While some homeowners hire a comprehensive lawn care service, others only hire a lawn mowing service.  In the latter case it is up to the homeowner to diagnose and care for lawn damage or disease.  Like you, your lawn is a living, dynamic thing. Unfortunately, it’s a living thing that can’t directly communicate to you what ails it when it isn’t well.

You’ll know something isn’t right once your lush greenery that you’ve so diligently manicured and nourished suddenly starts withering and thinning into unsightly bare spots. By that time, it might or might not be too late to nurse it back to health. One situation or the other comes down to recognizing the cause’s signs, then acting accordingly.

Of course, the trick is that your lawn’s dead, drying patches could be saying numerous things from “Ease up the water” to “Some weather we’re having this month, eh?”

So what causes lawn damage and how can we prevent or repair?


Yes, plants obviously need moisture as much as any other living thing at all.

Like plenty of other organisms, your lawn can also drown.

If your lawn has started sporting dry, bare patches, the lawn has often (but not always) been over watered, suggests To be sure of it, turn up a little visible soil underneath the apparently ailing turf, turn it side-to-side a bit, and look for any signs of dryness.

If you find any, first explore whether or not the lawn is getting the water it needs at all. After turning on any automated sprinklers you may have installed (if any), determine whether or not the spraying water is getting near the dying spot at all. If a sprinkler isn’t spraying, it’s time to get it out of the ground to be disassembled, cleaned, and finally returned to service.

Should you find one that’s steered its spray off course, hold the sprinkler’s pop-up head when it comes up and redirect it toward the dying area.

In some cases, commercially available supplements can help hydrate a drying lawn. Drying can be simply an inevitability of time. Open some holes with a garden fork within the impacted area before adding some commercial wetting agents. After watering the dry spot with the wetting agents, water the remaining lawn as usual.

To the other side of the coin, recognizes four particularly obvious signs that a lawn could be receiving too much moisture.

First and foremost, beware of Squishing. Hours after finishing a watering, does your grass still squish beneath your footsteps? If so, then it’s probably receiving more water than it can absorb which can lead to further lawn damage.

When you water, note where else the water ends up beyond the area being irrigated. Runoff into the street or other parts of the lawn can be another sure sign of over watering.

Wilting can be particularly confusing. While it can certainly indicate drowning in over watering, it can also suggest that the turf isn’t receiving enough moisture. Luckily, common sense addresses this easily enough; just consider what you’re doing. If grass blades curl up or don’t spring back from your footsteps even after a good sprinkling – otherwise, signs that turf isn’t getting enough water – then you may very well be overdoing it.

Fungus may indicate more than simple over watering, though excessive moisture is key to mold, blight and patch problems gaining footholds. You might also be simply watering with poor timing. Sprinkle early in the morning. It gives moisture a chance to evaporate, as opposed to settling on the lawn overnight and letting the fungus grow in the accommodating moisture.

DISEASE notes that several external afflictions could be damaging your lawn. The various possible maladies can often be recognized by the state of the bare and drying spots themselves, if a good homeowner knows what to identify.

For example, does a mushroom border separate the ailing lawn section from otherwise healthy-looking grass? If so, you’re dealing with what’s known as Fairy Ring. Meditate some on the above suggestions concerning problematic fungal growth and watering habits. The rings tend to most frequently inhabit dry, under-watered, sandy, poorly fertilized soils. Where the grass has dried, do all you can to improve water penetration, particularly via core aeration. Fertilizers can sometimes “mask” dark-green rings by evening out the lawn’s color.

In other instances…

  • Spring Dead Spot: These particular ill-looking sections will be about the size of dinner plates. As the name implies, you can suppose that the warming temperatures of spring and early summer are stressing your grass if these pop up during the changing seasons. considers Spring Dead Spot serious, but treatable, among nearly all Bermuda grass varieties caused by fungi. To prevent it, manage nitrogen-fertilizer levels carefully, as an excess nitrogen content aids the disease’s spread. Make sure and plant fungicides in the fall to prevent thriving causal fungi in the spring.
  • Dollar Spot: Think of this as a lesser version of the spring dead spots. Again explained in part by the name, these smaller bare spots will be about the size of a dollar coin and rear their heads in the warmer times of spring and summer. This fungal parasite thrives in dry conditions and kills the entire plant. Combat it with steady watering, but not in the late afternoon or evening. Keep in mind also that low nitrogen fertility encourages the disease.
  • A Brown Patch usually shows up during the warmer part of the year, starting as an area the size of a spring dead spot or dollar spot before expanding with time. Caused by Rhizoctonia bacteria and also aided by excess nitrogen build-up, this warm-weather affliction spreads fast once the temperature hits roughly 65 degrees Fahrenheit, hits a prime growth period at 80-85 degrees, and spreads fast from there, reports. To prevent it, avoid fast-release nitrogen fertilizers and scale back mowing when the weather grows most hot and humid. Prune overhanging vegetation to let in more sunlight and oxygen. During cooler months, core aerate the soil to increase oxygen penetration further.

These will often signal issues with either watering or shading.

Other Lawn Problems

Think of over or under-watering your grass as a “True or False” question. Occasionally, Mother Nature throws in a “C” answer.

If you thoroughly investigate that bare patch and lawn damage only find that the lawn area receives just the right moisture, then it could be one of several other issues. Again, it’s a matter of knowing the right signs.

  • Lawn Scalping damages or even removes a lawn’s crowns with infrequent mowing, too much leaf material discarded during mowing, or perhaps both. As a result, the lawn slowly dies as it grows thin, structurally weak, and more susceptible to weeds that choke it off. Scalped areas tend to be a brown or yellow color. At’s suggestion, if your lawn has been scalped, then monitor your mowing and be sure to trim it to your grass species’ recommended height only. To cover all bases, consider also giving the lawn an iron supplement.
  • If dealing with a Lack of Sunlight, address the excessive shade choking off your lawn by first pruning any surrounding foliage. It could also be that the particular grass currently suffering just isn’t suited to the particular environment, or that the shaded area may not be suited at all for healthy grass growth.
  • With Compacted Soil comes drainage issues that will dry up grass, inadequate oxygen that chokes the life from the lawn, poorly established root structure, or a combination of the above. To deal with this and save your lawn, try coring the soil. You’ll know the soil has been compacted if it no longer feels springy to the touch, according to’s advice. Also beware of soil that’s grown too hard to dig a shovel into it. Try cutting your mowing down to about 1/3 shorter than the current height. Before you core aerate the soil, water it heavily at least twice a few days before. Not only should you leave the aeration to a professional, but make sure the technician employs a punch core aerator instead of a spike aerator. After aeration, rake a lightweight compost top-dressing into the lawn. After that, continue mowing and watering adjustments as indicated.
  • Excessive organic matter build-up causes generally Poor Soil Drainage that result in unhealthy overall soil quality and soil compaction. Start with coring the area. Also, consider verti-mowing to loosen the ground. If neither alleviates the problem, reassess the area’s overall lawn suitability. According to, it’s entirely possible that a high water table, low grading compared with the property surrounding the lawn, hard materials beneath the soil, soil that’s been extremely compacted, or any combination of the above could be causing problems. You might install an underground drain of one variety or another, such as a gavel-filled, covered ditch called a French drain, or a drainage well. Though drainage problems could arise elsewhere as a result, you could also build up the soil surrounding the poor-drainage area. For a more decorative-yet-practical approach, a pond or rain garden will catch excess rainwater in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. Attaching a rain barrel to a downspout could significantly reduce how much water runs off into the yard and drowns the grass – plus, the rainwater can later be used to water your yard and even shave off a small amount of billed water usage, as a bonus.
  • Mowing bare above-ground runners will decimate green leaf and cause Excessive Thatching. The solution could be a verti-mowing regime, followed by more regular mowing. The University of Illinois Extension Lawn Challenge examined the excessive-thatching problem fairly extensively. What’s known as “thatch” is the layer of combined living and dead matter resting between the soil surface and green matter above it, made primarily of turf grass roots and stems. The combinations of over watering and nitrogen-heavy fertilizers just exacerbate the problems. The best solutions will almost always come back to aerating. You can take your pick whether to rent the equipment yourself or hire a service to aerate for you, but either way, the soil has to be opened up. Root systems improve the more room they have to grow, and it leads to an overall healthier lawn.


There’s sometimes a love-hate relationship between your lawn’s health and nitrogen fertilizers.

As noted several times already, excessive nitrogen content can lead to any number of turf afflictions resulting in unsightly bare spots. The University of Minnesota Extension notes that plants indeed demand both phosphorus and nitrogen to mature in as much health as possible. Not coincidentally, many fertilizers contain both ingredients in abundance. Where runoff and drainage runs wild, though, these two ingredients can make their uninvited ways onto streets and neighboring properties.

In addition, nitrogen in its nitrate form easily leaches downward to contaminate groundwater, where content of over 10 parts per million nitrate-nitrogen has been shown to cause the infant oxygen-use disorder methemoglobinemia. University of Minnesota researchers have traced numerous Minnesota-well contamination issues particularly back to a combination of animal manure, septic-tank issues, and fertilizer spills. To maintain an effective-but-safe nitrogen level, researchers particularly recommend fertilizing new lawns with 0.5 lb. N/1000 sq. ft. (0.5-1 inch into soil) before planting. Alternately, existing lawns do well receiving 0.5-1.0 lb. N/1000 sq. ft. two to four times per year. It bears further noting that as long as a mower evenly distributes them, lawns can receive the fertilizer equivalent to one fertilizer application per year simply by leaving clippings on the grass while mowing.

Generally speaking, have your soil tasted and abide as closely as possible by the ensuing fertilization recommendations. If using a phosphorous fertilizer, check state regulations; some, such as Minnesota, have restrictions in place on phosphorous use. Water the lawn right after fertilizing, but note the runoff pattern. Any nitrogen fertilizer that runs off the lawn and into the street should be cleaned up right away.

Don’t forget, you only get one lawn with which you can make a good first impression. It can’t tell you when it’s sick. Unfortunately, you may sometimes only know something is wrong once there’s already a problem. Embrace the good news: as with any illness in any living creature, early detection could save your lawn’s life, and your further expense and labor repairing it in the long run.

© 2013

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