Are you fed up with looking at huge brown patches in your yard?  Has Crabgrass created its on zip code on your property? Many homeowners spend countless hours, and dollars, attempting to achieve that green lawn like their neighbors.  Many of these attempts fall short due to not focusing on the key elements needed for grass to thrive and out-compete pests and weather conditions.  So if you seeded your lawn last Spring with no luck, or you applied some box store product and weren’t impressed, this post will help guide you through which steps to take next this year.


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Start With The Soil

Many times lawn repair efforts are targeted at grass and chemicals, forgetting about the most important factor for lawn growth; your soil. Poor soil will prevent root growth, stunt seed germination, and allow weeds and fungus to out compete even the best grass varieties.  The following are common soil problems and how to fix them..

  • Compaction – Tight soil structure prevents the movement of roots during growth periods.  It also prevents proper water drainage, which is a breeding ground for fungus.  Regular aeration will help with moderate compaction. Some highly compacted areas will need to be amended with topsoil or organic matter, like Humus.
  • pH Levels – the acidity level of soil determines which type of plant will survive and how well it can deter unwanted pests. Proper soil pH levels should be between 6.5-7.  Acidic pH levels are common and can be corrected with heavy lime application.  An alkaloid lawn can be adjusted using Sulfur.
  • Thatch – Thatch is an organic, and in-organic, layer of material between the soil and grass layers.  Heavy build up of this layer decreases water and nutrient permeation and breeds damaging pests.  Dethatching in Spring is an easy, quick procedure.  Use a dethatching rake, or you can rent a machine called a “power rake” from a local hardware store.
  • Poor Drainage –  Improperly graded areas, or areas with heavy clay soils, will pool water with limited ability to move it or have it evaporate before damage occurs.  You can use top soil to make minor adjustments to poor draining slopes.  Bigger drainage projects can be done using stone beds, retaining walls, or even installing drainage pipes under ground.


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Weed Infiltration

The most common feature in a Spring patchy lawn is a heavy presence of dead crabgrass, and other grassy weeds.  This is because these types of weeds grow in clumps and emits toxins to kill any competitive species in its proximity. Also, many homeowners wait until weeds have taken over their lawn to start thinking about controlling them.

Prevention is the only proven technique for effective lawn weed control. The only way to truly treat crabgrass, and most grassy weeds, is to use pre-emergent products in Spring & Fall to prevent germination of seeds. Proper timing is essential for these products to be effective when weeds are ready to sprout. A complete weed control program will include post emergent applications during summer for any escapes.  It is difficult however to control full outbreaks of weed populations that haven’t been properly treated prior.


Fungal Spot Diseases

Often overlooked is the effect that micro-organisms can have on a lawn, especially in cooler temperatures. Snow compaction and extended period of moisture breed fungal and bacterial diseases that can be very easily mistaken for other pests or problems.  During the Winter to Spring transition, some very common diseases to emerge, like Pink Snow Mold & Grey Snow Mold.  These cause circular patches, with pink or gray outer rings, and are big culprits of patchy lawns.

Luckily, many fungal lawn problems can be treated with organic, cultural practices.  Many can be remedied with simple removal of snow cover, improving circulation and evaporation factors, and even by sweeping spores of grass blades.  In some extreme cases that Fungicides are needed, this must be done by a professional.  Not only is proper pest identification needed, but most Fungicide products are restricted to use by licensed professionals only.


Grub Damage

The life cycle of grubs is so poorly understood by most, which causes improper treatment effects in most cases.  Most treat the initial emergence of grub larvae in late Spring, forgetting about the second generation that feeds on grass roots in fall. This is the batch of grubs that causes dead, irregular patches in your lawn that last into the Spring months. Grubs also attracts moles and skunks which feed on them.  These animals cause damage while feeding that create ugly areas in lawns.


  • Treat with an insecticide in late Spring when over-wintering larvae begin to hatch into adults
  • Water lawn generously after application for best effectiveness
  • Treat again in early fall for the next generation
  • Organic procedures, such as beneficial bacteria or nematodes, have limited reliability but can be considered



Other Considerations

There are some other conditions that can cause lawn damage, but be confused with these aforementioned problems.  These issues will have their own special set of circumstances, and can usually be remedied with mechanical or cultural practices:

  • Pet Damage – The acidity of dog urine can cause dead patches of grass that are often confused with fungal diseases
  • Mole/Vole Tunnels – If your lawn is desirable for sub-terrain rodents, you will start to notice tracks on the surface, or underground tunnels.
  • Poor Seed Performance – Proper grass seed selection is often overlooked.  If your grass type isn’t well suited for your region and sun/shade conditions, it will perform poorly sand be pout-competed by weeds.


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