How to Fix 11 Common Lawn Problems

Improve your grass when it comes to weeds, bare patches, mushrooms, seasonal swamp, and more.

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How healthy is your lawn?

How healthy is your lawn?istock/Anna Omelchenko
Even the most carpet-like lawn can develop problems. If your lawn isn’t healthy and you can’t diagnose the trouble, dig up a patch of soil and take it to a reliable nursery or the local Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. Here are some common situations:

Problem: Grass won’t grow under a tree.

Problem: Grass won’t grow under a tree.istock/Twinschoice
Solution: In northern climates, consider planting shade-tolerant fine fescues. In the South, try tall fescue.

Problem: Grass won’t grow on a slope.

Problem: Grass won’t grow on a slope.istock/Nuli_k
Solution: If the slope is hot and dry, more regular, deep watering might help. If you can’t get grass established, try laying sod or having a professional “hydroseed” — plant seeds encapsulated in a special material to keep them from drying out.

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Problem: Lawn is overrun with weeds.

Problem: Lawn is overrun with weeds.istock/JulNichols
Solution: Apply herbicide in spring and fall. Do both because each application kills different weeds. If the problem is severe and doesn’t respond in one or two years, you may have to kill the lawn with a non-selective herbicide and then replant.

Problem: Lawn has bare patches.

Problem: Lawn has bare patches.istock/N8tureGrl
Solution: Try reseeding these areas. In spring or early fall, scratch the bare patch with a ground rake and sprinkle with lawn seed. Mark off the area with stakes and strings, and water gently. Keep the area moist for the next few weeks, watering daily if necessary. If high traffic is the problem, consider creating a path or patio surface.

Problem: Lawn has brown spots or weblike threads.

Problem: Lawn has brown spots or weblike threads.istock/Micah Youello
Solution: Fusarium patch makes 2 to 12-inch-wide brown spots or weblike threads in thatch and grass in early spring. Minimize shade and fertilization; improve drainage; apply fungicide in early fall.

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Problem: Lawn is dotted with bleached or gray spots.

Problem: Lawn is dotted with bleached or gray spots.istock/skhoward
Solution: Dollar spot causes numerous such spots to appear. Spots may merge to make larger, straw-colored areas, while cobweb-like growths may appear with morning dew. Fertilize; apply fungicide.

Problem: Lawn is dotted with small orange pustules on blades.

Problem: Lawn is dotted with small orange pustules on blades.istock/User9637786_380
Solution: Rust is the cause of these orange, smudgy spots. Fertilize grass and keep well watered. Mow frequently and remove clippings. Apply fungicide if condition persists.

Problem: Lawn has green circular patches that die off.

Problem: Lawn has green circular patches that die off.istock/Sami Sert
Solution: The patches are called fairy rings, which sometimes feature mushrooms as well. Aerate the lawn; apply fertilizer. Keep the lawn wet for three to five days.

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Problem: Lawn develops large patches of brown grass in late summer.

Problem: Lawn develops large patches of brown grass in late summer.istock/omersukrugoksu
Solution: Dig up some of the brown areas and look underneath for small grubs, the likely cause. Apply Diazinon, isofenphos, or chlorpyrifos. Apply just after eggs are laid; check with a reliable nursery or local Cooperative Extension Service for the correct time to do this.

Problem: Multiplying mushrooms

Problem: Multiplying mushroomsistock/WaldemarWellmann
Solution: The bad news is, mushrooms are nearly impossible to get rid of. According to turf expert Bob Mugaas, “You can certainly pull them.” This won't permanently rid your lawn of mushrooms, but it can give you temporary relief. You can also make your lawn less hospitable to fungi by correcting drainage problems and eliminating decaying organic matter. Grind down stumps, rake up grass clippings, dig up buried lumber, aerate, dethatch and replace old mulch.

Problem: Seasonal swamp

Problem: Seasonal swampistock/AnkNet
Solution: Convert a low, wet area to a rain garden with water-tolerant plants.Plant it with shrubs and perennials that tolerate pooling water as well as periods of drought.The amended soil and water-loving plants capture the excess water, and it slowly percolates into the earth instead of running into the storm sewer or sitting on the surface of your lawn.

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