Common Lawn Problems
Whether you have brown patches, bare spots or just too many weeds, many lawn problems are fueled by poor environmental conditions with soil, water and sunlight. Correcting those problems is the key to sustainable lawn care. Moisture and shade issues can be adjusted to favor grass. Soils in poor condition can be amended and revitalized to grow healthy, dense lawns that crowd out weeds and tolerate insects and disease.
Knowing what weeds you're dealing with will help you manage them.
Knowing about lawn insect pests will help you make good pest management decisions.
Mowing, Fertilizing, and Watering
Learn to feed, water, and mow your lawn like a pro. You can do a lot for your lawn’s beauty by fertilizing, watering, and mowing the right way.
Common Lawn problems
Dog spot, or spots where dogs pee—especially in hot dry weather—tend to burn out and kill grasses. In cooler, wet weather dog urine may cause a burst of top growth. Either way, the lawn can become ugly and patchy. Consider creating a low visibility area for dogs to pee or watering the area soon after to dilute the urine. Walk your dog along a road or to the park. Keep in mind healthy grass will tolerate some urine.
- Dog Urine Damage on Turfgrass (pdf) - Cornell Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic
- Animal Urine Damage in Turf (pdf) - Perdue University Turf Science
Spring ephemeral weeds leave bare patches. Weeds like lesser celandine grow early and disappear by May, crowding turfgrasses and then leaving room for other weeds when they are gone;
Road and sidewalk salt can cause burnout in lawn edges and serious injury to landscape plants. While there isn't much you can do about road salt applied by your city or town, there are things you can do to lessen your chance of causing injury.
- The Effects of Deicing Salts on Landscapes - University of Minnesota Extension
- How to Reduce Plant Injury from Winter Salt Applications - University of Massachusetts - Amherst
Soil can become compressed into a hard impenetrable mass that dries quickly, feels like cement and does not grow grass. Aeration fixes compacted soils and helps you work in amendments that improve soil.
- The Cornell Turfgrass Team explains soil compaction and aeration
White grub damage is not as intense a problem on home lawns as it is for athletic fields and golf course fairways. But grubs, which feed on the roots of lawn grasses, can cause dieback and areas of brown or dead grasses. Many wild animals, including opossums, skunks and crows, look for grubs to eat and may tear up parts of a lawn to get them. Pro Tip: You can combat lawn grubs using nature's own weapons (nematodes)!
- Biocontrol Around the Home: Nematodes for White Grubs (pdf)
- Grubs in Your Lawn? a guide for lawn care professionals and homeowners (pdf)
Turfgrass diseases are most common on high-maintenance grass, like a golf course. High-maintenance golf grasses are often cut very short, suffer high foot traffic and build up disease organisms that routinely affect them. Lawn grasses are usually mowed higher, less stressed and don’t often have disease issues that require control. Some common turfgrass diseases are described on the Turfgrass Disease page and the Cornell Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic.
Dormancy or Drought
Drought – When hot, dry summer weather arrives, it is natural for grasses to dry up. Letting your lawn go dormant is a sustainable practice. Lawns can go dormant for six weeks without dying, but it’s not for everyone. If you plan to keep it green all summer, water 1” a week, including rainfall. Raise the height of your mower blades and sharpen them after 10 hours of use to get a clean cut on the blades of grass and reduce water loss.
Acidity or Alkalinity of Soil
The soil pH is off – The pH of any substance is the level of acidity or alkalinity of that substance. Most plants grow well in soil that is between 6.5 to 7.5 pH, which is very close to neutral (7.0). Extremes in soil acidity or alkalinity create poor growth and other problems, but some plants like more acidic soil, including pines, rhododendrons and blueberries.
Consider whether the area of poor growth is too shady for typical lawn grass. If the area receives less than 6 hours of direct sunlight you can still have a beautiful lawn with the right grass seed. Sun & Shade grass seed mixes will provide shade-tolerant varieties. Fine fescues (Red, Chewings, Hard fescues) are among the most shade-tolerant grasses available. Tall fescue is also shade and drought tolerant. Consider ways to trim and thin shade-causing trees and shrubs to allow more light to penetrate.
- Growing Turf Under Shaded Conditions - Pennsylvania State University'
- Alternatives to grass - University of Illinois Extension
Low spots, clay soil layers or overly compacted areas may collect water, which will kill grass. Vehicles can create ruts that collect water. Broken sprinkler heads may also result in saturated soil. See Clemson University's guide "Aerating Lawns" to help fix drainage problems and improve lawn growing conditions.
Need to Add Grass Seed (Overseeding)
Bare soil and clumps of grasses show poor growing conditions and a lack of seeding. Need to overseed and not sure how to do it? Let Cornell's turfgrass experts teach you how to Choose the Right Grass Seed.
You’ve got Zoysia! – Zoysia grass is the one warm-season (Southern) grass type that will grow on Long Island. It is vigorous, dense, stiff, chokes out all weeds and stays green for about half the year (it’s brown the other six months!). Learn about growing zoysia grass.