By: Kristi Waterworth
Brown lawn patches are probably the most frustrating problems that homeowners have with their lawns. Because there are so many different kinds of problems that can cause brown spots on grass, home diagnostics can be tricky, but there are a number of care items that help with brown lawn repair, even if you don’t know what’s really wrong with your lawn.
No matter what’s wrong with your grass, when your lawn has brown spots, your turf care hasn’t been ideal. Before you do anything drastic, try these simple fixes for your lawn woes:
Although brown spots in the lawn can be caused by many different problems, most will resolve themselves once you’re properly caring for your lawn. Grass is surprisingly resilient and quickly recovers when it’s treated well.
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Your lawn is often the first impression anyone visiting or driving by your home will notice and we know you want to make a great first impression.
Patchy grass is a combination of thin turf and bare spots that wreak havoc on your lawn’s appearance.
We are about to tell you what causes patchy grass and how to repair your patchy lawn. If you need help or have a question, don’t hesitate to contact us if you are in the Spokane, Spokane Valley, or Liberty Lake area.
Add compost. This will improve your soil and eliminate pests and diseases, which means less money spent on fertilizer and water. Apply a quarter-inch of top-dressing compost once or twice a year, including right after your lawn has greened up. Going over the lawn with an aerator first will help mix the organic matter into the soil.
Water wisely. An established lawn needs about 1 inch of water per week in the growing season. A light daily watering will encourage shallow root systems. Instead, water thoroughly once a week, using a 1-inch deep empty tuna can as a makeshift measuring device. Early morning is best, say before 8 a.m., when evaporation rates are low and more water is absorbed into the soil. Also, don’t be afraid to let grass turn brown during dry spells. Most species can easily go a month without water. It’s time to water again when the grass goes from tan-brown to straw-colored.
Mulch, don’t bag. Your grass clippings are a free source of slow-release fertilizer, so let the mower discharge the clippings back onto your grass rather than bagging them. This can cut fertilizer costs by up to 30 percent. The only time to bag clippings is when your lawn is having a disease breakout, often signaled by irregular brown patches or rings in the lawn.
Try low-maintenance grass. Slow-growth, drought-resistant grass species save water, fertilizer, and time. Your local cooperative extension can help you find species that are right for your climate, soil, and lifestyle. Tall fescue is a low-maintenance alternative in the Northeast that can withstand heavy foot traffic, good for homes with active kids. Zoysia and seashore paspalum are easygoing newcomers in the South, while buffalo grass is popular west of the Mississippi.
Maintain your mower or tractor. Sharp blades cut cleaner and faster, and along with basic engine maintenance can reduce fuel costs by up to 25 percent. Dull blades also stress grass, making it more susceptible to disease. For best results, sharpen and balance the blade three times during the growing season.
The best way to prevent brown patch or large patch in the home lawn is by following good lawn care practices. This is much easier and less expensive than the use of fungicides and can be very effective.
Fungicides can be difficult to rely upon for controlling brown patch and large patch in the home lawn, but regular applications can vastly improve appearance. A good “rule of thumb” to follow on either cool- or warm-season grasses is to initiate fungicide sprays when nighttime low temperatures reach 60 °F. Stop applications when nighttime lows are forecast to be below 60 °F for five consecutive days. Typically, applications are made at 14- to 28-day intervals, depending upon the fungicide. If disease is severe enough to warrant chemical control, select one of the following fungicides listed in Table 1.
It will help in disease control to alternate fungicides used with subsequent applications to prevent a buildup of resistance to a fungicide. Slightly better control may be obtained by a liquid fungicide application rather than by granular application of the same fungicide active ingredient. Granular fungicides must be irrigated after application (follow label directions).
Preventatively, fungicides should be applied to turfgrass fescue in the late spring or early summer. Frequently brown patch becomes obvious around the first week of May in the Upstate.
Warm season turfgrasses require fungicide treatments in the spring, but especially in the fall for best disease control. Start applications around October 1 st for the fall and late April for the late spring applications.
Table 1. Fungicides for Control of Brown Patch & Large Patch on Home Lawns.
|Fungicides||Examples of Brands||Form of Product||Effectiveness of Fungicide|
|Azoxystrobin 1||Heritage G |
or Scott’s Disease EX
|Granules 0.31%||BP: Excellent |
|Azoxystrobin (with Propiconazole)||Headway G |
or Quali-Pro Strobe Pro G
|Granules 0.31% (with 0.75% propiconazole)||BP: Excellent |
|Pyraclostrobin(with Triticonazole)||Pillar G Intrinsic Fungicide||Granules 0.38% (with 0.43% triticonazole||BP: Excellent |
|Fluoxastrobin 1||Fame Granular Fungicide||Granules 0.25%||BP: Excellent |
|Propiconazole||Bayer BioAdvanced Fungus Control for Lawns Ready to Spread Granules||Granules 0.51%||BP: Fair |
|Ferti-lome Liquid Systemic Fungicide II RTS 2||RTS 2 1.55%|
|Bonide Infuse Systemic Disease Control Lawn & Landscape RTS 2 (but not the granular version)||RTS 2 1.55%|
|Bayer BioAdvanced Fungus Control for Lawns RTS 2||RTS 2 2.42%|
|Spectracide Immunox Fungus Plus Insect Control for Lawns RTS 2||RTS 2 1.45%|
|Triadimefon||Lebanon Turf Fungicide contains 1% Bayleton||Granules 1.00%||BP: Fair |
|Anderson’s Professional Turf Products 1% Bayleton Fungiside||Granules 1.00%|
|Myclobutanil||Ferti-lome F-Stop Lawn Fungicide||Granules 0.39%||BP: Poor |
|Lebanon Eagle 0.62G Specialty Fungicide||Granules 0.62%|
|Lesco Eagle 0.39% Granular Turf Fungicide||Granules 0.39%|
|Ferti-lome F-Stop Lawn & Garden RTS 2||RTS 2 1.00%|
|Monterey Lawn Fungicide RTS 2||RTS 2 2.00%|
|1 Resistance to the fungicide by the brown and large patch fungi will develop from continued exclusive use of products containing only azoxystrobin or fluoxastrobin. Always alternate these fungicides with one of the others. Alternatively, choose a product, such as Headway G or Pillar G, each of which contain 2 active ingredients. These can be used in repeated applications against brown or large patch without an increase in resistance to the fungicide treatment. Follow directions on product label for use. In general, azoxystrobin or pyraclostrobin will control brown and large patch for 28 days. The other three fungicides will control the diseases for 14 days. Irrigate according to label directions after application of granular products. G = a granular product. |
2 RTS = Ready to Spray (a hose-end sprayer)
BP = Brown patch LP = Large Patch
Landscape professionals should consult the 2018 Pest Control Guidelines for Professional Turfgrass Managers for additional recommendations.
If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at [email protected] or 1-888-656-9988.
Nancy Doubrava, Former HGIC Horticulture Information Specialist, Clemson University
James H. Blake, EdD, Extension Associate/Adjunct Professor, Dept. of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Clemson University
Joey Williamson, PhD, HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson University
This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.
In order to combat brown spots, you first have to figure out just what is causing them. There are multiple sources for brown spots, and they must be dealt with in different ways.
Grubs are plump, white beetle larvae that can do serious underground damage by eating roots. Their feeding habits can lead to uniform, sponge-like brown spots in your grass. There are several natural at-home remedies for treating grubs, like introducing beneficial nematodes or milky spore. Luckily, lawn care companies like TruGreen offer grub control, so you don’t have to do any guesswork.
Brown patch disease is caused by the fungus Rhizoctonia. This disease causes patches of dead brown grass in hot and humid weather, especially in mid-to-late summer.
Brown patch creates yellowish-brown irregular circular patches in your lawn, surrounded by a smoke ring border. Usually, the grass within the smoke ring border simply thins out. But sometimes, the grass inside of the ring gets killed off entirely. Luckily, grass that simply thins out can recover without chemicals.
There are a variety of reasons your lawn may develop Brown patch, including high heat and humidity, excessive nitrogen, moisture, poor soil damage, too much thatch, and compacted soil. In some cases, you can’t prevent your lawn from developing Brown thatch—after all, you can’t control the weather. But you can take some steps to make it less likely.
While most lawns recover without chemical intervention, in some cases you may need to combat Brown patch with chemicals. This is best left to professionals. Different fungicides will start showing results at different times. For some, you may see improvement in as little as 24 hours.
Excessive moisture can lead to Brown patch, so be sure to water your lawn either early in the morning before 10 a.m., or between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to ensure that the grass dries out fully before nightfall. If you allow your grass to remain wet all night, it will become more susceptible to disease and pests.
Too much nitrogen can lead to Brown patch. Try to avoid fertilizing your lawn when it’s hot and humid out, and select a fertilizer with a suitable NPK value. NPK refers to the proportions of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the fertilizer. You can ask your local gardening store about which fertilizer may be best for your lawn.
Aerating and dethatching will reduce humidity, making it less likely that Brown patch will develop. Aerating is done using a core aerator or spike aerator, either pulling many little plugs or “cores” of soil out of the ground, or perforating it with many small holes. Dethatching, done with a dethatching rake, removes a layer of organic material that can smother grass. When you aerate and dethatch, you allow the grassroots to access the water, air, and nutrients they need more easily.
Thatch is the accumulation of dead and decomposing organic material nestled between grass blades and the root system. A little thatch can be a good thing, but a layer over ½ inch thick can choke the grass by preventing the flow of air, water, and nutrients and make your lawn more susceptible to pests and diseases.
You can fix this issue by dethatching or aerating your lawn. You can dethatch your lawn using a dethatching rake to break up the layer, which you can rent or buy from your local garden store. Make sure the settings are appropriate for your grass type.
Aerating your lawn involves poking a series of tiny holes into your soil to let it breathe. There are different types of aerators available for purchase or rent, with the most popular being a core aerator. This type of aerator removes tiny plugs of soil to create room for the flow of nutrients, water, and air into your soil.
If your mower blades are dull, they tan tear up your grass instead of cutting it cleanly. Shredded, damaged grass will die, and can cause brown spots. To avoid this, sharpen your mower blades in spring and fall.
Scalping is another issue. Even if your mower blades are sharp, you can do some damage—cutting your grass too short can create brown spots in your lawn. Raise your mower blades and be sure you’re only cutting a third of the grass blades at a time.
Excessive nitrogen can cause unfortunate brown spots. Do not overfeed your lawn by fertilizing more often than is recommended, and do not fertilize on hot days.
Poor soil quality can lead to brown, bare patches. Try pushing a long-head screwdriver six inches into your soil. If you meet too much resistance, try aerating and covering the area with top-dressing to add beneficial organic matter.
Combat soil erosion by aerating—this will increase water absorption and help your grass from drying out.
Urine from animals like dogs can create brown spots in your lawn, since it’s high in nitrogen. These brown spots have brown centers surrounded by dark rings. The best way to resolve this is by raking up as much of the patchy areas as possible and covering the areas with topsoil, then spreading some grass seeds. Water the area daily for two weeks to promote growth.
Your grass will turn brown when it goes dormant. Warm-season grasses go dormant in the winter, and some cool-season grasses may as well. If your lawn is in a transition zone and made up of different types of grasses, some spots may turn brown before others.
Not all brown spots are normal. For example, brown spots that appear after winter and are all along the edge of your lawn, near the sidewalk or driveway, may have been caused by salt damage. These areas will not grow back. The brown spots need to be soaked to try to remove residual salts, and then re-seeded.
You may get brown spots from other issues, but these don’t usually develop over the winter. If your issue was poor drainage or pests, you probably would have seen signs of the issue last fall. Still, if you can’t figure out why there’s a brown spot in your lawn after winter, poor drainage or pests could be the culprit. In this case, it’s wise to call the professionals to assist you.