Lawn Problems? Here's How to Solve Them

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated March 8, 2022
A landscaped garden with green mowed lawn
Photo: Byjeng / iStock / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Common lawn issues include brown grass and bare spots.

  • Grubs and weeds can destroy grass.

  • Excess water and fertilizer are typical culprits.

  • Aeration and proper care can get rid of your lawn problems.

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Many people dream of a lush, green lawn that leads to their home, but grass can be finicky when it comes to light, water, heat, and fertilizer. A little too much water can lead to yellow grass or bare spots, while too much nitrogen from fertilizer can invite crabgrass to take over. If you’re having lawn problems, find out what causes the most common issues and how to solve them.

1. Brown Grass

Many things can lead to brown or dying grass. Insects may be the issue, or your lawn could be receiving too much or not enough water. Soil with unbalanced pH levels may lead to thatch, or areas of dead and decaying plant matter.

Regardless of the reason for brown grass, don’t reach for the fertilizer. Fertilizers can actually make the problem worse by killing off beneficial microbes in the soil. Instead, start by reducing the amount of water and fertilizer you use on your lawn. Dethatch the lawn by raking or using a dethatching machine. Aerating the soil, which breaks up compacted earth, can also revive your lawn.

2. Crabgrass

Crabgrass is a weed that may return to your yard every year. While it’s tempting to add nitrogen-rich fertilizer to your lawn to make it an enviable green, excess nitrogen is a primary cause of crabgrass. Avoid quick-release nitrogen-based fertilizers. If you use a nitrogen-based fertilizer, opt for a slow-release variety.

Another cause of crabgrass is compacted soil. Aerate your soil about once per year in the spring to help prevent crabgrass. According to one study, mowing grass to a greater height is an effective way to stifle crabgrass. Mow grass at 3 inches or higher to keep crabgrass at bay.

3. Compacted Soil

Compacted soil can lead to many problems for your lawn. The tightly-packed soil makes it difficult for the grass’s roots to obtain water and air, which can cause the grass to die or invite pests, like crabgrass. Aerate your lawn once per year to keep the soil loose and healthy.

4. Grubs

Grubs, or beetle larvae, feed on the roots of grass especially in the fall, which can kill your lawn. These insects also attract larger pests, like raccoons and skunks, that will dig up your yard to get to the grubs. A healthy lawn can tolerate about six grubs per square foot.

If you have a lot of grubs on your lawn, more than 15 per square foot, you may want to apply an insecticide to quickly get rid of the problem before they kill your grass. Milky spore disease is a slower-acting but long-lasting treatment for grubs. You can also try beneficial nematodes, which can kill off grubs in 24 to 48 hours.

5. Rust

A young woman sprinkling the lawn in the garden
Photo: Westend61 / Getty Images

Rust is a fungal disease that turns grass orange or light brown. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear how to clear up rust. The best course of action is to change how you care for your lawn. 

  • Soil test: Test the soil pH to determine if it needs fertilizer and what kind of nutrients it needs.

  • Water: Your grass may be getting too much or too little water.

  • Mowing: Try mowing grass to a taller height of 2.5 inches or more.

6. Thin Grass

You have a lawn covered in green grass, but it’s looking a bit sparse. Overseeding will help give your lawn a fuller appearance, so determine the best time of year to overseed, typically in late summer. Consider hiring a professional lawn seeding company near you to ensure your lawn gets the best care. The average cost to overseed a lawn is around $1,000.

7. Bare Patches

If more than one-third of your lawn has bare patches or over half of the lawn is covered in weeds, you’ll need to reseed it if you want a healthy yard. Reseeding a lawn is a big job, but it’s sometimes the only way to revive a yard.

8. Yellow Lawn

For yellowing grass that resembles straw, you’re likely dealing with Ascochyta Leaf Blight, which is a disease caused by stress. If you live somewhere with volatile weather, where it’s hot and dry then swings to cool and rainy, your grass may experience Ascochyta Leaf Blight.

Fortunately, this is one disease that typically resolves itself after a few weeks. Keep up with your regular watering and mowing schedule. Aim to water your grass with about 1 inch of water once per week. Mow in the afternoons, when moisture on the grass has evaporated, and cut it to a height of 2.5 to 3.5 inches.

9. Fairy Rings

While they sound enchanting, you may be less-than-thrilled to find dark green circles, often accompanied by mushrooms, in your otherwise perfect lawn. Although they can be annoying, fairy rings are harmless and will go away on their own as the weather dries up. Continue your regular mowing and watering schedule, and lighten up on the amount of fertilizer you apply to the lawn.

10. Thistle

Thistle is an unwelcome weed for homeowners who enjoy a barefoot stroll in the grass. Its prickly leaves can hurt, and this plant grows tall with deep roots. To get rid of thistle, wear thick gloves and pull each weed as you see it. For extensive thistle problems, use a chemical weed control spray about once per year, either in spring or fall.

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