How to Diagnose and Revive a Dying Lawn: The Essential Guide


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If you’ve found this guide to diagnosing and reviving your lawn, you’re likely already noticing the signs of lawn death in your yard. The signs of lawn death are unfortunately obvious – splotches of grass turn yellow or brown, either becoming murky and mildewy or drying up and becoming brittle as a bone.

Diagnosing and reviving a dying lawn can be simple or complex, depending on the root cause of the issue. However, with a little know-how and some lawn care supplies, your lawn will be lush and green in no time.

For more information on how to bring your lawn back to life, read on.

Common Symptoms of Lawn Death

Many people who own or rent homes with lawns have experienced some sort of lawn death at one time or another – sometimes, these issues resolve themselves. In contrast, other times, they get ignored and begin to take over the entirety of your lawn.

It’s important to take care of your lawn at the first signs of death. If you’re able to catch the problems early on, you have a better chance of saving the rest of your lawn and making sure that your grass stays lush and green. 

Lawns are crucial to the image of your house. They are especially important to maintain if you’re a member of a homeowner’s association or another neighborhood community that prioritizes community lawn grooming. 

In order to diagnose the issues you’re experiencing on your lawn, you have to take a very close look at the patches or patterns of discoloration that have appeared. Get up close and inspect the spots. Where on your lawn are they located – in the shade, in direct sun, in a low spot?

Take notes about the texture and characteristics of the dying spots. These details will help you determine the underlying problem and will eventually help you find a cure for the problem and get your lawn back to its most lush and green state.

Brown Patches

Photo 101203330 | © Tim Bingham | Dreamstime.com

Brown patches are among the most common issues faced by homeowners when trying to keep their lawn looking good. Brown spots and discoloration can also be among the most frustrating issues because they can be caused by such a wide variety of ailments and issues.

In order to figure out why your lawn has brown patches, you’ll first have to take a look at the texture, shape, and size of the brown spots on your lawn. By making careful observations about the characteristics of lawn discoloration, you will have a much easier time figuring out a solution for the issues with your lawn.

Dehydration

One of the most common issues that cause brown spots on your lawn is dehydration. This should be the first issue you investigate when trying to figure out why your lawn is turning brown. Before attempting to apply any antifungal agents or fertilizers, consider the weather patterns that your area has been experiencing.

There are a couple of reasons that your lawn may be experiencing a drought. The first major reason is that your area is going through a drought. Homeowners in places like California, Nevada, and the American Southwest will be the most likely to experience these patterns. However, people along the Eastern Coast will also experience these droughts now and again.

The second reason that your lawn might be drying up is that your lawn doesn’t have any shade. If your lawn doesn’t have any shade from trees, bushes, shrubs, or even your house, it will likely dry up under the impact of direct sunlight.

If your area is experiencing a drought or an unseasonably dry spring or summer, your lawn is very likely to start to turn brown. You will be able to tell that your lawn is experiencing a drought because the brown spots on your lawn will be widespread – drought won’t just show up on a single area of your lawn, though it will likely be slightly more present in areas that have more sun exposure.

Another telltale sign that your lawn is experiencing drought is that the browning areas of your lawn have a dry texture to them. If you crouch down and rub your hand over the brown patches, you will likely feel that they have a prickly texture and aren’t smooth and soft like normal lawn turf is.

Fungus

If you’ve determined that drought or general dehydration is not the issue at hand that’s causing the browning of your lawn, then the next issue you should look into solving is the potential for a fungal infection of your lawn.

Take a look at the brown spots on your lawn and note the texture. If the spots on your lawn are moist and a bit mushy, then your issue is likely a fungal overgrowth instead of lawn dehydration. Another question to ask yourself if, when did these spots appear? Fungal overgrowth on your lawn tends to show up overnight and spread quickly around your property.

Much like how fungus grows on the body or in your home, fungal overgrowth is caused by cooler, damp conditions. Unlike the issue of lawn dehydration, fungus overgrowth happens when areas on your lawn get too much water and aren’t able to drain off into the earth.

While slight overwatering can be a non-issue if the weather is hot and the extra water can be evaporated, water doesn’t evaporate under cool conditions, and thus creates a fertile breeding ground for fungus to grow and take over your lawn.

There are two main reasons why your lawn may be taken over by fungus. The first is because your area has been experiencing a lot of rain, accompanied by cooler temperatures. Species of fungus love these conditions because it allows them to grow uninhibited, which causes these brown spots to appear almost overnight.

The second reason your lawn may be experiencing fungus takeover is that you’ve been overwatering. Even if the weather is warm, if you’ve been waterlogging your lawn and soaking it to its maximum capacity, fungus is bound to take over. Though a moderate amount of water is great for your lawn, too much of a good thing isn’t good anymore.

Insects

The final major culprit of a browning lawn is arguably the most frustrating – an insect infestation. What’s so frustrating about an insect infestation is that the insects that can ruin your lawn within days aren’t the big creepy-crawly insects that you can see scuttling around your lawn. Rather, they’re the hardest to see, which can create the most damage on your property.

Once you’ve ruled out the possibility of dehydration or drought as the reason your lawn is turning brown, the best way to determine whether your brown lawn spots are caused by disease or insects is to pull up a wad of grass. According to the experts at Lowe’s, grasses with fungal infections stay rooted in the ground, while grass that’s been taken over by bugs like grubs pulls up easily.

Grubs are so pestilent because they attack grasses from the underside, feasting on them from the roots up. It’s rarely possible to see grubs from above ground, which is why you’ll have to dig a few inches down into your lawn to see what’s happening down below. Grubs look like fat, white curved worms and are hard to miss.

Another variety of insect that has the potential to kill your lawn is the sod webworm. They are the larvae of a small variety of moths. Unlike grubs, webworms feast on the blades of grass themselves.

This Old House suggests soaking an affected area of your lawn with soapy water for 10 minutes to confirm whether webworms have made a home out of your front yard. If they are present, the webworms will rise to the surface, and you’ll have your answer.

Yellow Patches

Another frustrating problem that arises when you’re trying to keep your lawn a lush, bright green color is yellow spots. Much like brown spots in your yard, yellow spots indicate either an external issue like chemical exposure or an internal issue like something in the soil.

Similar to the process of diagnosing the causes of brown spots on your lawn, to determine the potential cause of big ugly yellow spots on your lawn, you will have to make yourself very familiar with their shape, texture, and characteristics. Note any bugs creeping around or patterns in the way the spots show up.

Dog Urine

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Though it may seem like a silly issue, damage from dogs’ presence is one of the most common issues that cause lawn yellowing. If you have a dog who is allowed to run around in the yard, this is most likely the cause of the yellow spots on your lawn.

If you’re unsure whether your dog is causing your lawn to yellow, take a look at the shape and size of the spots. If the yellow spots on your lawn are contained in a small area with a relatively round, you are likely dealing with dog urine as the main issue of the yellowing of your lawn.

The main reason that dog urine causes lawns to turn yellow is that it contains high amounts of nitrogen. While lawns do require a moderate amount of nitrogen to remain healthy and well-rooted, too much nitrogen will suck the life out of your lawn.

Even if you don’t have dogs in your house that have free reign of your lawn, consider that other people may be letting their dogs urinate on your lawn. If you live in a suburban area where the general public (with their pet dogs) has access to your lawn, and you have yellow spots at the edges of your lawn, they’re most likely caused by dog urine.

Poor Fertilizer Application

If you’ve determined that the yellow marks on your lawn aren’t caused by dog urine, your next step is to consider that – oops! – you may have caused the yellow marks on your own. If you’re someone who regularly spreads fertilizer on their lawn, and your lawn is covered with evenly spaced yellow stripes, you’re probably dealing with uneven fertilizer application.

The writers at This Old House suggest that, if you spread fertilizer on your lawn, any strips or spaces of lawn that are accidentally missed may be subject to yellowing or even browning as time goes on. Though having a big, lush lawn can be an attractive asset to your property, taking care of it isn’t always easy.

Lack of Growth

A more complex issue than just brown or yellow spotting is the slow death of your lawn through stunted growth. This is especially important for people who have newly spread out grass seed or patches of sod throughout their lawn. If you’re noticing that your grass seed or sod isn’t taking, then it’s time to do some serious investigating to determine the root of the problem.

The signs of stunted lawn growth are rather obvious. If you’ve recently spread grass seed on your front or back yards and nothing is cropping up, it can be frustrating to deal with, especially if you’re blessed with a large property.

The same issue can be true for people who lay down sod or turf in big patches. Though you’ve already got the grass installed, the grass still needs to take root, and it can be immensely frustrating when the sod you’ve invested in doesn’t want to adhere to the land.

Drought

Much like the browning of already-established lawns, drought is one of the biggest reasons that grass won’t grow or that seeds won’t take to the soil. For roots to be established or for grass seeds to break open and sprout, the soil needs to be moist.

Moisture in the soil is crucial to the process of plant growth because it helps the roots soak up nutrients from the soil and allows grass seeds to break open and burst through the surface of the soil. If there is no water in the soil, then the growing process won’t happen.

Just as we mentioned in the section about brown spots in your lawn, it’s important to note the signs of drought. Check your local weather stations for updates about your local climate and check in with your neighbors and see if they’re having similar issues.

If you find that your area isn’t in any sort of drought or dry season, then it’s highly possible that your property is getting too much sun or too little water. These can be caused by inadequate shade or poor watering from a lack of sprinklers.

Low Nitrogen

Nitrogen is one of the most essential nutrients for soil maintenance and lawn care. This is because nitrogen is one of the main building blocks of chlorophyll, which gives grass its bright green color. Chlorophyll is an important component of the growing process for plants.

Nitrogen is also crucial to the chemical makeup of grass because it is used by the plant to build amino acids, which help to form proteins. Much like in the human body, plants need protein to be able to survive. Though they are mostly made of sugars and carbohydrates, blades of grass need protein to be able to maintain their structure and shape.

Without nitrogen, you are going to face a myriad of problems around your lawn. Poor growth is the biggest issue that is caused by low soil nitrogen. If you’re spreading grass seed on low nitrogen soil, you will have a very hard time getting the seeds to sprout. If you’re using sod, you’ll also have a hard time getting it to take root.

Remedies

The issues that cause lawn death may seem big and scary – your lawn is like the welcome mat to your entire home. People see it as they drive by and enter your property, and the quality of your lawn is a first impression of your household. Issues with your lawn may directly affect the view people have of you and your home.

However, fear not – we’ve given you the resources to diagnose the issues you’re having with your lawn, and we are also here to give you the solutions so you can breathe life back into your front or back yards.

How to Fix Brown Patches

The ugly brown patches plaguing your lawn may be a much easier fix than you presume. Though it may look like your lawn is completely dying, there are several solutions that are perfect for getting rid of brown spots around your yard.

How to Fix Lawn Dehydration

Photo 9487576 | © Carlos Neto | Dreamstime.com

If you’ve determined that your lawn is starting to turn brown and die because it’s dehydrated, you’ll have to put some hard work into the solution. Consider your pre-existing lawn watering routine. Do you have a small yard that you can simply spray a hose onto now and again, or do you have a bigger yard with an entire sprinkler system?

If you’re working with just a hose and some intuition, you will need to manually water your yard much more frequently than you are now. If you’re only watering your garden once or twice a week, you’ll want to increase that every other day.

If this seems like too much effort, consider investing in a sprinkler system like this GrowGreen Rotating Lawn Sprinkler (linkt to Amazon). What’s helpful about this sprinkler style is that it’s a 360 degree rotating unit with an almost 33 foot (10 meters) spraying distance. If you place this at the center of your lawn, connected to a simple garden hose, you will be able to water your lawn for a span of almost 66 feet (20 meters).

If you already have a sprinkler system set up, you should also increase your watering schedule. If you have a system like the one mentioned above, it’s important that you turn your sprinkler on about twice as often as you do right now. Let it run for a long and deep watering earlier in the day to allow proper absorption.

How to Fix Lawn Fungus

Though it’s a pesky issue, lawn fungus is easy to take care of. What you’ll need is a high-quality spreadable fungicide and a spreader for tracking it across your property.

For fungicide, you should look for something easy to spread around, which means usually looking for something that comes in a powder or gravel form, like Scotts DiseaseEX Lawn Fungicide (link to Amazon). This style of fungicide can easily be put into a spreader like the AgriFab Push Broadcast Spreader (link to Amazon).

When spreading fungicide around your lawn, make sure to get particularly close around the areas most affected by the yellow spots, and always follow manufacturer instructions carefully.

How to Get Rid of Lawn-Eating Insects

Just as you would have done for getting rid of fungus in your lawn, you can easily get rid of insects on your lawn by spreading around an insecticide or pesticide product that directly targets the kind of bugs you’re looking to exterminate.

The spreader mentioned above would work well to spread around a broad-spectrum insecticide like Ortho Home Defense Insect Killer (link to Amazon). This pesticide is a granulated formula, which means it’s easy to use and gets directly down to the grass’ root to make sure that any insects that are nibbling at your lawn are quickly taken care of.

How to Fix Yellow Patches

Like brown patches on your lawn, yellow patches are pesky but often easy-to-solve problems that can crop up in your lawn. Check out these tips on how to get rid of yellow urine stains and botched fertilizer applications.

How to Fix Urine Lawn Stains

Urine stains on your lawn are incredibly easy to take care of. The first step is – get the dogs off your lawn! Make sure that your own pups have a fenced-off place to relieve themselves that’s far away from the most visible parts of your lawn and make sure that your neighbors know not to let their dogs use your yard as a toilet.

Though it can be difficult to make sure your dogs only use one part of the lawn, it can be made easier by walking them out to one of the outermost and least visible areas of your property.  

To get rid of existing urine stains on your lawn, be sure to soak the areas with water to wash away the excess nitrogen. Many sources suggest that this technique will help get rid of the urine stains within weeks.

How to Fix Botched Fertilizer Application

A botched fertilizer application can’t necessarily be fixed through any one method, unfortunately. Rather, you’ll simply have to re-apply fertilizer more effectively next time around. When you’re about to fertilize your yard, make sure you have all the right equipment.

You should first double-check that you have an effective spreader. Second, you should make sure that when you’re spreading the fertilizer around, you’re not leaving any spots untouched. This is what causes those ugly yellow stripes, and this problem can be solved with just a quick check and some mindfulness during application.

How to Make Your Lawn Grow

Wouldn’t we all love to have a big, lush, green lawn all year round? That is the dream of many homeowners. Luckily, some of us may actually be able to get there once we solve the problems that hold us back from the lawn of our dreams.

How to Work Through a Drought

To work through a drought, you should follow the same advice mentioned above in order to remedy lawn dehydration. Drought isn’t just a couple days of hot weather with no rain – it’s caused by unusually dry weather conditions for an extended period of time.

If you’re in a severe drought, before using sprinklers on your property, make sure you’re aware of any local water rationing methods that are being used. For homeowners in California, this is a particularly important step, as droughts are unfortunately common in your part of the country.

How to Fix Low Nitrogen Levels

Upping the nitrogen levels in the soil of your lawn is as easy as sprinkling some granulated formula – really! Like many other lawn-healing methods mentioned here, nitrogen supplements often come in a granulated formula (think thin gravel or chunky sand) that’s easy to spread through a hand-pushed spreader.

One of the most highly-rated nitrogen supplements on the market right now is Milorganite Slow-Release Nitrogen Fertilizer (link to Amazon), which can easily be pushed through a spreader to make your lawn bright green and lush.

Since nitrogen is crucial to the growth and rooting processes of the grass plants that make up your lawn, you want to make sure you’re using an effective and high-quality product. Make sure that you take your time when fertilizing your yard and get every corner and inch of the grass.

Conclusion

It doesn’t have to be hard to salvage your lawn and turn it into the lush green paradise of your homeowner dreams. All you need is a little time, some effort, and a reference guide like this one. Keep this page bookmarked for the next time you need to solve an issue with your lawn

I hope these tips have helped – happy landscaping!

Lars

I am always happy to share all my knowledge about how to keep your garden in good condition and make it special.

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