Have you started noticing bare or brown spots throughout your lawn? These affected areas sometimes vary in size and can be located along the edges of your lawn, under trees, near the pool or even right in the middle of your lawn without any known, justifiable reason. Causes for these unattractive spots range from heavy foot traffic, insect damage, disease, shade or other environmental stressors. It’s important to identify the source for these bare or brown spots before taking any action because you don’t want to waste time and money on products that don’t work or only serve as temporary solutions.
How do I identify bare or brown spots in my lawn?
There’s a difference between bare and brown spots. A bare spot is an area in your lawn where grass isn’t growing. You may even see thatch build-up here. A brown spot, on the other hand, is an area in your lawn where grass is present, but it’s discolored and turned brown. Identifying a bare vs. a brown spot may help narrow down its causes. For example, one of the main causes for brown spots is over-fertilization with products heavy in nitrogen whereas a cause for a bare spot can be excessive foot traffic.
What causes bare or brown spots in my lawn?
As previously mentioned, a wide list of stressors can cause bare or brown spots. Working to find out what the exact cause is can be really beneficial because you can then begin developing a treatment strategy. Here is a list of some of the most common causes for bare and brown spots to look out for:
- Heavy foot traffic
- Hot spots
- Dog urine
- Insect damage
- Disease damage
How do I fix bare or brown spots in my lawn?
First, one of the most recommended steps for this process is to collect and submit a soil analysis. Soil tests will profoundly help you with a treatment strategy as they will tell you which nutrients are and aren’t located in your soil. If your grass isn’t receiving the nutrients it needs, it may be the cause for the damaged spots in your lawn. You can then select a fertilizer that best fits your soil’s needs. Ultimately, this will help with fixing bare or brown spots.
Sod University recommends the LawnifiTM Fertilizer Program, which consists of three boxes for the spring, summer and fall seasons. Each box contains three bottles of liquid fertilizer designed to match your grass’s needs as temperatures and soil conditions change. Lawnifi also offers a granular variety for those who prefer traditional fertilizer applications. Lawnifi Foundation applications last up to three months in your soil. Each bottle or bag of Lawnifi covers 5,000 sq. ft. Learn more about the Lawnifi product line in Why Use Lawnifi Fertilizer? and Granular vs. Liquid Fertilizers.
Damage Caused By Disease
Some other causes for bare or brown spots in your lawn are disease or insect damage. Disease damage can show up as irregular patterns of brown spots or have a clear dead zone where the disease has fed. You will usually see a lighter yellow or brown ring around the outskirts of where the fungus is spreading. Below are a few broad-spectrum fungicide selections that are labeled to treat a variety of lawn diseases. If you think you have a lawn disease, be sure to check out our article on Identifying Common Lawn Diseases.
Damage Caused By Insects
Signs of insect damage can vary. For chinch bugs, a common lawn insect in St. Augustine lawns, the first signs are usually spotty. Given time, chinch bugs are capable of destroying large areas of grass quickly. Although chinch bugs are very small, you can take a magnifying lens to the edges of your lawn and try to look for them.
You can also detect several kinds of insects by conducting a float test, which consists of using an empty canister, water and soap. Make sure the empty canister is open on both sides so that it does not have a top or a bottom. You should be able to remove the top and the bottom of the can with a can opener the same way you would open a can of beans in the kitchen. Once you have removed the top and the bottom, stick the can three inches deep into the soil. You may have to force the end of the can into your lawn or dig a small hole prior to setting the can up. Fill up 3/4s of the can with soapy water and let it sit for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes are up, stir the water so that you agitate everything inside and see if any insects float up.
Other insects that commonly damage lawns are mole crickets, grub worms (white grubs), sod webworms, fall armyworms, billbugs, nematodes or spittlebugs. You can learn more about these in our Insect Identification guide.
Pictured above from left to right: Chinch bug damage and sod webworm damage.
Other Environmental Stressors
Some other causes for the bare or brown spots in your lawn could be drought, intense summer heat, heavy foot traffic or shade. Most grasses should receive about one inch of water per week. This includes rainfall or any granular products you may have watered in. During the summer, a lot of homeowners overwater their lawn because of the intense heat. This is not advised. If the Sun seems to be baking your grass, apply a layer of topsoil to these areas to reduce further damage. A lot of times, hot spots start to show up in home lawns as temperatures climb during the summer season. Applying a layer of top dressing will help with this. If you aren’t sure how much water your lawn is receiving, conduct an irrigation audit and make adjustments if needed.
If you have a shady yard, we have a few tips for managing shady landscapes here. If the shade is caused by a permanent structure like a fence or another house, consider filling these spots with grass for shady areas like CitraBlue® St. Augustine or InnovationTM Zoysia or by using grass plugs to test shade tolerance beforehand.
Sometimes, certain types of grasses, like bermuda grass, centipede grass, zoysia or St. Augustine, will eventually spread with stolons to fill in these spots. Damaged spots caused by heavy foot traffic can be filled in with seed or grass plugs. Once these areas have been filled in, keep foot traffic to a minimum so that it can establish properly.
Pictured above: CitraBlue St. Augustine grass plugs that were planted to fill in bare spots in a home lawn. These grass plugs will eventually spread to completely fill in the damaged spot.
If you have extremely heavy foot traffic on your lawn, or, for example, have kids playing soccer in your lawn all the time, consider installing a different type of sod like Celebration® or Latitude 36® Bermudagrass. Otherwise, it’s recommended that you fill in these bare spots with the same kind of grass you currently have in your lawn to create a uniform look. If different grass types are used to fill in the bare or brown spots, your lawn might look patchy once the grass establishes and fills in. Below are a few popular seed and grass plug products.
No matter what is causing bare or brown spots in your lawn, it should be noted that the grass is weakened in these areas, which provides weeds with the perfect opportunity to start growing in place of grass. Our selection of herbicide products will keep weeds at bay while you get your lawn back in shape. Lawnifi Fertilizer will also help boost your grass’s growth so that it fills in these bare spots. This series of tips will surely help your lawn get back to its gorgeous, lush look in no time. In the meantime, be sure to check out our blog on How to Thicken Your Lawn.