A lush, green, uniform lawn that is the envy of the neighbors is always my goal when I set out to landscape a yard. Getting grass growth all over a yard can be very tricky when unfavorable conditions or obstructions are present. Poor soil, shady spots, drought conditions, and other factors can all affect your grass’s success.
I am under the impression that anyone can achieve a green lawn wherever they live, even if it involves planting native grasses or some strategic artificial grass installation. One way or another, a yard can be landscaped in a manner where each grass, whether sun-loving Bermuda grass or shade-tolerant zoysia grass, can shine and grow to its fullest potential. Understanding what causes bare spots is essential to growing green grass effectively.
In This Article
When Are Bare Spots In Grass Common?
It is usual for soil to be exposed in the spring and fall on most yard turfs. In the spring, a lawn will have needed to weather the winter and may be deprived of nutrients, overrun by weeds, or have succumbed to drainage issues in clay or compacted soil. Animals foraging and rooting in the dirt and snow can also leave dead grass and bare earth after winter.
In the fall, there can also be more bare spots than usual in a backyard. The summer is prime time for yard use, from BBQs to sports and activities, so grass can take a beating during the hottest months. Drought and extreme heat can work to contribute to dead grass and other common issues while allowing for the quick explosion of weed and pest problems.
It is possible to find bare spots in the middle of summer and winter as well. The problem with trying to sow grass seed during these seasons is it will be impossible to grow. Grass germination cannot happen if grass seed is sowed on soil with too low of a temperature. Winter conditions find most grass dormant and unable to grow, and the frozen ground is too hard for grass roots to penetrate.
In the summer, it is hard to get grass seedlings to survive the harsh conditions. While residing or sowing seeds is an option in summer, it is hard to give them adequate water to grow. During the winter and summer months, it is better to just cover the bare spots with mulch or a temporary cover until conditions are conducive for green grass growth and prevent weed infestation or soil microbe damage.
What Can Cause a Bare Spot on Turf Grass?
Brown grass can quickly become dead grass if incorrect fertilizer, water, and sunlight conditions are not remedied. So many factors can turn our turf into a brown dying mess, and addressing the causes and solutions can help you get the green grass you’ve always wanted. From patio run-off to compacted clay soil, we will look at all the causes of bare spots in the turf.
|Lack of Sunlight||Trees, buildings, and structures||Switch to shade-tolerant turf|
|Competition from Tree Roots||Too many roots for the size of the yard||Increase organic matter in soil and mulch around trees|
|Compacted Soil||Poorly prepared yards, vehicles damage, or improper yard use||Core aeration and layers of compost for consecutive years|
|Underground Objects||Rock, buried debris, chemicals||Remove the object or landscape around it|
|Airflow Issues||Fences, trees, buildings||Design with airflow in mind and trim trees and shrubs of low branches|
|Soil Contaminates||Chemicals, animals, Vehicles||Make sure to not allow chemicals to touch turf by using barriers and protective options|
Lack of Sunlight
Yards change over the years as buildings are built, and trees grow. Storms or other large weather events can create permanent changes and make it harder to grow the grass that used to thrive. As more or different areas of your lawn get more shade and less sun, you will need to sow grass accordingly.
Often as trees grow, the amount of our yard that falls under midday shade increases which, of course, is what we want. However, the grass that used to need to withstand 8-10 hours of direct sun is now only getting a few hours, and the turf is turning brown and dying because of it. Before the weeds that thrive in the shade kill off your grass, sow native grasses that utilize the yard’s essential nutrients or grass species that are shade-loving and appropriate for your climate.
If no grass will grow, you can consider artificial grass installation since it will stay cooler in the shade and require less maintenance. Objects placed on a lawn for long periods of time or heavy snow piles can also leave bare spots and affect grass plant functions. Make sure to regularly move items if they will stay on the lawn and break up snow piles in the early spring to help them melt much faster.
Competition From Tree Roots
Trees make our yards cooler and add countless other benefits. However, it can be hard to find a way for your grass roots and tree roots to occupy the same limited space in your lawn. As tree roots are much bigger and able to collect far more moisture and the proper fertilizer, they can quickly out-compete your grass and leave bare spots.
Fortunately, you can improve your soil and make it sustainable for both large trees and vibrant sun-loving grass. As you take care of your lawn, you can work to add more organic matter through leaf litter, compost, lawn debris, and any other beneficial materials that can rapidly build soil. Once the tree roots are completely covered by several inches of high-quality soil, your grass should be able to find what it needs to thrive.
Grass seed growth depends on deep roots developing on grass over time. Compacted soil, especially clay soil, makes it hard for roots to penetrate and leads to shallow roots and weak grass plant functions. Compaction issues can occur for many reasons and lead to countless problems in growing green grass.
When a home is developed and built, it is unlikely that the soil is tilled and prepared for deep grass root development. There will usually be a few inches of topsoil than harder subsoil materials underneath. Over time you can build up the organic matter on top or tear up your whole lawn, till deep, and start all over again, a costly and time-consuming operation.
Frequent use of the lawn, parking vehicles atop the turf, or using it while it is wet can all contribute to soil compaction. Lawn weeds, disease issues, and pest problems are all common when soil is compacted, as it leads to airflow issues and slow drainage. A core aerator that pulls out little soil cores and drops them on top of the lawn can help decompact the soil and provide better environmental factors and nutrient-rich organic matter for your turf.
Some cool-season grasses can develop very deep root systems and require a lot of soil to do that. If a septic tank or other buried obstruction prevents deep roots, these areas may be more susceptible to heat damage and drought effects. Tree roots and certain rock and subsoil layers can also prove impenetrable to grass roots.
Once again, if you are restricted on how deep down the roots can go, you can also build up your soil with good yard waste management and compost practices. Adding a 1/2 in of compost a year can quickly give your grass more room to spread out in. You can also choose different types of grass that thrive with a shallower root system if other options are not practical.
Numerous factors can prevent adequate airflow to your grass, and any one of thee could lead to dead spots in your lawn. Usually, it will take a long time to see the effects of airflow issues, but if other problems are already established, then your grass could die quickly. Areas near fences, treelines, and other privacy features are often where airflow issues are most prevalent.
One easy way to fix air issues is to go over the lawn a couple of times with a hand rake to break up any thatch. Once removed, the grass should be able to breathe a little better. You can also trim low branches on trees and shrubs that prevent air from moving freely onto your property. Remember to leave gaps when installing privacy fences or create air slits near the bottom for grass health and better airflow into your lawn.
Often times we will hose something off on our patio space or driveway with no thought of what it could do to the grass. We may dump liquid out or add any other chemical to our grass without even meaning to. Over time these chemicals could build up, kill your turf, and lead to bare spots on your lawn.
It is common to dump mop buckets or other home cleaning solutions outside when you are finished using them. If the area it is dumped drains into your grass, the chemicals, especially bleach, can kill your lawn quickly. Make sure to dispose of chemicals in closed systems that will not affect your lawn, or if something is accidentally spilled onto the grass, dilute it immediately with plenty of water.
Vehicles are another common cause of contamination in our grass. Oil changes, car washes, and other maintenance performed on a driveway may make their way into our lawns and kill our grass. Misuse of outdoor cleaning products and pesticides or herbicides can lead to bare spots in very little time. Make sure to always be mindful of what chemicals you are working with and keep them away from the grass to avoid bare spots.
Pets or wild animals can also lead to bear spots with either digging or frequent urination and defecation. If animals continuously use your yard as a bathroom, then over time, the high concentrations of ammonia and the damage done by the act itself can lead to dead grass. Protect your lawn with fences and train pets to not go wherever they want.
What Fixes Bare Spots on Grass?
The only way to fix bare spots on your turf is to resod or resow grass. Depending on the nature of the bare earth, you will need to prepare the area differently. Some spots have dead grass and debris on top, and other earth is eroded and bare. If the earth has detritus, you must clear it before replanting.
Clean the area and get the soil prepared. You can loosen it up and add any amendments that your grass may need. Plan to sow or sod when the weather is correct, and the soil temperatures are just right. August is the best time to repair bald spots on your turf.
Place the seed or set the sod and water it until it is established. Keep checking on the grass seed and make sure to cover it with straw and other barriers to prevent light and pest damage. Water the new grass frequently and remove the mulch when grass seedlings begin to poke through. Keep all traffic off new areas until the grass is secure and set for the rest of the season, then maintain it until it is the same as the rest of your turf.