what you have put on your lawn so far this year. Thanks.

  16. Joe F permalink

    How long after I used Scott’s summer guard and ortho weed b gone max w crabgrass can I seed some bare sports? Also can I use a starter fertilizer?

  17. Hi Joe F.
    Suggest you wait a month, which will put you in a better time to seed prior to the cooler fall weather. If you use Scotts EZ Seed to fill in your bare patches, Scotts Starter Fertilizer is already in this product. Good Luck with your lawn.

  18. Debbie permalink

    I have tan blades of grass throughout my green grass. I have noticed that we have mushrooms growing throughout the lawn and a little of webbing like spider webs. How can I fix all of this?

    • Hi Debbie
      The mushrooms are likely not causing a problem. These are temporary growths from the kinds of fungi that break down organic matter in your soil (like old tree roots, etc.) This type of fungus does not attack living plants and the mushrooms will soon go away on their own. The webs you are seeing are likely from one of the fungi that do attack grass, like Dollar Spot. You may see some white spots up to a quarter inch in size on individual grass blades that are otherwise green. You can treat this and other lawn damaging fungus problems with Scotts Lawn Fungus Control.

  19. I usually buy a bag of Scotts that covers 15,000sf. for my lawn. I usually have some left over. I recently bought a bag of Scotts Summerguard 15,000 sf. and ran out after doing about 75% of my lawn. I had to purchase another 5,000 sf. to finish. The setting for the SummerGuard was 8 1/4. I check the bag for WinterGuard and it was 6 1/4. I guess that was the reason I ran out. Was that a misprint ? if not why the different setting for each Guard ? I just curious. Thank You Ray Baxter

    • Hi Ray
      Every product has it’s own spreader setting based on particle size, bulk density and how much product is needed per square foot. The variables that can make a difference in coverage include walking speed and humidity. I suggest you call our Help Line (1-800-543-TURF) and explain to them what happened. Thanks for letting us know.

  20. John Panico permalink

    Is there any cure for female dog urine spots on your lawn ?

    • Hi John
      Some folks have been able to train their dog to go to a mulched or graveled area rather than the grass. If this does not work, they have trained their dog to go to one small out of the way lawn area. Some folks have found a way to modify their dog’s diet to minimize damage. Watering the spots soon after helps to dilute. Scotts EZ Seed Dog Spot Repair is a special seed blend that helps to neutralize the soluble salts in the spot so grass seed can grow more easily.

  21. Bob permalink

    My lawn was doing great in may. June rains came and red thread in small and large circles. The week and a half of 90 to 100 deg. Weather. The patches are now dead. What can I do to revive the lawn. It looks horrible. We thached the dead grass out. looking how to bring it back to life. Please help.

    Thanks , Bob

    • Hi Bob
      Your Red Thread areas may come back this fall with cooler weather and when you feed your lawn. A severe Red Thread problem, especially in a lawn that is not a blend of several grass types, may cause you to have to seed those areas in Early September. Scotts Lawn Fungus Control will help prevent and cure this fungus disease if applied when the symptoms are first noticed. Once your temps start to cool so you are not getting in the high 80′s and above, you can feed to encourage your lawn to recover. Turf Builder SummerGuard would be a good choice as it also controls insects that could attack your weakened grass. Feeding will help you decide if you will need to seed those areas as you see how your grass recovers.

  22. Chuck permalink

    is there a good way to eliminate clover in my yard?

  23. Elissa Kee permalink

    My lawn has turned brown due to hot temperatures last summer, do I need to turn over the lawn to repair it?

  24. Elissa Kee permalink

    Long Island, New York

  25. Hi Elissa
    Thanks for telling me where you are located… this really helps. If you had no green grass last fall after the hot summer and if you peel back brown grass blades from an individual grass plant now and do not see any pale green or white growth beginning to show, then I would say your lawn is dead. Your grass seed will have a better chance of growing if you break the first few inches of soil. The Scotts Turf Builder Heat-Tolerant Blue Grass Seed Blend or Scotts Turf Builder Sun and Shade Grass Seed Blend will do well in your area. I suggest you put down a special lawn food and weed preventer when you seed: Turf Builder Starter Lawn Food with Weed Preventer. Keep your new seed watered (several times a day) until you see germination. Good Luck with your new lawn.

  26. Todd Zimmerman permalink

    Hi Ashton.
    I was curious to why the patched out portions of my yard where I seeded last yr are brown now this yr and can be raked away?. The grass grew in beautifully last season. I live in MN and Kentucky blue grass. The rest of my yard currently is at a 9 on a scale to 10. I fertilize my yard every 6-8 weeks. 1″ of water a week and always scotts brand top soil, starter seed fertilizer, with scotts Kentucky blue grass seed. So why is the the grass that grew in perfect last yr season now brown and able to rake up while the rest of yard is damn near at a ten? One thought I had was cuz I planted in mid summer and thought had something to do with it but at the same time I’ve planted in July before and grew in perfect. Please help

    • Hi Todd Zimmerman
      Thanks for giving me so much info. The two problems that show up in your area as brown grass that can easily be raked up in spring is Snow Mold and Grubs. Your new grass, with younger less established roots may have been more prone to injury than your mature grass. I have written about Snow Mold and Grubs in many of my blog postings. The sooner you seed those areas this spring the more established they will become before summer and next winter. You can put down GrubEx after your new grass has grown enough to be mowed once and this will protect against grub problems this fall and next spring. Good Luck.

  27. Darren permalink

    Hi Ashton!

    I recently laid down new Palmetto St. Augustine sod on my lawn in st. Petersburg, FL. It has been approximately 6-7 months since I laid the new sod down and truthfully I was hoping that it would be holding up better than it has thus far. We have had very warm (90+) temperatures and dry conditions over the last 2-3 months. Therefore, I have had to frequently adjust my watering schedule where I am now watering 3 times a week at 5am on those days. The lawn is receiving proper coverage during the watering as well. In addition, I also have a spray company come out once every 2 months for regular maintenance (spray, fertilize, etc). Even after all of this constant attention, the lawn is still brown is some spots and dead in patchy areas. What do you recommend I do to prevent the lawn from getting any worse? Any ideas on how to improve this situation?

    • Hi Darren
      First regarding your watering: Measure how much water you are putting down by placing a rain gauge on your lawn or straight sided glass. Your target is a half inch of water twice a week. Adjust the times on your sprinklers to put this much water down. Second, the primary insect problems in your area are chinch bugs and sod webworms. Brown, thin grass from these insects would not take on a particular pattern and would be mainly in sunny areas. You may notice lawn moths flying in your grass in the evening. They do no damage, however they lay eggs for sod webworms. Hopefully you are getting adequate protection from these pests from your lawn spray company. Third, the primary fungus problem in your area on St. Augustine is Brown Patch. This disease shows up as circular patterns about 12 inches or so in diameter. Scotts has a Lawn Fungus Control to threat this. Hope this helps.

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