10 Problems Your Lawn is Warning You About


Jul 10, 2020

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When we’re sick, we can head to the doctor and tell them exactly where it hurts. Your lawn, however, can’t do that. What your lawn can do is display telltale signs of common issues that will clue you in on what the issue is.

Whether its browning patches, widespread browning, random dark circles, or other symptoms, your lawn is trying to tell you something’s wrong. Find out what the issue may be with the 10 problems your lawn is warning you about below.

Brown or Dark-Green Circles in Your Lawn

No aliens aren’t visiting your lush turf and leaving behind crop circles. Those are actually fairy rings.

Though the name may leave you imagining adorable fairies prancing through your yard, creating circles in their wake, a fungus is to blame. These arcs of unsightly browning grass or grass that is significantly darker than the rest are caused by a wide range of fungi from the Basidiomycetes class.

The change in your grass isn’t the fungus attacking your turf directly. Instead, it could be the fungus breaking down organic matter in the soil, releasing nitrogen, and causing dark-green growth. In the case of browning grass, it could be the fungus’ mycelia becoming so dense it restricts water movement in the soil.

You may also see sudden mushroom growth in the same circular pattern after it rains.

Ridding your lawn of fairy rings can be difficult, as you must address the root of the issue to make any fixes permanent. The best permanent fix is to find and remove the organic matter that’s causing the fungus to grow, which is generally decaying tree roots, wood left behind from old construction, or excessive thatch. In more persistent cases, you must completely replace the sod to rectify the issue.

For a temporary fix, you can use a fungicide to kill the fungus in browning grass. If the fungus has caused deeper-green grass, use nitrogen-rich fertilizer to green up the rest of your lawn to match the ring.

Extensive Browning or Wilting

Your once-green lawn starting to show signs of extensive wilting or browning is a tell-tale sign of drought damage. This means it’s time to change your watering schedule.

Ideally, you’re watering your lawn deeply two to three times per week. This deep, infrequent watering allows the water to get deep into the soil and entice your grass’ roots to grow deeper.

If your watering on a different schedule, like light watering daily or just watering once per week, switch to a two- to three-day-per-week schedule with longer watering times and watch for improvement over time.

This can also be a sign of untimely watering. The ideal time to water is when the air is coolest and the sun is still low, which is generally between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. If you’re watering later in the day, the water may be evaporating before seeping into the soil.

Small- to Medium-Size Brown Patches

Are you noticing small- to medium-sized brown patches throughout your once-beautiful lawn? This can be the symptom of multiple issues, making it tough to diagnose.

The first issue could be a dog regularly using that part of your yard as its personal rest stop. Dog urine is rich in nitrogen, causing lawn burning, just like if you apply too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Dog urine also contains salt and other compounds that can impact the pH levels in the soil and cause browning.

If you have a dog or cat that frequently spends time in that area, try keeping them away from the browning areas and see if the brown spots fade. You can prevent these brown spots by immediately watering the area where your dog urinates to dilute the urine.

If a dog isn’t the issue, you’re dealing with high- or low-pH soil. Pick up a soil-testing kit at your local lawn-and-garden store and test the soil to determine if the pH is high or low. If you find it’s high, meaning it’s acidic, rectify the issue by amending the soil with pulverized lime or wood ash. If the pH is too low, meaning it’s too alkaline, amend it with sulfur or pine needles.

If pH isn’t the issue, look for obstructions in your soil, like a large rock or compacted soil, and verify that the area’s sprinklers are operational and aren’t missing the browning patch.

Sudden Large Bald Spots

A wide range of issues can cause bald spots in your lawn, but there’s generally one culprit for sudden bald spots: a pest. Three types of worms can do this kind of sudden mass damage: sod webworms, armyworms, and cutworms.

These worms shear off entire blades of grass and gobble them up. With a large enough population, they can create sudden bare and dying patches of grass in your lawn. While these are easy to mix up with brown patches from a distance, up close, you’ll find the grass blades aren’t just browning, they’re completely cut off near the base.

The telltale signs of these worms are burrows in the soil and birds suddenly flocking to your yard and pecking at the ground like it’s an all-you-can-eat worm buffet.

Discolored Streaks

If your grass has streaks of dark green, yellow, or brown, this is a sign of uneven fertilization. The areas of your lawn that received the right amount of fertilizer will be dark green, but areas with too little fertilizer will be a lighter green or yellow. If you overfertilized an area, it may burn and leave brown streaks.

This is relatively common when fertilizing manually or when using a broadcast spreader that’s incorrectly calibrated.

Don’t resort to fertilizing again to even it out, as you run the risk of overfertilizing and causing even more problems. Your safest bet is simply watering the area and keeping it in the best shape possible until your next scheduled fertilization.

When performing your next fertilization, make sure to correctly calibrate your spreader and consider switching to a drop spreader, which delivers fertilizer more uniformly. If this doesn’t fix the issue, you may have to consider replacing the dead areas with fresh sod.

Grass Pulls up in Clumps

Not all symptoms of distressed turf show on the surface. Some happen under the soil. One such symptom is if your grass appears to come up in large clumps or you can grab it by the blades and lift it upward like a doormat.

This is a sign grubs are eating your grass’ roots. These thick, white, wormlike pests live just below the soil’s surface and dine on your turf’s roots until it becomes so loose it pulls right up.

You can verify the issue by pulling up the turf and looking for the grubs near the soil’s surface.

If you find grubs, banish them from your yard with a grub-killing insecticide.

Browning Grass With Frayed Tips

Not every lawn symptom is a pest or disease. Some are simply from the tools you use. If you notice your grass is starting to turn brown blade by blade, and the tips of the browning blades are frayed, you’re likely dealing with dull mower blades.

Instead of cutting the blades of grass cleanly, a dull mower blade rips the grass, leaving behind a frayed tip. This added stress also makes your grass more susceptible to disease, compounding the issues.

If you notice this issue, take your mower to a service shop to have the blade sharpened or replaced. As long as the grass hasn’t taken on a disease, it should repair itself over time with proper nutrition, watering, and mowing.

Grass Appears Matted Down

If you notice your turf appears matted down in large areas and normal in other areas, you could be dealing with a fungal infection. The fungus gets on the grass blades and weighs them down to the point they almost lay flat. This matting is generally worst after rain or with early-morning dew.

You can confirm this is fungus by examining the grass up close. Don’t look at the dead grass. Instead, focus on the not-quite-dead grass surrounding the matted area. If it’s fungal, you’ll notice blade discoloration on this grass.

You can further confirm a fungal outbreak by checking your turf when the morning dew is still present. The dew will stick to the fungus, exposing its spiderweb-like layout.

You can rid your lawn of this fungus using a fungicide treatment.

Parts of Your Lawn Look Bleached

If most of your lawn is a deep green, but some areas look like you dumped a gallon of bleach on them, your lawn’s telling you there’s a problem. This issue is likely a late spring and early summer fungal infection called Ascochyta Leaf Blight.

Ascochyta Leaf Blight can act quite quickly, turning your lawn from a deep green to a straw color overnight. You can further confirm its Ascochyta Leaf Blight by examining the grass blades up close. They will brown in the middle but green near the tip and root. You’ll also see small, dark-brown spots on the blade, which are the fungus’ fruiting bodies.

Fortunately, Ascochyta Leaf Blight generally doesn’t kill the entire blade, as it generally leaves the roots uninfected. Your turf will return to normal with the proper fungicide and time, deep and infrequent watering and mowing at the correct height.

Repeated Fungal Outbreaks

The occasional fungal infection in your yard, whether it’s fairy rings, blight, mold, or other fungi, is manageable with fungicide and time. But when you’re lawn repeatedly gets fungal diseases, this is a sign of chronic overwatering or incorrect watering.

To prevent overwatering, only schedule watering 2-3 times per week and water only enough to dampen the soil 6-12 inches below the surface. Also, install a rain gauge so you don’t add more water on top of heavy rains.

Standing water in cool, dark areas is a breeding ground for fungi, so never water your lawn at night, as the water that doesn’t seep into the soil will sit overnight. Sitting water is prime real estate for fungal growth. Stick to watering between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. for optimal water absorption and evaporation.

Pay Attention to What Your Lawn’s Telling You

While your lawn can’t schedule a doctor’s appointment to find out what ails it, you can proactively catch issues before they turn into larger, more expensive problems. Paying close attention to changes in your yard will help pick up on these symptoms early and stop the underlying cause before it’s too late.

So, when you’re out mowing, weeding, or just hanging out with the family, keep a keen eye out for these 10 signs of lawn distress.