Grass Turning Brown Despite Watering (Causes, Fixes)

Pests and disease cause amount of damage to green lawns


Lawn maintenance takes a lot of work and upkeep.

After following all the right suggestions, it can be incredibly frustrating not getting the results you want.

No matter where you live, brown grass can creep in, turning your beautiful green lawn into an unattractive mess.

Even after proper watering, grass can still turn brown, making it look unkempt and uncared for.

Thankfully, there are certain causes for grass problems, and, better yet, ways to fix them.


Grass Turning Brown Despite Watering (Causes, Fixes)


1. Lawn Disease

dry grass on lawn in winter as nature background


The number one cause of brown grass despite watering is disease.

Sickly grass derives from soil-borne microscopic organisms, including, bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and others.

If your lawn is turning brown, especially in the summer, it’s likely caused by fungi.

Symptoms of lawn fungi (or Rhizoctonia Solani) disease look like random brown patches that start small and grow larger the more the disease spreads.

If you notice smaller patches that are greenish/yellow and about the size of a half dollar, your lawn is most likely suffering from “dollar spots.”

The small spots start to spread, grow wider, and can easily take over your entire yard.

You might even notice mushrooms starting to pop up because this fungus thrives on decomposing matter.

It prefers moist soil with temperatures around 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pythium Blight is another disease that appears as small and irregularly shaped spots at first, ranging in sizes from a half-inch to four inches in diameter.

Eventually, the diseased lawn areas become matted and may spread quickly in periods of high humidity.

Fusarium Patch disease appears mostly in times of drought during the summer.

These small gray/green circles range in size from a few inches to a foot in diameter.

Red Thread is easily identifiable by its reddish-pink, fine thread-like fungal areas on the lawn.

These diseased spots usually develop when soil is nitrogen deficient, typically in the late spring.

To fix lawn diseases, it’s best to hire a professional who can correctly diagnose the exact cause and identify which disease your lawn is infected with.

Lawn care experts can then determine whether they might just remove the brown, diseased parts and reseed or whether a fungicide needs to be applied.


2. Depleted Nutrients

Spreading Lawn Fertilizer By Hand In Autumn To Maintain Healthy Grass.


A happy and healthy lawn needs approximately four to five fertilizing treatments per year.

Grass needs a large amount of nutrients to maintain its green color and overall health.

The right fertilizers dispersed at the correct times of year are required for maximum results.

The most essential lawn nutrients include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

The correct combination of these main nutrients is vital in avoiding sickly lawns.

It’s best to fertilize in the early spring and late fall when temperatures are more moderate, and the soil can fully absorb the nutrients.

It’s important to skip fertilizing in the middle of the summer, during the hottest months.

Fertilizing at this time of year can cause more disease flair-ups and lasting damage.

The most important factor in finding a good fertilizer is looking for the products and brands high in nitrogen.

Grass cannot absorb nitrogen from the air, and therefore must get it from the soil.

When there’s not enough nitrogen, grass can turn brown and limp.

The best kinds of fertilizer to keep your lawn green are organic fertilizers made with natural materials like alfalfa, seaweed, animal manure, and other organic material.

Many organic fertilizers also contain iron and calcium, two other important nutrients to replenish in the soil.

Plus organic fertilizers are much better for the environment, as they won’t cause damage to water systems like some chemically based fertilizers will.

Using natural sources won’t release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere either, bettering the quality of the air around you and your neighbors.

You also won’t need to worry about kids or pets ingesting these harmful chemicals or bringing them into the home, unintentionally, on their feet, paws, or shoes.


3. Needs Aeration

Backyard Garden Lawn Aeration Job Aerial View For Controlling Lawn Thatch and Soil Compaction


Before fertilizing, it’s best to aerate the lawn, breaking up compacted soil and creating pockets into which the fertilizer can drop.

In general, aerating opens the soil up and allows it to breathe, giving it a better chance to absorb essential minerals and nutrients.

This process also allows the lawn to better absorb moisture and provides the lawn with more efficient water drainage.

Soil gets easily compacted throughout the year from foot traffic, vehicles, lawn equipment, outdoor furniture or equipment, and children’s play toys.

Over time, the soil hardens so much that water or nutrients can’t make their way to the grass’s roots.

Slowly, your lawn will suffer in its lack of these vital elements.

Like with fertilizing, it’s important to aerate your lawn at the right time of year.

This is typically in early or late summer, although different grasses and different climates demand different treatments.

Cool-weather grasses, like Kentucky bluegrass, fine and tall fescues, and perennial ryegrass, which are popular in colder areas of the country, do best with early fall or early spring aeration.

Warm-weather grasses, such as Bermuda grass, Zoysia grass, and Bahia grass, popular in southern states and warmer areas, should be aerated in late spring or early summer.

There are several aerating tools and machines you can use on your lawn.

If you don’t want to invest in a gas-powered mechanical aerator, you can typically rent them from home improvement stores.

These aerators are usually slicing aerators, meaning they contain blades that cut through the surface of the soil, breaking up the earth underneath.

Many professional lawn companies use plug aerators that pull up bits of soil and leave them on top of the ground to break down.

The size of the plug depends on what kind of machine is used.

Some homeowners find it easier to aerate their lawns using spike sandals.

These are literally sandals with spikes on the soles to be worn by someone as they walk over the lawn.

They are best used for smaller lawns, as they may create more compact soil after too much wear.

It’s best to aerate your lawn at least once a year, ensuring it maintains access to all of the moisture and nutrients it needs.


4. Unbalanced Acidity Levels

Measure soil pH level, moisture content, light amount for plants, flowers, vegetable gardens and lawns


The pH level of soil is vital in keeping grasses healthy.

Though most grasses prefer a pH range of 6 to 7, this range can easily be knocked off balance.

Being planted near trees in the yard can throw the pH levels off in the surrounding soil, as bigger trees require more nutrients.

The type of tree can change the pH levels in the soil, as well.

Mulch made from fresh leaves may also lead to unbalanced pH levels.

Soils’ pH levels and types are also different in different climates.

For example, grasses in the Midwest are mainly alkaline-based and may find themselves with pH levels ranging from 7-8.

It’s important to consider your local climate when determining the correct pH levels for your soil.

Using a pH soil reader can help you figure out the careful balance and which supplements are needed to equalize the levels again.

The best way to amend pH levels is to add organic matter, sulfur-containing products, and fertilizers that use nitrogen as their main source.

Also, limestone is great at bringing pH levels back up to speed, including sandy soils, ash soils, and ash mixtures.

When levels are too high, ammonium or urea-based fertilizers can help bring the level back down to manageable levels.

Properly balancing out the pH levels of your soil should help your grass stay green during the year.


5. Environmental Issues

Dry, brown, withered grass


Warm weather places that stay hot more months of the year will more likely find themselves with brown lawns.

The environment has a lot to do with healthy green lawns.

Roots tend to hold heat from the summer and dispel it during the cooler winter months, keeping the grass alive year-round.

High temperatures can cause grass to wilt, brown, and even die, in some extreme cases.

Drought-stricken areas are more likely to produce browning grass, as well.

Brown lawns are not hard to find during the summers in these areas.

One way to test if your brown grass is caused by drought is to take a stick or a screwdriver and poke a hole in the green areas of your lawn and then the brown areas.

If the stick pokes a hole easily in the green part, but not in the brown part, chances are it’s experiencing drought stress.

People may think that they are correctly watering their lawns, but it’s important to follow certain watering rules when it comes to long summer days.

Watering the lawn early in the morning evenly for a significant amount of time two to three times a week will help your soil maintain moisture and distribute it appropriately throughout the day.

If you tend to water mid-day, chances are that more water is being wasted through evaporation than is being used to hydrate your lawn.

Shaded areas can also cause grass to brown.

Without ample sunlight, grass cannot photosynthesize and loses nutrients along the way.


6. Lawn Pests

Worker spraying pesticide onto green lawn outdoors. Pest control


Insects can wreak havoc on lawns, depriving them of essential nutrients and cutting grass blades off at their source, the roots.

Grubs tend to be a general name used to describe the larvae of many types of insects, including Japanese Beetles.

These larvae are extremely detrimental to lawns, as they chew on the root structures of grass while living underground in soil.

Store-bought preventative grub control treatments can be used yearly to help destroy the larvae before they start to munch on roots.

If grubs have already staked their claim, a curative treatment product will probably need to be used.

Unlike grubs, chinch bugs live on the surface of the earth, feasting on the grass blade itself along with the crown, near the roots.

Chinch bugs often feed in large groups that can quickly kill off huge patches of grass at a time.

In some cases, aeration might work by destroying their natural environment, but professional treatment might be required for more extensive cases of infestation.

Sob webworms (or “lawn mouths”) are easy to spot due to their considerably larger size than grubs or chinch bugs.

However, the larvae can cause just as much damage as adults, creating the worst brown patches in their optimum feeding time of July and August.

In most cases of sob webworm infestations, professional treatment is needed to fully eradicate the pests.


7. Cutting Lawn Too Low

Man in baseball cap mowing green lawn on bright summer day in backyard.


Many homeowners don’t understand the correct times to mow their lawns or the best methods.

If the lawn is already suffering from drought stress, it’s best to leave the lawn alone.

Mowing too often without enough rainfall or water can add even more stress to your depleted lawn.

If grass doesn’t receive enough water between cuts, it doesn’t have time to recuperate.

The proper grass height when mowing also has a large impact on its overall health of it.

It’s recommended to not cut more than 1/3” of a grass blade at a time and to always leave at least 3 ½” of grass behind.

If you cut shorter than this, you’ll be adding more stress to your lawn.

Cutting it at consistent times, and frequently, helps to build up the strength of the grass.

Mowing is so important to your lawn because when you cut off the tips of the grass blade, it’s able to stimulate photosynthesis more.

This results in thicker blades of grass and stronger roots.

In return, the grass should overcrowd any weeds, keeping your lawn weed free.

It’s also a good idea to sharpen your mower blades to help ensure a consistent, clean cut.

When blades are dull, they will start to tear the grass instead of cutting it, making the grass blade more prone to disease infection.

Knowing which type of grass you have will also help you narrow down its proper mowing season.

In addition, it’s best to mow your lawn in the mid-morning or late afternoon.

Mowing too early in the morning, when the lawn is still covered in dew, could damage your lawnmower and produce clumps of grass around the yard.

These leftover clumps can then suffocate your grass if they’re not removed.

Changing your mowing patterns every week will also help build up strength in your lawn.

This also leads to less soil compaction.


8. Pet Urine

dog peeing urine on grass field


As much as we all love our pets, their urine can cause brown spots on the lawn.

This is because their urine contains high amounts of nitrogen, which, as we’ve learned, can easily throw off the pH level of your soil.

The high concentration of nitrogen in pet urine will start to burn off layers of grass in the yard, usually identified by small brown spots.

Of course, you’re not going to stop your pet from relieving itself outside, so options to fix this problem include ample watering after it urinates.

Thoroughly flushing out the spot in your yard will dilute and soak the nitrogen, removing added salts.

Another option is to let your grass grow a little bit higher, keeping it at a slightly higher than average height.

Taller grass has deeper roots, which create stronger and more durable grass blades.

Taller grass also covers brown spots more, making them less of an eye sore in the yard.

You can also set up designated bathroom spots for your dog.

This could be trickier to do since it might require retraining your dog.

However, using specific mulch pilings, that contain pet-safe materials, or gravel areas will keep the urine off your grass, allowing it to flourish.

To fix this problem long-term, you might want to consider the grass you plant around your house.

Repairing this problem might also take some reseeding, regular fertilization, and soil-cleansing lawn treatments.

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