Common Lawn Problems (and How to Fix Them)

Lawn Problems

There comes a time when every homeowner sees a downturn in their lawn. Fortunately, most lawn troubles are super easy to resolve. Let’s explore some common lawn problems and how to fix them, along with useful prevention tips for the future. 

Striped lawn

Striped lawn
Wikimedia | CC-BY-SA-2.5

Let’s face it, stripes only work for accessories and clothing. A striped lawn is a call for help! Long, yellow stripes in your green turf are caused by uneven fertilizer application. 

If the stripes are darker and appear more tan than yellow, chances are there’s an issue with your lawn mower. 

Symptoms: 

  • Yellow, dried-out stripes

Solution:

  • Overlap wheel tracks when you’re applying fertilizer with a drop-type spreader.
  • In case of tan stripes, adjust your lawn mower to cut evenly to avoid scalping the grass.

White grubs

white grubs in soil
benmenting | Pixabay

Grubs are tiny chafer and Japanese beetle larvae that live in the soil and devour lawn roots. These worm-like, milky-white creatures are curled into a C shape and have three pairs of legs near their brown heads. A large population of these grubs will cause your lush green lawn to wilt and die. 

Symptoms: 

  • Irregularly shaped lawn sections dying or wilting
  • Dull, brown, and sparse-looking lawn in the fall
  • The regular appearance of skunks, gophers, and armadillos in your yard as they feed on these grubs

Note: If you suspect grubs in your lawn, perform a little test. Check for them by cutting the sod near the edge of a brown, affected area and lifting the sod. If it rolls or comes up easily, like a carpet, you’ve got grubs! Their white bodies are fairly easy to spot against the dark soil.

Solution:

  • Pesticides and insecticides aren’t always necessary (or effective) to treat and control white grubs. If you pull up a piece of the brown area and see less than 15 grubs per square foot, your lawn needs no treatment and will recover on its own
  • One of the safest biological controls for grubs is beneficial nematodes. Apply a combination of Heterorhabditis nematodes and water to the soil in fall or spring. Wait for a few days after the application and reseed or replant to spruce up the damaged areas
  • Note that chemical insecticides with imidacloprid do not work on mature grubs. So, if you’re using one, make sure you apply it when the grubs are still immature (typically in July and August)

Crabgrass

Crabgrass
Wikimedia | CC-BY-2.5

Crabgrass is an opportunistic annual grass that thrives in lawns that are mowed too low and unfertilized. It’s a fast-growing, vigorous, and highly adaptable grassy weed that will push other grasses out of your lawn over time. It loves clay soil and compacted lawns.

This weed can only be controlled if treated at the right time. Many homeowners apply pre-emergent herbicide late in the spring or summer, but that’s too late! 

Symptoms: 

  • Easily noticeable thick patches sprouting above your turf
  • A lawn that appears unpleasant and full of weeds 

Solution:

  • A non-chemical solution for crabgrass is corn gluten meal. Apply it in early spring, but to be sure you should contact your local cooperative extension to know the best time for application. The timing is crucial as the window is only 10 days short
  • Using organic mulch is also helpful as it will block sunlight from reaching the weed seeds. Also, check out Lawn Love’s handy tips to get rid of crabgrass.

Compacted soil 

mpacted soil 
Ron Lach | Pexels

Compacted soil is a real problem for lawns. The soil beneath every lawn tends to become hard and compacted even if you did the work and prepped it correctly before planting. High foot traffic is one of the main reasons soil compacts faster. 

Once your lawn is compacted, it only has 10% open space available to hold air and water. No fertilizer, water, or air can reach the roots, leaving them severely stressed. This eventually weakens the lawn and allows weeds to grow. 

Symptoms: 

  • Slow root growth
  • Thinning turf
  • Off-color or yellowing lawn
  • The appearance of weeds such as goosegrass, knotweed, and annual bluegrass
  • Water puddling or pooling in low areas or running right off high areas
  • Shallow rooting in trees

Solution:

  • Lawn aeration is the best way to relieve soil compaction. A professional will use piston-driven aerators with tines that effectively move up and down.
  • Overseed after aeration to fill any bare or dull spots in the yard and promote healthier growth. To do it the right way, check out the 4 steps to overseed a lawn at Lawn Love.
  • Work organic matter such as compost or peat moss into the soil. Soil organisms will naturally aerate the soil as they break down the organic matter.
  • Limit and reroute traffic from the lawn.

Yellow nutsedge

Yellow nutsedge
Wikimedia | CC-BY-2.0

A “sedge” is a tricky weed. It’s not grass or a broadleaf weed. It features a triangle-shaped stem, unlike round grass-like stems, that you can feel if you pull the base up with your fingers. It is shiny, bright and greenish-yellow with erect stems that grow fast. Yellow nutsedge reproduces by underground tubers and produces golden seedheads. 

It greatly disturbs healthy lawns by competing for nutrients and light, and might even completely wipe out vegetable crops. 

Symptoms: 

  • Noticeable thicker, and taller blades above your normal turf
  • Yellow flowers 

Solution:

  • A natural approach to treating yellow nutsedge is to pull them out when they’re young, around spring
  • Apply selective herbicides. Traditional herbicides used on crabgrass and dandelions are ineffective on nutsedge

Moles

Moles
Wikimedia |  CC-BY-SA-3.0

Moles are rodent-like critters that love wet, soft ground and munch on earthworms, ants, and grubs. They’ll dig and tunnel through your lawn in search of food and tend to leave a zigzag trail of raised soil when they come closer to the surface in spring. 

Burrowing moles will damage plant roots, and you’ll eventually end up with an eaten-up lawn. 

Symptoms: 

  • Unsightly patches and holes in the lawn
  • Raised ridges across the yard
  • Areas of squishy or loose soil 

Solution:

  • The only humane way of dealing with moles is by trapping them. Depress the ridge of soil and set a mole trap in an active tunnel and the trap will go off when a mole moves through that tunnel.
  • Install a barrier of chicken wire extending one foot deep around your lawn to keep them from coming in. Not that this might not be too effective because moles can dig deeper to make their way.
  • Placing noisemakers or ultrasonic devices near the runs will help, too.

Brown patches 

Brown patches
John | Flickr

Irregularly shaped or circular areas of dead or brown grass are mostly caused by brown patch disease caused by fungal organisms. These organisms are called Rhizoctonia Solani. This fungus can attack a large variety of grass types, but the most common targets are tall fescue and perennial ryegrass. 

The affected patches have irregular tan lesions and dark brown borders on their grass blades and typically remain upright.

Symptoms: 

  • Brown, irregular patches or circles ranging from 6-inches to several feet in diameter
  • Lawn thinning
  • Rotting at the base of grass blades

Solution:

  • Improve soil circulation by aerating to let air, water, and nutrients travel freely.
  • Dethatch the lawn.
  • Avoid fertilizing the lawn during hot, humid weather. 
  • Water the lawn regularly, early in the morning, so the grass dries out completely before nightfall.

Dog urine

illustration explaining what dog urine does to grass
Juan Rodriguez

Pets are lovely, but they can damage your lawn a great deal, too. If your lawn has developed small brown spots surrounded by dark green grass, know that it’s courtesy of your furry friend. Nitrogen in urine kills the grass where it is concentrated, i.e. the center of the spot.

You’re more likely to spot these brown areas in the grass during hot, dry weather when your lawn is already under stress. Animal repellents aren’t effective. The best way to handle this problem is to discourage your pet from urinating on the lawn.

Symptoms: 

  • Overly dry, brown or yellow spots in the grass
  • A weak and stressed lawn

Solution:

  • Thoroughly water the spot where your dog pees immediately after they’re done.
  • Train your dog to urinate in a designated spot where there’s mulch or gravel instead of grass.
  • Raise your mowing height so the grass is less sensitive.

Moss

Moss
Wikimedia | CC-BY-SA-4.0

Moss thrives in lawns that are under-fertilized, shady, wet, and compacted. It will take over such lawns in no time. It will sprout and spread all over a damp lawn in just a few short weeks. You’re more likely to encounter lawn moss in spring and autumn and often in lawns with poor drainage. 

Moss spreads by spores and won’t leave your lawn unless you change the environmental conditions that encourage it. Acidic and compacted soil also result in moss development at times.

Symptoms: 

  • Loose, coarse, yellowish-green or green tufts between grass blades
  • Dense mat and uneven color

Solution:

  • Keep shrubs and trees properly pruned.
  • For very shady areas, plant shade-tolerant grass types such as St. Augustine or creeping red fescue and mow them high so that they can get more light.
  • If moss is present only in moist or low-lying areas, water only when these areas show signs of low moisture.
  • If the soil is compacted, hire a professional to aerate the lawn with a piston-driven aerator.
  • Test your soil’s acidity or pH levels and then treat the soil accordingly. Lower the pH if the soil is too alkaline with the help of sulfur, and raise the pH of acidic soil with limestone.

Bald or bare spots

bare spot
ChebanenkoAnn | Shutterstock

There are many reasons for bare spots in an otherwise healthy, green lawn. High foot traffic or several types of diseases can cause bare spots on a lawn. It could be because of poor soil conditions, chemical spills, fungus, buried rocks, etc.

Bald or scalped patches could also be a result of mowing your lawn too short. It can also lead to moss and weed invasion. It’s important to address the real cause to get rid of bare spots on your lawn.

Symptoms: 

  • Irregular and dry patches where no grass is growing
  • Areas of dead grass
  • Exposed dirt 

Solution:

  • Dig up these bare or bald spots, including a few inches of healthy grass around them, and lightly till the area. Layer in loose topsoil, then reseed, and finally, irrigate the lawn

Fungus

Fungus
velodenz | Flickr

Fungus is hard to diagnose because it becomes obvious pretty late. By the time you notice there’s something wrong with your yard, it’s too late, and then we end up treating the dead grass rather than working on the cause. 

Symptoms: 

  • Unexplained and rapidly expanding dead spots
  • Dead grass

Solution:

  • Replant the dead areas with a grass type that is more suitable for the area.
  • Try to figure out the cause and treat it because fungus should be diagnosed and treated before the grass begins to brown and die. Typical causes watering too much, fertilizing at the wrong time of the year, or improper mowing. 
  • Use a fungicide to treat affected areas and reseed.

Dandelion

Dandelion
Wikipedia | CC BY-SA 3.0

Dandelion is an attractive flowering weed dearly loved by bees. This perennial weed thrives in thin lawns that are under-fertilized. They form thick, long taproots that may seem easy to pull out and get rid of. 

But getting one flower out isn’t enough, you need to kill the entire root to eliminate the plant and prevent resprouting. Timing is crucial with dandelions. The right time to pull them out of your yard is before the flowers mature and start to spread seeds. 

Symptoms: 

  • Distinctive yellow flowers
  • Rosette pattern of budding saw-tooth leaves
  • Windswept seeds forming snowballs

Solution:

  • Pull plants and taproots out by hand with the help of a specialized fork-like tool called the “dandelion digger” and clear your yard.
  • If you want to use a herbicide, go for a post-emergence herbicide that is designed to control broadleaf plants without causing damage to established grass. Apply it in the fall to target winter annuals too (because they begin to grow in autumn) or refer to Lawn Love’s detailed story on how and when to apply post-emergent herbicides for more information.

Lawn care is a continuous process that requires constant monitoring and proactive approaches to maintenance. And if you need help at any point, our Lawn Love Pros are here to help!

Main photo credit: Engin Akyurt | Pexels

Farah Nauman

Farah Nauman is a freelance writer and an accountant based in Pakistan. She spends most of her time combating the South Asian heat and being a mom to her three fluffy cats and a dozen little Aloe Veras in her house.