Reasons For Patchy Grass: What To Do For A Receding Lawn

Reasons For Patchy Grass: What To Do For A Receding Lawn

By: Mary Ellen Ellis

Every homeowner wants a lush, green lawn, but achieving it can be a lot of work. Then, imagine if your beautiful grass begins to die, leaving brown spots all over the lawn. Diagnose your problem and take corrective steps.

Reasons Grass is Disappearing

The most common reason that lawns deteriorate and patchy areas of poor or no growth develop is lack of sunlight. Grass thrives on full sun, so if you have shady areas, a fence that has just gone up, or a new tree blocking sunlight, you may start to lose patches of green. There are, of course, other potential issues if you know your lawn is getting enough sunlight:

  • Drought and lack of water
  • Overwatering, resulting root rot
  • Dog urine
  • Too much fertilizer
  • Over-application of herbicide for weeds
  • Pests eating grass and its roots

What to Do for a Receding Lawn

Thinning lawn repair requires that you re-seed or use sod to recover the patches lost, but before you do that, it’s important to determine what caused the thinning and to take steps to correct it so it won’t happen again.

Many of the issues that cause patchy and receding grass are simple to fix: reduce water, water more, use less fertilizer or herbicide, and take your dog for a walk. Shade may not be fixable, but you can re-seed with a grass variety that tolerates shade better or use groundcover in shady areas instead.

Pests can be a little trickier. First, you need to figure out what pest is invading your grass, and then you can use an appropriate treatment. A big sign that you have pests killing your grass is the presence of birds picking at the lawn in the morning.

  • Leatherjackets/crane flies. Leatherjackets are the larvae of crane flies and are thin, grayish worms that you’ll see eating the roots if you pull back the grass.
  • Chinch bugs. Adult chinch bugs are small and black with white wings, while the nymphs are reddish-pink.
  • Grubs. Grubs can be seen feeding on grass roots. They are white and C-shaped.

Both grubs and leatherjackets can be managed without pesticides. Look for the appropriate nematode to apply to your lawn. The beneficial nematodes will infect them with bacteria. Milky spore is another option. Chinch bugs may need to be controlled with pesticides, but you can try less toxic options first, like diatomaceous earth or insecticidal soap.

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I reseeded my lawn last fall and it looked great after a harsh winter. My lawn now does not look so great. It's kind of sparse. Will grass regrow and fill in? I used ultra black beauty and black beauty. Steve in Connecticut. anon955773 June 9, 2014

Sme neighbor may be putting something in my grass to kill it. Is it possible to have lawn tested to see what is in it? anon929156 January 30, 2014

My lawn has always been healthy and green. However, I hadn't mowed it for a month while I was on holidays and when I got back I mowed it right back quite short. I went away again for another week and when I got back, it had started to go brown in patches say, 40 percent of the lawn. The lawn isn't really compact but is spongy to walk on. Any advice? SarahSon December 1, 2012

It is interesting that too much water can cause your lawn to die. The years we get too much rain, the lawn just seems to grow faster and thicker and all I am doing is mowing.

We had a drought this past summer and everyone had a lawn that was dying. They had restrictions on how much water we could use, so most lawns looked brown all summer long.

Where you set your lawn mower is important as well. Depending on the condition of your lawn, setting it too high or too low can cause your lawn to die off too. julies November 30, 2012

I have three dogs and there is no way I can keep my lawn looking nice. We have a fence all the way around our property so the dogs can urinate anywhere in the yard. You would think they might choose one area, but they don't. You can tell where they urinate the most because the grass starts turning yellow and starts to die. John57 November 29, 2012

@anon123815 -- The times I have had problems with my lawn dying I usually have to call someone to come look at it and tell me what is going wrong. I have learned from experience it is better to just call someone right away instead of trying to figure it out on my own.

By the time I try different products, wait to see if they are going to work, I have usually wasted time and money. It is best to have a professional come and look at your lawn and pay them to treat it for you. anon213765 September 12, 2011

Our lawn is dying quickly. It started with a little mold. We had it aerated - have a lawn service who cuts and fertilizes on a regular basic. At the beginning of summer it was just a little mold. Now it is full-blown brown and no grass. What is the solution? anon179852 May 24, 2011

I've got the same problem. Would love to know what it is. It looks like we put something with a rectangular base on the grass long enough to kill it. There is usually 4 or 5 of these rectangles together. They last a few days, then heal. But then they move somewhere else. Strange. Help! anon123815 November 3, 2010

I just noticed about two weeks ago that my lawn started dying. it started in one spot and now you can see it spreading. It is November now and it is getting worse, and it looks like there is some sort of bug under it and turning the dirt up and killing my lawn. please help. should I put some kind of insect killer on it and if so what? thanks for any help. anon89018 June 8, 2010

Okay, so saying, "lawn is turning brown help me"

leaves nothing to help. We need information. anon37949 July 22, 2009

lawn is turning brown help me jfoerster 11 hours ago

We built a house 3 years ago in January. The ground was seeded that March. We've had decent success with the lawn. However, this past weekend (literally overnight) we noticed a brown patch of grass. It is rectangular about 5 foot by 3 foot. What could cause this to happen so suddenly?

How to Get Grass to Grow Under Oak Trees

Properly selected shade grass can grow well under oak trees with a little patience and extra lawn maintenance. The fine-leaved fescue grasses are recommended by the University of Rhode Island for planting under trees. There is no need to give up the notion of having grass under your oak trees. The key is to learn a few growing tips to successfully get grass in this area of the yard.

Prune away any branches that are lower than 8 to 10 feet from the soil line. Removing these branches increases light to the grass, advises the University of Rhode Island.

Examine the oak tree and prune away smaller branches, particularly ones inside the tree canopy. Thinning the tree does not change its general appearance and reduces shading from the canopy.

  • Properly selected shade grass can grow well under oak trees with a little patience and extra lawn maintenance.
  • Examine the oak tree and prune away smaller branches, particularly ones inside the tree canopy.

Place an appropriate number of tree fertilizer stakes into the ground at regular intervals. Additional nutrients for the tree reduces soil nutrient competition with the grass.

Adjust lawn mower blades to their highest setting. Shade grasses should remain between 2.5 to 3.5 inches, recommends the University of Rhode Island.

Fertilize the shade grass with a low-nitrogen lawn fertilizer, instead of the traditional lawn fertilizers used on non-shady grass.

Reduce watering the grass to once a week or bi-weekly. Too much moisture increases the chances of powdery mildew and other diseases, warns the University of Rhode Island.

Dig a 2-inch deep narrow trench just beyond the oak tree’s drip line to provide irrigation to the tree while preventing a rise in moisture levels in the grassy area under the tree.

Minimize traffic flow in this area of the yard to prevent damage to the grass under oak trees.

Frequent pruning and trimming of oak trees can cause susceptibility to disease and pest infestations. Use a tree wound dressing on all cuts made to decrease the probability of these problems.

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