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University of Nebraska–Lincoln

UNL Extension in Lancaster County

Horticulture

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Why Lawns Brown in Fall

by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator

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During this time of year brown or straw-colored patches of grass often appear in lawns. In some cases, the entire lawn turns a straw color. One of the more common reasons for this is these are warm-season grasses.

Most grasses in lawns are cool-season species, which stay green for much of fall because they thrive in cool weather. Warm-season grasses turn brown with cooler weather in fall. Perennial warm-season species will go dormant and return to green very late next spring or early summer. Warm-season annuals die and must regrow from seed to appear next season.

Crabgrass, a warm-season annual, was common in lawns this year. As crabgrass turns brown in fall, it is dead, and the same plant will not return next season. Seeds on the soil surface must germinate next year for the problem to occur again. Preemergence herbicides (crabgrass preventers) can be used next season to help prevent the return of crabgrass in the lawn.

Zoysiagrass is a common perennial warm-season grass in our area. During a hot summer zoysiagrass lawns are most likely the greenest on the block. Then with the return of cool weather in September, zoysiagrass starts turning yellow, then a straw color. Zoysiagrass is not dead, but it will not green up until significant warmth returns sometime next year.

An additional warm season grass that appears as straw-like patches in fall is nimblewill. Nimblewill will appear as patches of fine grass, usually in shade locations. These patches become very conspicuous in fall and next spring.

One control option for zoysiagrass or nimblewill is to dig it out, making sure to get all the creeping stems and roots. Another option is to apply the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup), but the grass needs to be green and growing to be killed. Probably the best time to do this would be next August, so the area can be reseeded afterwards.


(This resource was added October 2007 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office


Contact Information

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
in Lancaster County
Web site: lancaster.unl.edu
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A,
Lincoln, NE 68528
| 402-441-7180