How to Fix Dead Spots on Your Lawn

Drought Conditions - Dry and brown lawn with hosepipe

Your lawn is the first impression of your home. A luscious, green plot rich with life gives off a calm energy and inviting atmosphere to all your guests and neighbors.

Bald, dead spots in your grass detract from your home’s overall presentation and can interfere with the beautiful lawn every homeowner wants.

Dead spots can appear even when you follow a regimented watering and fertilizing routine. Sometimes, brown grass and dead spots are indicative of a harmless problem that can be easily remedied, like pet urine or your lawn not getting enough water.

But other times, they can be indicate a larger problem — like pest infestations beneath the dirt.

The first step in treating these spots is figuring out what caused them. From pests to pets to not enough water, we’ll help you figure out what may be causing dead spots in your lawn, how to treat them, and how to prevent them so that you can have a beautiful, inviting lawn all season long.

What is Causing the Dead Spots in My Lawn?

Sometimes dry grass areas show up mysteriously, and it can be difficult to diagnose how to treat the spot differently to end the eye-sores. But don’t worry – here is a list we’ve put together of common causes and how to treat them.

Not Enough Water

Summer is a challenging season to keep plants alive, especially in drought states like Colorado. If you notice your grass turning yellow and strawlike — or even from vibrant green to a bluish — this could be an indication your grass isn’t getting enough water.

Sometimes the culprit for thirsty grass is misaligned sprinkler placement. If there’s a gap in the coverage between your sprinkler heads, the grass in that area may never be getting the water it needs to flourish.

One way to tell if your grass needs water is to test the soil with this screwdriver test:

How to Prevent it

  • Try watering the dying area by hand or using a sprinkler system with a hose. Healthy lawns usually like to be watered 2-3 times a week.
  • Watering daily can drown the grass, and prevent your lawn from getting the oxygen it needs to flourish.
  • Installing more efficient sprinklers or installing them in a different layout can help reach all the nooks and crannies of your yard.

Urine from Pets or Other Animals

Besides not enough water, pet urine is probably the most common reason for brown, dead grass. The high amounts of nitrogen in your pets’ urine can burn grass easily.

These areas can be identified by dark green rings surrounding a brown middle that is almost straw-like. The grass around this area will seem unaffected, and will probably be healthy due to the high amounts of nitrogen in urine.

Nitrogen is good for grass, but in a high concentration, it has the opposite effect.

How to Prevent it

The best way to prevent grass burns is to mulch a small area of your lawn, and train your dog to go to the bathroom in that area.

If you catch your pet in the act, you may be able to prevent the burn by watering the area thoroughly right after they go to the bathroom.

Making sure your dog is getting enough water along with their food can also help reduce the grass-killing properties of their urine. You can mix your dog’s dry food with water to help keep them hydrated. It’s a win-win for your pet and your grass!

Pests Below the Surface

Grubs are a kind of early-stage larvae beetle that eats grassroots, which leaves only the tops of the blades to stand with no foundation. Your lawn can tolerate a small amount of them, but a large concentration can cause dead spots to develop.

You’ll know grubs are the problem if the dead patch easily lifts from the ground when you give it a gentle tug.

How to Prevent It

You can treat the infestation with nematodes (small worms who will organically get rid of the larvae over a few months or up to a year) or with an insecticide. You can then resod to help bring back the dead areas of grass to life.

Treating for this is best done during autumn months, as this is when grubs are smaller and are most susceptible to nematodes.

Foot Traffic or Furniture

High wear can make it hard for your grass to grow. If your family and pets often tread the same route through your hard, this consistent traffic may create dead patches.

Leaving patio furniture, toys, or anything else on your grass for even a weekend can block sunlight and water from reaching the roots of your grass, causing dead spots. Almost anything, if left for long enough, can damage grass — tarps, kiddie pools, chairs, or cars can leave behind a brown patch in their wake.

How to Prevent it

Reroute where your family and pets walk to give your grass a break. Also consider installing a stone, gravel, or mulch path where your family walks frequently.

To help grass under a trampoline stay healthy, one trick is to put a sprinkler underneath it whenever it’s not in use to make sure it still gets water. If you’re going to put out a temporary pool, put it over a tarp first and try to move it around the yard throughout the summer so no one area gets too much damage.

Weed Dieback

After the season of weeds dwindles away, the dying weeds may expose grass they have been covering and dominating while the season was in swing.

If you treated the weeds with weed-killing chemicals like Ortho Weed B, those treatments may have affected the surrounding grass, leading to dead spots. Even if the weed killer advertises that it won’t affect grass, sometimes the type of grass in your lawn isn’t compatible with the weed killer’s properties.

How to Prevent it

Remove as much of the dead grass as possible from the area and add new fertilizer to the area. You may need to mow the grass surrounding the area and use these tools to properly treat grass hit with weed killer.

Fungus or Disease

Lawn diseases like snow mold can kill grass. If there’s a thin white webbing that looks a little like spiderwebs, that could be a sign of fungus.

Fungal diseases usually arise in temporary environmental conditions, like too much water from a sprinkler, rain, or extra cloud coverage that your lawn isn’t used to. These typically appear in irregular patterns, rather than neat circles.

How to Prevent it

Just like the factors that caused the fungal disease, this is usually a temporary issue, and no aggressive treatment is needed besides regular lawn maintenance.

Make sure your grass is getting enough water, is getting mowed at mowing height of at least 3.5 inches, and fertilizing to help nurture your lawn.

Spills Toxic to Grass

Any areas where a chemical, pesticide, or gasoline spilled on your grass can kill it. Even high concentrations of weed killer can be too much for your lawn to handle. Chemical spills will most often create a dead patch in the shape of the spill.

How to Prevent It

To avoid this problem, keep fill devices like spreaders away from grass. A spreader is a tool similar to a wheelbarrow you can use to distribute weed killers and other lawn care products.

If you do spill, remove the dead grass with a rake and dig up the first 4-5 inches of soil and remove that as well.

Saturate the area with water from a hose for about 20 minutes. This should diffuse any concentrated chemicals left in the ground. Reseed and sod if needed.

Salt Burn

Grass with salt burn will look a little orange and appear to be burnt, a symptom of the salt causing dryness similar to a drought for the grass.

Salt burn can happen after you use de-icing salt in winter to your sidewalks and driveway. Even though your lawn is dead in winter, sometimes the salt will stick around longer than the winter season.

Sometimes these areas will heal themselves during the spring, but you may have to reseed to reapply more sod to help the area.

If your lawn is on a sloped section of your street, there could also be runoff from when city trucks apply de-icing salt to the streets.

How to Prevent it

Be careful with where and how much salt you apply to sidewalks, driveways, and streets to help prevent this damage to your lawn in the future.

Fertilizer Burn

Using too much fertilizer or accidentally spilling large quantities of it can leave you with a dead spot in your grass. You will need to follow directions on your fertilizer container and calculate the appropriate amount to use depending on the kind of grass and its square footage.

If you use too much, douse the area in extra water to wash away some of the nitrogen. Too much nitrogen can impact the tolerance your grass has for high and low temperatures, making it vulnerable to more extreme changes. An excess in nitrogen can also make your grass more susceptible to disease.

How to Prevent it

To prevent this kind of burn, fill the spreader with fertilizer away from your lawn, and apply as steadily and consistently as possible across the grass to ensure an even application. Doing so will prevent exposing any areas of your grass with high concentrations of nitrogen.

How to Bring Dead Patches in Your Lawn Back to Life

There are countless ways grass can die or lose its luscious color, especially in dry climates in summer. No matter the cause, most dead spots can be treated by following these steps.

1. Fill Dead Spots

Rake the soil loose and apply grass seed to the dead area.

2. Water Thoroughly

Be sure to start out daily watering newly seeded or sodded areas so that the soil is wet about 1 inch deep into the ground, for at least two weeks. After the grass begins to take root and starts developing, gradually give the area more and more water.

Once it’s back to its regular mowing height (see Step 5 below), watering once or twice a week should be sufficient to keep the grass feeling healthy and happy.

Water early in the morning or in the evening to escape the heat of the day – in cooler temperatures, plants suck down less water, since they’re less heated. Watering in the middle of the day can actually be harmful to your plants, especially if the water you’re using has been sitting in a hose and getting hot. Wet grass can easily get too hot, and is susceptible to being damaged or killed.

3. Give it Nutrients

Fresh seeds are tender. Nutrients will make sure your grass grows in strong and healthy.

6-8 weeks after planting, begin feeding your lawn with turf builders or fertilizers regularly, and continue to fee every 6 to 8 weeks during the summer season.

Giving your lawn “food” will help it stay strong even through heat, droughts (given you are sticking to a healthy watering routine) and everyday wear from your family and pets.

4. Get Rid of Weeds and Pests

As you learned earlier, pests can be a big reason for dead spots in your lawn. Whether it’s a pest infestation, weeds, or fungus, anything taking resources from your grass can be harmful to a gorgeous green lawn.

Using weed and insect-controlling sprays can help prevent these unwelcome visitors, but be sure to use them wisely. The best way to keep grass healthy without giving it too much fertilizer is using a fertilizer spreader and walking as steadily as possible to apply it evenly.

Walking slower or in an uneven stride could give some areas a much higher concentration than others, which could be too much nitrogen for the grass. Wash your hands after dealing with chemicals and fertilizers so that you protect yourself, too.

5. Mow at the Right Time

Wait until your grass is 3.5 to 4 inches tall before mowing it to make sure cutting it won’t affect the growth of new seedlings. Mowing later in the day can also be beneficial in using less of your physical energy (the evenings tend to be cooler than the heat of the day), and causing less stress to your lawn.

Hire a Lawn Care Professional

Any way you slice it, lawns are a lot of work. Don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals to help you take care of weeding, mowing, or trimming and help your home achieve that wow-factor.

While your lawn’s grass dies in the winter, making sure you take care of it during the cold will ensure it grows back strong and healthy in the spring. Something as simple as mulching your leaves could really help you get a head start on keeping a healthy, green lawn!

With fall coming up, make sure your lawn is raked and ready for the transition!  Hire GSC for your lawn care needs >