Blog title in front of dying grass

Nov 23, 2019 - Lawn Health

Why is My Lawn Dying? 8 Common Reasons for Brown Spots

It’s a beautiful morning. You grab a cup of coffee, stretch, and step to the window. You look out over your lawn and can’t help but notice that instead of vivid green, your grass is fading towards brown. How can that be? You give your lawn a lot of love and attention!

The good news is that it may not be your fault. But then again, it could be something you’re doing that is making your lawn lose its luster. In any case, when your lawn starts to turn brown it is telling you that something is wrong.

Here are 8 of the most common reasons lawns start to brown and what you can do to fix the situation.

8. Blame the Dog

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If you’re seeing brown patches of grass in the area that you know to be your best friend’s personal pee-ground, you probably already know the culprit.

Dogs’ urine contains high amounts of nitrogen and salts. Because of this your lawn will get what’s called lawn burn. Essentially, the nitrogen and salts throw off your soil’s pH which “burns” your grass.

How to fix it: Step one is to find a better place for your pooch to do his business.

As for the burned grass, it’s done. Rake away as much of the dead grass as you can. Then add some limestone and water it generously. The limestone will help to restore the pH balance. Wait a week or so and add some fresh topsoil and reseed the area, watering it consistently for a few weeks.

By the way, if your dog’s pee actually improves the color and growth of your grass, that means your lawn is lacking nitrogen. Jump to #5.

7. Dull Mower Blades

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If your lawn is browning all over, especially a day or two after you’ve mowed, you might want to check your mower blade. Dull mower blades tear or rip the tops off of your grass rather than cutting them cleanly. This leaves torn shreds at the top of the plant that will brown quickly. This also leaves your lawn susceptible to disease and parasites.

How to fix it: You guessed it, sharpen those mower blades. Or, if you prefer, simply buy new ones. Aim for sharpening those blades every 25 cuts or so. If you mow once per week, that’s only a couple of times per year. You can handle that.

6. Excessive Thatch

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Thatch is essentially dead bits of grass and other organic matter that lays on top of your soil. A little bit of thatch is a good thing. Too much thatch, think ½ deep or more, is a problem. Not only can it start to choke the soil, but your grass may also try to set roots in the thatch instead of deep into the soil like it really needs.

How to fix it: If your problem isn’t too severe, a thorough watering may do the trick. Otherwise, use a rake to pull up as much of the thatch as you can and then water. Or, if you really want to make lemonade out of these lemons, use a liquid dethatcher that will use enzymes and microbes to breakdown that thatch into useable minerals.

5. Shallow Roots

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If your grass can’t establish nice, deep roots it will struggle to absorb the minerals and water that it needs to stay healthy. One common reason this happens is compacted soil.

Essentially, the soil becomes packed too tightly for the roots to push through. If you’re noticing water pooling in certain areas or running off of your lawn, that’s a sign that the soil is compacted and it’s time to act.

How to fix it: The fastest way to help your lawn establish deep roots is by aerating your soil. Aerating is a process that loosens the soil and helps it absorb air and water. You can do this by using a hand aerator or aerating machine that essentially punches holes into your lawn. Another method is to use a liquid aerator that breaks down and loosens compacted topsoil. You’ll see the benefits of a well-aerated lawn quickly.

4. Mower Height

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You don’t mind mowing your lawn, but you don’t want to do it more than you need to, right? That’s why you set your lawnmower to one of the lowest settings. Bad move.

Cutting your lawn too short is damaging to the grass. For one, short-cut grass doesn’t establish deep roots which means it won’t be able to pull in the minerals and water it needs from the soil. But just like those roots, the blade has work to do, too. If there is not enough grass blade, the plant cannot capture enough sunlight to produce food.

How to fix it: Buck up. Raise your mower height to somewhere between 2 and 3.75 inches and mow more frequently. A healthy lawn can handle the increased tire traffic from your mower far better than it can handle being cut too short.

3. Lacking Nutrients

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If your lawn isn’t exactly browning, but it has faded from that lush green color that you love to an almost yellowish-tan, that means it’s not getting all of the nutrients it needs. The big three nutrients for any lawn are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. If your lawn isn’t getting enough of any of these three nutrients, it will start to suffer.

How to fix it: This one’s easy. Give your lawn what it needs -fertilizer. To hit the nail on the head, have your soil tested. This will tell you exactly which nutrients are lacking and you can buy a fertilizer that is specially formulated to increase that particular nutrient (or nutrients). If you need a quick fix, aim for a balanced fertilizer that can give your lawn a little bit of everything without going too heavy on any one nutrient.

2. Improper Watering

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If you’ve opted for a light daily dose of water for your lawn, you’re doing it a disservice. Light waterings, no matter how frequent, don’t allow the moisture to sink deep enough into the soil to create a rich environment for those roots. If the water never goes deep, why would the plant set deep roots? It won’t.

How to fix it: Instead of frequent, light waterings go for a longer soak less frequently. For instance, instead of watering for 15 minutes each day, try watering your lawn for an hour or so once or twice each week. You won’t be using any more water and the water you do use will actually be doing its job by soaking down in. If you notice that your water is running off instead of soaking in, see #7 above.

1. Fertilizer Burn

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Moderation in all things. Over-fertilizing your lawn can create excesses of nitrogen and salt that causes the same sort of burning effect that your dog’s pee does. Too much fertilizer can disrupt the pH balance in the lawn and wreak havoc on your grass.

How to fix it: Dial back on the fertilizing. Don’t you love an answer that actually reduces your workload? If you want to play it safe, get your soil tested. Even if you’re high in nitrogen, your lawn may need a boost of phosphorus or potassium. If the burn is too bad, you may need to start from scratch with new seeding or sod.

Bring on the Green

If your lawn is starting to look a little brown or fading to yellow, don’t wait it out. It’s your lawn’s way of crying out for help. Do a little investigating to figure out which problem you are having and you can get to work fixing it.

Follow these tips and your lawn will be so green your neighbors might be a little bit too!