Here’s Why Your Lawn Is Dying – And How You Can Save It

A beautiful, well-maintained lawn can be a place of peace, rest, and relaxation for the whole family – but when lawn problems arise, they can turn your place of peace into a source of frustration. Uneven watering and fertilizer application, dog damage, insect infestation, fungal disease, and improper mowing can all cause dead patches to appear and spread in your lawn. But you don’t have to just let your lawn die – you can take action to nurse it back to health.

To save your lawn, you’ll first need to be able to diagnose the problem. Then, you’ll be able to treat the issue, whether it’s insects, dog urine, uneven fertilization, or something else. Most lawns can be brought back from the brink of oblivion with insecticides, compost, overseeding, or a change in watering or fertilizing habits.

Assess the Cause of the Damage

It’s not always easy to determine the cause of dying grass. Causes of lawn death can include:

  • Insect infestations, such as chinch bugs, sod webworm, or white grubs;
  • Fungal disease;
  • Dog activity;
  • Uneven fertilizer application or over-application of fertilizer; and
  • Improper mowing.

If insects are at the root of your lawn problems, you may be able to see them in your lawn. You’ll need to uproot a small section of grass to look for white grubs, which kill grass by feeding on its roots. The dead turf should come up easily, in large sections, and you’ll see small, c-shaped worms in the soil below. Use the coffee-can method to diagnose chinch bugs. Sod webworm larvae may be visible feeding on grass blades; the mature moths may be seen flitting about the lawn at night. Spray a section of grass with soapy water and wait 10 minutes to see if webworms come to the surface.

Often, it can be hard to diagnose the cause of damage just by looking at your dying grass; fungal disease, drought, and other problems can cause similar lawn symptoms. Rapidly expanding grass death that isn’t caused by insects may be the result of fungal disease. Small patches of dead grass can occur when dogs do their business on the lawn; dog waste may leave dead spots surrounded by especially lush, green grass. Thin, dry areas can also be the result of compacted soil and poor watering.

Stripes on your lawn are usually either the result of uneven fertilization or improper mowing. Yellow stripes occur when fertilizer is applied unevenly; tan or brown stripes are more often the result of uneven mowing.

Fix Your Lawn

Once you know what’s causing your lawn problems, you can take action. If you have insects or fungal disease, you’ll need to treat your lawn. Contact your local gardening extension service or your lawn care service provider to find the right insecticide or other treatment regimen. Insects like chinch bugs, sod webworm, and white grubs can be treated with insecticide. Fungal infections can be hard to diagnose, but can often be treated by changing your watering, fertilizing, and aerating practices; in some cases, application of a fungicide can help.

Dog damage will usually take care of itself if the dogs in question are kept at bay; you can speed your lawn’s recovery by watering down the damaged area with a hose to rinse away excess nitrogen in the soil. Stripes caused by uneven fertilization or mowing can be fixed by adjusting your mower or being more judicious in your application of fertilizer. Thin, dry areas can be nurtured with extra watering and aeration.

If insects, fungus, or other lawn problems have left you with large bare spots in your lawn, you’ll need to encourage the growth of new grass through overseeding. What is overseeding? It involves applying new grass seed to areas of your lawn that are bare, to encourage the growth of new grass over these areas.

Overseeding can help you create more consistent lawn coverage, but it may help to amend your soil first. Dig up the damaged areas, and about six inches of the healthy grass surrounding them, to a depth of two inches; then level off with a mixture of healthy topsoil and compost or fertilizer. Reseed, cover with straw, and keep the overseeded areas moist until the new grass takes hold. Within a few weeks, you’ll start to see those bare, dead areas spring to new life.

Lawn problems can be among the most frustrating for many homeowners, but you don’t have to stand by helplessly as your lawn dries up and dies. You can save your dying lawn, and make it something to be proud of.


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