How to Get Greener Grass

Human palm touching lawn grass low angle view

Do you want your neighbors to be green with envy when they look at your lawn? It takes proper lawn management and understanding the turf you’re growing. Let’s learn how to get greener grass. 

12 things to do to get greener grass

Identify your grass

Getting greener grass all starts with knowing what grass you’re growing on your lawn. Different grasses have different qualities, care requirements, and even color — some are a deeper green than others. There are many types of grass, but they can be divided into two categories: cool-season and warm-season.

growth of cool season grass
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Primarily grown in the northern U.S., cool-season grasses grow best in colder temperatures. They have good cold resistance but can go brown during the hot summer months. Here are the most popular cool-season grasses:

growth of warm season grass
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

On the other hand, warm-season grasses are more popular in the southern U.S. because they grow better in hotter temperatures. While their heat resistance is excellent, their cold resistance leaves much to be desired. They go brown in the fall and green up in the spring. Here are some popular warm-season grasses:

Note: If you live in the Transition Zone, you can generally grow both warm-season and cool-season grasses. Look for cool-season grasses with the best heat tolerance or warm-season grasses with the best cold tolerance.

Once you know what grass you’re growing, you’ll know how exactly to care for it properly. Let’s move on to what you can do to get greener grass.

Test your soil and amend if needed

Farmer holding soil in hands close up. Farmer is checking soil.
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The soil affects turfgrass health and color, perhaps more significantly than you thought. But it makes sense: All living things need a good environment to grow healthy. Soil is a large part of the turf’s environment. The best soil for turf has a balanced pH level, healthy nutrient levels, and a good texture.

The best way to check these qualities is by conducting a soil test. A soil test will tell you your soil’s pH, nutrient levels, and type.

If your soil has issues, you’ll need to apply soil amendments to solve them. Here are some soil problems and what amendments to use:

  • Overly alkaline or acidic soil. You can change your soil pH using elemental sulfur or agricultural lime.
  • Nutrient deficiencies. The easiest way to solve this is to fertilize your lawn. However, your soil pH needs to be balanced; otherwise, the nutrients won’t be available to your grass. We’ll talk about lawn fertilization later in the article.
  • Poor soil type or texture. An imbalance of clay, sand, and silt can lead to poor soil with drainage issues, compaction, or erosion issues. You can add soil amendments that change soil texture to cure this.

If the soil test report gives you the all-clear, then perhaps there’s something wrong that soil amendments can’t fix.

Aerate your lawn

illustration showing how aeration works and the benefits of aerating soil
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

One soil issue that can’t be fixed by amendments alone is soil compaction. Compacted soil is tightly packed, unable to let water, air, and nutrients move down to your turf’s root system. Grass roots also will have a difficult time pushing through compacted soil. A deep root system is a strong and healthy one.

A lack of nutrients plus a weak root system can stunt grass growth and turn your turf yellow or brown. If your discolored grass is also accompanied by hard dirt and puddles after the rain or irrigation, then you might have compacted soil.

So, why is my soil compacted? There are many reasons for soil compaction:

  • Clay soil, which is more prone to compaction
  • Heavy rain and irresponsible irrigation, as wet soil is more susceptible to compaction
  • Heavy foot traffic and heavy objects, which pushes soil and compacts it
  • Over-tilling, as it leads to smaller soil particles that clump together when wet

To cure your compacted soil and get back your green yard, you’ll need to aerate your lawn, preferably with a core aerator. Lawn aeration is the process of creating holes in your soil with an aerator, either by pushing the soil aside or by removing plugs of soil.

Here’s a short guide on how to aerate your lawn with a core aerator:

  1. Prepare your lawn by mowing and watering it a day before aerating.
  2. Pass the aerator along your lawn twice.
  3. Leave the soil plugs on the lawn.
  4. Water your lawn lightly.

When should I aerate my lawn? Aerate your lawn during its active growing season:

  • Cool-season lawns: Preferably fall, but you can get away with spring after the grass greens up
  • Warm-season lawns: Late spring or early summer

Dethatch your turf

Using scarifier in the garden. The man fertilizes the soil in the garden, preparing for work on the garden. Aeration with a blue scarifier. The gardener works outside taking care of plants.
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Another reason why your lawn might be looking less green might be excess thatch. Thatch is the layer of living and dead organic material (like leaves) between your turf’s root system and the soil.

Think of thatch as the patty in a burger. It’s a welcome sight, but not when it’s too thick. In fact, it becomes a problem: a thick burger patty is difficult to eat without utensils, while thatch buildup causes lawn issues. A thatch layer that’s thicker than ½-inch can prevent water, nutrients, and air from reaching your turf’s roots.

Why does my lawn have thatch? Thatch accumulates naturally when your grass produces more organic matter than the soil microorganisms can decompose. These grasses are more prone to developing thatch:

  • Cool-season grasses: Creeping bentgrass, creeping red fescue, Kentucky bluegrass
  • Warm-season grasses: Hybrid Bermudagrass, St. Augustinegrass, Zoysiagrass, overfertilized centipedegrass

If your yellowing lawn is accompanied by runoff and a spongy feeling as you walk, you might have excess thatch. You can check for sure by taking a 3-inch core sample of your soil. Measure the thatch layer (which looks brown); if it’s one-half inch thick, it’s time to dethatch.

Here is a short guide on how to dethatch your lawn:

  1. Mow your grass to half of its recommended height a day before dethatching.
  2. Pass your dethatching tool over your lawn. This will depend on the type of dethatching tool you have.
  3. Rake up the debris. You can compost the debris instead of throwing it away.

Our guide on dethatching linked above has a more detailed guide on how to use each dethatcher.

When should I dethatch my lawn? Dethatch your lawn during its active growing season:

  • Cool-season turf: Preferably fall, but early spring (after green-up) and late summer are also acceptable
  • Warm-season turf: Late spring to early summer

If you’d rather not get down and dirty to dethatch your lawn or aerate your soil, then consider hiring a local pro to do these tasks for you.

Fertilize properly

Hand in glove holding nitrogen fertilizer. Concept of fertilizing grass
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Your grass needs nutrients to grow healthy and lush, mainly the three macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K). Of these three, nitrogen is most responsible for green grass.

If your lawn is just lacking nutrients, then you’ll need to fertilize your lawn — preferably with a slow-release fertilizer. Quick-release fertilizer can feed grass fast, but a slow-release one is healthier for your lawn in the long run. You also can use homemade compost to fertilize your lawn.

Note: We highly recommend conducting a soil test if you’ve never done one or if it’s been a while since you’ve done one. You might be lacking in iron instead, which we will be talking about later.

You can use your soil test report to choose the best fertilizer for your lawn. Professional soil test results will tell you what N-P-K ratio your fertilizer needs to best address nutrient deficiencies.

Here’s a simplified guide on how to fertilize your lawn:

  1. Prepare your lawn by mowing and watering your lawn one to two days before fertilizing.
  2. If using a granular fertilizer, prepare your fertilizer spreader.
  3. Spread your fertilizer according to the package directions:
    1. Granular fertilizer: Spread half the fertilizer in one direction, then the next half perpendicular to your first pass (i.e. north to south, then east to west).
    2. Liquid fertilizer: Starting from one edge, spray the fertilizer from side to side as evenly as possible. Walk backward until you reach the other end of your lawn.
  4. Clean up.

The guide linked above is a much more detailed guide on fertilizing your lawn yourself. You can also hire a professional to fertilize your lawn instead.

Don’t apply too much fertilizer on your lawn, or else you can burn it. Fertilizer burn will turn your grass brown, too.

Note: You will need to fertilize your lawn at least twice during its active growing season(s), but ideally three times. Never fertilize your lawn more than four times a year. Here is a general calendar of when to fertilize your lawn:

  • Cool-season grass:
    • 1st round – Early spring (mid-April)
    • 2nd round – Early fall (September) 
    • 3rd round – Late fall (mid to late October)
  • Warm-season grass:
    • 1st round – Mid to late spring (around April)
    • 2nd round – Early summer (June)
    • 3rd round – Early fall (September)

Add iron supplements to your lawn

A yellowing lawn can be caused by a lack of another nutrient: iron. If your soil test report says your soil is lacking iron, then your lawn is likely dealing with iron chlorosis. Iron chlorosis is seen in new growth, such as during spring green up.

Iron deficiency can be caused by a high soil pH or compaction. If you’ve already addressed these issues — or don’t have these issues — but still have iron-deficient soil, then you’ll need to apply iron supplements.

Note: Do not apply nitrogen fertilizer if you suspect iron chlorosis. It will make the condition worse. “In severely iron chlorotic turf, the addition of nitrogen can produce white leaves and/or leaf death (straw),” says Dr. David M. Kopec, a Turfgrass Management professor and extension specialist with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.

Most iron supplements are mixed in with fertilizer, but it should be safe to apply them as you also will be addressing the iron deficiency. Here are some products you can use to treat iron chlorosis:

Take care of pests and disease

Man applies pesticide in garden
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If your grass still isn’t very green after these more extensive procedures, then you might be dealing with pests or lawn diseases.

Many fungal diseases can make your turf discolored. They can even kill your turf, which will also turn it brown — only this time, your lawn can’t be saved short of planting new grass. Here are some common lawn diseases:

These diseases are more likely to occur if you aren’t taking care of your lawn properly. This is especially true if you tend to overwater your grass. Treating lawn fungus involves improving lawn conditions and using fungicides.

Your grass also may be discolored because of lawn pests. The most common lawn pests that cause brown patches of grass are chinch bugs and white grubs. You can read more about common lawn pests in these articles:

While you may think that eliminating pests entails pesticide use, it is often a last resort. It’s also not very effective in the long run if the conditions that foster pests aren’t fixed. Consider practicing Integrated Pest Management for a more sustainable way to keep pesky pests at bay.

Overseed patchy grass

Spreading seed by hand over an area that has little to no grass
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Does your lawn have bare patches or brown spots? You won’t need to tear up your lawn to fix patchy grass. You just need to overseed your lawn.

Overseeding is the process of growing grass seed on top of an existing lawn to cover bald spots and make thinning turf lush again. Ideally, you should overseed with the same seed mix or blend that you are currently growing so that your lawn looks uniform. However, it’s best to pick a seed blend that will best grow on your lawn.

Overseeding can also give homeowners with warm-season grass a green winter lawn. You can overseed with annual ryegrass for winter color. Don’t worry, it’s temporary; the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension says the ryegrass will die back in time for your dormant lawn’s spring green up.

Here’s a short guide on how to overseed your lawn:

  1. Mow your lawn down to 1 ½ inches to 2 inches tall. Bag the clippings.
  2. Prepare your lawn by dethatching, aerating, or applying fertilizer, if needed.
  3. Spread the seed evenly with a lawn spreader.
  4. Water your lawn once or twice a day for the first few weeks to keep the seeds moist.

When should I overseed? You should overseed during your lawn’s active growing season or just before it:

  • Cool-season yards: Late summer to early fall
  • Warm-season yards: Late spring to early summer. If you are overseeding for winter color, overseed with ryegrass in early fall.

Note: You can’t overseed with St. Augustinegrass as it can only be bought as sod.

Water appropriately

Lawn sprinkler spraying water over lawn green fresh grass in the garden or backyard on a hot summer day. The concept of automatic watering equipment, lawn care, gardening and tools
Adobe Stock

A simple reason why your grass has turned brown might be because it’s thirsty. During the hot summer months or under drought conditions, your grass will need a lot more water to stay green. A brown lawn also can arise outside of these hot temperatures if you’re not watering your lawn enough.

Watering your lawn properly means watering deeply and infrequently. Soaking more soil less often encourages your lawn’s root system to grow deep to look for water. A deep root system is a healthier and more drought-tolerant one.

Keep an eye out for these signs, which you will see when your grass needs to be watered:

  • Faded color (green or grayish)
  • Visible footprints after the grass is walked on
  • Curling grass blades

Note: If you have a cool-season lawn, it may go dormant in the summer. 

Here are some tips on how to water your grass:

  • Aim to water your grass with 1 to 1 ½ inches of water every week. You can spread this out over the week in three 20-minute sessions or two 30-minute sessions.
  • If it rains, hold off on watering your grass until you see signs it needs water. You may not need to water your lawn during your area’s rainy season. You can use a rain sensor to manage your sprinklers effectively during rainy periods.
  • The best time to water your lawn is during the early morning, between 4 AM and 10 AM.
  • Don’t water your lawn when temperatures are over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s too hot to water your lawn.
  • If your grass has gone dormant and turned brown, it’s more financially sound and environmentally friendly to switch gears and water it just enough to survive. It will turn green again when you can give it more water. 

The guide linked above the list is more comprehensive and also will tell you how to calculate how much water your sprinklers are outputting, among other useful tidbits.

You also can check out our articles concerning lawns and drought here:

Pro tip: Consider planting drought-tolerant grasses, which handle drought better. They may still go dormant under extreme drought stress, but they’re easier to manage during drought conditions. 

Mow properly

Man mowing lawn with a lawnmower
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If the tips of your grass are brown, then it might be because you aren’t mowing your lawn properly. Brown grass tips are often caused by dull mower blades tearing the grass blades instead of cleanly cutting them.

Your grass also can turn a brown hue if you regularly scalp your lawn — the act of cutting off more than one-third of the grass blades at a time.

Here are some lawn mowing tips to follow to have greener grass:

  • Sharpen the mower blades when they become dull or if they get nicked. Usually, you’ll need to sharpen about once a season.
  • Mid-morning or late afternoon are the best times to mow to beat the heat. Mowing when it’s hot out can lead to brown patches due to stress.
  • Don’t mow drought-stressed grass or dormant grass in general.
  • Alternate your mowing pattern every time you mow.
  • Mulch grass clippings by leaving them on the lawn to feed the grass that’s left behind.
  • Practice the One-Third Rule, which is cutting off only one-third of the total grass blade length at a time.

Here is a table that you can use as a reference for what length to cut your grass:

Cool season grass typeIdeal lawn height (inches)Mow at this height (inches)
Fine fescue1.5 – 32 – 4
Kentucky bluegrass2 – 32.5 – 4
Perennial ryegrass2 – 32.5 – 4
Tall fescue2 – 42.5 – 5.25
Warm season grass typeIdeal lawn height (inches)Mow at this height (inches)
Bahiagrass3 – 44 – 5.25
Bermudagrass1 – 21.25 – 2.5
Buffalograss2 – 42.5 – 5.25
Carpetgrass1 – 21.25 – 2.5
Centipedegrass1.5 – 22 – 2.5
St. Augustinegrass2.5 – 43.25 – 5.25
Zoysiagrass1 – 2.51.25 – 3.25

Pro tip: Hire a lawn care professional to mow your lawn so you don’t have to worry about proper heights and keeping your lawn mower in good condition. 

Designate an area for your kids and pets

If your little ones and furry friends love to play in your yard, then don’t be too surprised if you find some sparse spots. The constant wear and tear may be too much for your turf.

And if Fido does his business on the lawn? Let’s just say that dog urine and dog poop can quickly turn grass brown because of the nitrogen they contain. It’s basically overfertilizing your lawn.

Note: The nitrogen in urine and feces can turn grass greener at first, but your grass will turn brown if the nitrogen is not rinsed out.

You don’t have to do anything drastic. Try to limit your children and pets to one area of your lawn to confine the damage to just that part. You can also consider planting wear-tolerant grass or dog-friendly grass that can bounce back from play sessions.

When it comes to your dog’s bodily functions, there are a few things you can do:

  • Teach your dog to eliminate in mulch or gravel away from grass and other plants.
  • If your dog accidentally urinated on your lawn, thoroughly water the spot where your dog peed in to wash out the nitrogen.
  • Immediately pick up dog poop in the grass.

If it’s too late and your lawn is already damaged by dog pee, all you can do is repair it. You can read our guide about that here: “How to Repair Dog Pee Spots on Your Grass”.

Consider overseeding with clover

clover grown in a lawn
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As a last resort, you may have to call a truce with a common weed: clover. This three-leaved weed can bring a lot of benefits to your yard, including turning nitrogen from the air into a form that your grass can use and preventing other weeds from taking hold of your lawn.

It’s also really low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, and – most importantly – stays green year-round, so you’re more likely to have a green lawn.

If you don’t mind a few clover patches, then consider overseeding your lawn with clover. Better yet, you can let existing clover fill in gaps in your lawn

Understandably, this isn’t a solution most homeowners may not like. If you’re not a clover-lover, then it’s wise to get rid of it along with other broadleaf weeds on your lawn.

Why isn’t my grass green?

There are many reasons why your grass could have brown spots:

  • Lawn diseases
  • Pests
  • Improper mowing practices
  • Improper watering practices
  • Soil compaction
  • Excess thatch
  • Fertilizer burn
  • Pet pee and poop
  • Drought
  • Dormancy
  • Chemical spills
  • Heavy foot traffic
  • Heavy objects left in the yard

Yellowing grass, on the other hand, can be caused by the following:

  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • pH imbalance (which can lead to nutrient deficiencies)
  • Improper watering
  • Lawn diseases
  • Pests

Following the tips above will prevent most of these issues from turning your grass brown.

FAQs about how to get greener grass

What is the fastest way to green up your lawn?

Applying iron is probably the fastest way to green up your lawn. It can turn your grass a deep green, but it’s temporary. You can see this in action if you apply a chelated iron-based herbicide to broadleaf weeds in your lawn; the weeds die, but the surrounding grass becomes more vibrant.

Be careful when applying iron to your lawn as too much can actually turn your grass gray.

Does sugar help turn grass green?

Sugar doesn’t particularly help grass turn green. While it may provide nutrients, it doesn’t have a big impact.

Jon Trappe, a turfgrass educator with the University of Minnesota Extension says, “In most cases, these sugars are consumed by microbes and used up within hours or days and they are not designed to replace the essential nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium).”

How do I know if my grass is dead and not dormant?

You can pull on brown grass blades to check if they’re truly dead. If they come out easily, they’re dead. If you have trouble plucking them out of the ground, they’re just dormant.

Completely dead grass cannot be revived. You’ll have to remove dead grass and fill it in with new seed or sod.

Hire a pro to get the green grass of your dreams

A lot of care goes into keeping a green lawn. Aside from mowing, watering, and fertilizing, you also have to aerate, dethatch, and keep on top of pest and weed control. If you don’t have the time to spare, then hire a lawn care pro to do it for you. Lawn Love can connect you with local lawn maintenance pros quickly and easily.

Main Image Credit: Adobe Stock

Janine Caayao

Janine Caayao has always been fascinated with growing plants, from fruits and veggies to bonsai trees and orchids. Now, she’s interested in urban gardening with her family. She loves finding new tips and tricks to keep their plants thriving.