How to Eliminate Bald Patches in the Lawn

Lush green grass surrounds a patch of dead grass.

Most home owners have, at some point, personally experienced the dreaded bald patch in the yard. No matter how beautiful the rest of our lawn is, those bald spots always stick out, waving their proverbial fingers in our face. Before attacking these ugly spots with an arsenal of lawn care products, it is important to determine the origin of the problem because each source may require a slightly different approach to care.

There are many reasons for those ugly spots, such as bug infestations, seasonal dryness, mowing damage, pet waste, grass diseases, and killer weeds.

Bug Infestations

Source - There are many munching culprits that attack either the fresh green growth on the surface of the grass or the tender roots below ground. The worst offenders are caterpillars (like cutworms, army worms, and sod webworms), billbugs, white grubs, fiery skippers, and ataenius. These pests have voracious appetites, so it is important to identify them as soon as the damage is detected.

Look for small, irregular spots that grow in size each day, as well as visible evidence of munching within the affected area and surrounding blades of healthy grass. If no pests are immediately detected, mix 1 to 2 ounces of dish detergent with a gallon of water and apply it evenly to the damaged area. Surface eaters like caterpillars and fiery skippers will surface to avoid contact with the solution. Since grubs live below the surface, it may be necessary to remove the top layer of damaged sod to look for their little white forms. Once the pests have been detected, you are ready to attack them.

Solution - Begin by thinning or removing the thatch (dead grass). Next, irrigate and fertilize the area, making sure to avoid creating soggy patches. Aerate the damaged section and surrounding lawn to increase the root growth. Overseed the damaged spot and surrounding area to encourage dense, new growth. Raise the level of your mower for a higher cut. If fiery skippers are found, look for a variety of grass that is less appetizing to them. They are more specialized in their eating preferences and can easily be foiled by changing their available menu.

Avoid using broad-spectrum pesticides because they kill the good bugs along with the bad. This typically offers a greater advantage to the bad bugs in the end.

Keep in mind that with any biological pest, there are always beneficial predators that can be introduced to help reduce the use of chemicals. Attracting birds to the area is always a plus for controlling and eliminating caterpillars and grubs, as well as the introduction of beneficial nematodes, which feed on all soft bodied insects.

Seasonal Dryness

Source - There are two main types of dryness that can affect your turf: Winter dryness, which is caused by an overly dry winter with little rain or snow; and summer dryness, which occurs when temperatures are high and rain levels are low for an extended period of time. Either case of dryness can seriously stress your lawn, causing "hot spots" of burned, yellow turf.

Solution - The best resolution is a two-fold approach. Begin with an application of fertilizer during the spring and summer months. This ensures healthy, thick growth from the beginning of the growing seasons. Raise the deck of your mower. The higher cut will allow the lawn to better retain the moisture levels in the soil. Supplemental watering during dry periods may be necessary to help ensure consistent moisture.

TIP: Expert gardening advisor, Kathy Bosin adds, "It's always better to water deeply and less often. Shallow watering rarely reaches the roots of your grass or any plants. In harsh, dry summer weather, water deeply."

Mowing Damage

Source - Sometimes in our efforts to control the level of growth in our yards, we inadvertently damage the grass, and create brown patches and bald spots. Infrequent mowing, dull blades, and mowing decks set too low can all produce damage in a lawn.

Solution - Make sure at the beginning of the mowing season that mower blades are thoroughly sharpened and kept that way throughout the summer. Inspect blades each time you mow to ensure that they are sharp enough to use. Dull blades rip the grass, forcing the grass to expend extra energy and nutrients to fix the torn sections, ultimately weakening the grass.

Mow more frequently. This prevents the chlorophyll producing parts of the grass from being completely removed. Also, raise the level of the deck so that only the top third of the grass is being cut. Combining this last step with more frequent mowing will ensure thicker, more lush green growth overall.

Pet Waste

Source - Pet urine and feces can create unsightly spots in an otherwise healthy, green lawn. According to several studies of pet waste, the problem occurs because of the level of nitrogen in the waste.

Pet waste has a high level of concentrated nitrogen, and when it is applied to the lawn it creates the same effect that over-fertilization does — it burns the grass. Urine is more potent because it is in liquid form. It takes time for feces to break down so its effects are not as dramatic. All in all, however, pet waste can be a problem.

Solution - A varied approach to pet waste should be taken. The first step is to eliminate the issue of other people’s pets using your yard as their public restroom. Begin by putting up a structural or living fence to prevent marauding animals from "going" on your lawn. With community pets out of the way, you can now address the damage created by your own precious pet.

Begin by daily picking up the solid waste in your yard. For urine spots, begin by flushing the area with water. Damage is reduced considerably if the area is flushed within eight hours of urination. Flushing dilutes the nitrogen levels and reduces the damage caused by the urine. Try rotating the acceptable pee locations, allowing the prior pee spot to recover from the previous day's use. If your yard is small, consider creating a "potty zone" by removing the sod entirely and laying down pea gravel. Make sure to rinse the gravel daily to reduce both smell and urine buildup.

When damage does occur, remove the damaged thatch and heavily reseed the area, making sure to water daily to maximize seed germination and growth. Spots often recover quickly if given the chance.

Grass Diseases

Source - There are many diseases that can attack a lawn, causing symptoms like leaf spots, powdery white residue, thin grass growth, dead spots, and severe discoloration. Such symptoms can be caused by powdery mildew, fungal infections, rust, and leaf blight, just to name a few.

Solution - If a grass disease is indeed the source of your problem, it is important to act quickly to contain and treat it. There are many fungicides on the market both for specialized and generalized treatment, but before spending money on products that promise the world, seek the help of a professional. Most local farmers’ and gardeners’ co-ops can help not only in the identification of your disease, but also in recommending an effective treatment. It is their business to know these things, and seeking their advise early in the season can be a real lawn saver.

Killer Weeds

Source - There are many types of weeds that can encroach on a yard and steal much needed nutrients from your lawn. Their goal is to choke out the grass by killing it at the roots. Crabgrass, clover, dandelions, and ryegrass are just a few of the many types of weeds that will attempt to take over your lawn and garden.

Solution - Weeds are relentless, so use a combined approach of prevention and maintenance. Although no product will ever completely eliminate every weed from your yard, an application of weed preventative in the spring can greatly reduce the appearance of weeds by reducing the germination rate of the previous year’s weed seed.

Frequent mowing will prevent the formation of new flowers and seed heads, cutting down on the spread of existing plants. Regular fertilization of your lawn will be the final death blow to any weed invasion. First of all, dense, vigorous grass growth will not only resist the spread of encroaching weeds, it will help choke out existing weeds where they are already established. Finally, fertilizing your lawn will cause the existing weed foliage to explode with growth. This vigorous green weed growth will quickly outgrow the roots of the weed, eventually weakening the plant, until it dies.

For many of us, our lawn is our life. We play on it, we entertain our friends on it, and we enjoy the company of our family on it. With a little effort and a lot of love, we can ensure that the grass is always greener on our side of the fence.

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