Should you cut grass when it’s brown?

Grass turning brown is a common occurrence during hot, dry seasons. When grass loses its vibrant green color and turns brown, it’s often a sign that the grass is dormant or stressed. Some homeowners may wonder if it’s okay to mow and cut brown grass, or if it’s better to let it be until it recovers. There are pros and cons to both approaches.

Why Does Grass Turn Brown?

There are a few key reasons why grass may turn brown:

Lack of Water

Insufficient watering is one of the most common causes of brown grass. During hot spells or droughts, grass doesn’t get enough moisture from rainfall or irrigation and goes dormant as a survival mechanism. The brown color indicates the grass has stopped actively growing.

Heat and Dry Conditions

Excessive heat from high temperatures can stress and dry out grass. Hot sunny weather causes grass plants to use up soil moisture faster than the roots can absorb it. This leads to brown, dried out grass.

Disease or Pests

Sometimes brown grass can be a sign of disease, like brown patch fungus, or an infestation of pests like chinch bugs. Insect, fungus and disease problems show up as brown dead spots in an otherwise green lawn.

Too Much Foot Traffic

High amounts of foot traffic in concentrated areas, like around a swing set or busy garden path, can wear grass down. The constant trampling damages the grass blades, causing browning.

Should You Cut Brown Grass?

When grass turns brown, deciding whether to mow it or leave it be can be tricky. Here are some of the key factors to consider:

Pros of Cutting Brown Grass

– Keeps lawn looking tidy and maintained. Brown long grass can look unkempt.

– Reduces threats from pests and diseases. Long brown grass blades can harbor fungal diseases.

– Avoids matting and tangling. Cutting prevents brown blades from knotting up, which makes it harder for new growth to come through.

– Prevents thatch buildup. Thatch is a thick layer of dead grass stems and roots at the base of the lawn. Letting brown grass blades accumulate adds to the thatch layer.

– Allows new growth once watered. Removing some brown material opens up room for fresh, new grass shoots and leaves once the lawn is watered again.

Cons of Cutting Brown Grass

– Stress on the grass. Mowing when already stressed from drought puts further strain on struggling grass plants.

– Uses water. Mowing on a hot day causes water loss through the cut leaf tips. Avoid mowing on hot afternoons.

– Shock from sudden change. Long brown grass blades provide some shade and insulation to the lower plant parts. Completely removing this cover exposes the remaining grass to more heat.

– Damage to dormant crowns. The grass crown, located at the base near the soil, controls growth. Cutting too low can damage crown tissue of dormant grass. Set mower blades higher.

– Fewer food reserves. Long brown blades still provide some nutrients back to the root system. Cutting them removes energy sources the roots need to recover.

Best Practices for Cutting Brown Grass

If you do decide to mow your brown lawn, here are some tips:

– Raise mower height. Keep blades around 3-4 inches high to avoid stressing the grass.

– Use sharp mower blades. Clean cuts are healthier for grass than ragged, shredded ones from dull blades.

– Water lightly before and after. Apply about 1/4 inch of water to cool and hydrate the grass prior to cutting. Water again after to soothe cut leaf tips.

– Avoid removing more than 1/3 of blade length. Take off no more than the top 1/3 of brown grass blades with each mowing session.

– Change mowing direction. Alter your mowing pattern versus always cutting the same way. This prevents ruts from developing.

– Bag clippings. Collecting clippings removes dead brown material and thinning leaf tissue. Leave any green clippings to decompose and feed the lawn.

– Wait for cooler temperatures. If possible, mow in the early morning or evening when it’s cooler outside and not as stressful for the grass.

When to Hold Off on Mowing Brown Grass

Certain situations are better suited to leaving brown grass unmowed for a while:

Severe Drought

During severe drought when grass is completely dried out, avoid mowing and allow every inch of leaf material to photosynthesize and produce food once water is available again.

Extreme Heat

On extremely hot summer days over 90°F, put off mowing altogether to avoid added stress to already struggling grass.

When Grass Needs Time to Recover

If the lawn has recently been damaged by disease, insects or heavy traffic, give it time to regrow before mowing again.

To Improve Lawn Health

Sometimes leaving clippings benefits the lawn. As they decompose they return nitrogen and other nutrients back to the soil.

Caring for Brown Grass Back to Health

Once you’ve decided on your mowing strategy, supporting your brown grass’ recovery with proper care is key:

Boost Watering

Ramp up irrigation to give grass at least 1-2 inches of water across the lawn per week from rain or watering combined. Avoid overwatering though, which causes runoff and wastes water.

Raise Mowing Height

For the rest of the season, keep mower blades around 3-4 inches tall. This shades the grass crowns and soil, preserving moisture longer.

Fertilize Conservatively

Apply a turf-type fertilizer using about 1/2 to 3/4 of the recommended rate to provide nutrients without overdoing it and causing excess growth needing more water.

Aerate Compacted Areas

Punch holes in heavily trafficked zones using a core aerator. This allows water, air and nutrients to better reach the grass roots.

Overseed Thin Spots

Reseed any substantial bare or thinning patches to thicken up the lawn once the grass is steadily growing again.

Adjust Sprinkler Heads

Ensure sprinkler coverage is even and check for broken heads. Set watering durations to reach deeper soil levels as grass roots extend further down.

When to Call in a Professional

For serious lawn damage or extensive brown grass, contacting a lawn care professional is wise:

– For diagnosing persistent insect or disease issues causing brown grass

– When an irrigation audit and tune-up is needed

– If aeration and overseeding must be done across the entire lawn

– For soil testing and pH adjustments to correct nutrient deficiencies

– When grass composition needs to be assessed and improved

– If drainage problems like compacted soil are suspected

– For determining the ideal grass species and varieties for your climate and conditions

Key Takeaways on Brown Grass

– Letting brown grass go unmowed gives it time to recover, but mowing keeps the lawn looking neat.

– Mow brown grass higher, collect clippings, water lightly before and after, and avoid extreme heat.

– Leave brown grass longer when dormant or stressed from drought, disease, traffic, or heat.

– Nourish lawn health by adjusting water, fertilizer, mowing height, and addressing issues like compaction.

– For major renovations, call a professional for testing, treatment plans and improvements.

– With proper care, brown grass can rebound and return to a lush, green lawn again.


Deciding whether to mow dead-looking brown grass can be a dilemma. While cutting brown blades provides a tidy appearance, leaving them uncut conserves the grass plants’ energy while dormant. Using best practices like mowing higher, avoiding extreme heat, and providing supplemental irrigation allows for cutting brown grass without shocking it. But during times of major drought, disease damage, or thinning, waiting until the lawn recovers avoids added stress. With the right treatment plan and care, brown grass can bounce back to a healthy, lush green color.

Pros of Mowing Brown Grass Cons of Mowing Brown Grass
Keeps lawn looking neat Causes further stress on struggling plants
Removes dead material and thins density Removes protective shade and insulation for crowns
Prevents matting and tangling of blades Uses water through cut leaf tips
Allows space for new growth Can damage dormant crowns if cut too low
Reduces pest and disease threats Removes food reserves needed for recovery

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