Will Grass Spread and Cover the Bare Spots in My Lawn?

Updated: Apr. 11, 2024

A lush lawn can still be prone to bare spots. We take a look at the causes, how to repair them and cover the bare spots.

Bare spots on your lawn? I’ve been helping homeowners and professionals battle this common issue for over 30 years. Thankfully, bare spots are easy to fix, but you need to be patient and committed to the process.

What’s Causing the Bare Spots on My Lawn?

Bare spots on your lawn don’t just happen. There’s always a story behind them. Most times, the source of these blemishes is easy to identify and commonly relate to three basic lawn care  issues:

Dog Urine

If you’re a dog owner, you probably know what I’m talking about. And to debunk a common myth, both male and female dog urine can kill your grass.

It’s the salt in dog urine that causes grass to die. Urine generally contains nitrogen (a fertilizer) and some sources have a very high salt index. Dog urine is one of them. That’s why these spots are typically dead in the middle and show a nice dark green edge around that brown spot.

The best approach to reducing this damage is to flush these areas with water. This dilutes the salt concentration and moves the urine through the thatch and into the soil. You can also apply gypsum to these areas before flushing to facilitate the movement of salts of any kind through the soil profile.

Turf Diseases

Many lawn diseases can attack your lawn depending on the types of grass you have, how you take care of your lawn and current weather conditions.

There is a group of lawn diseases collectively referred to as patch diseases. These can look like dog spots but typically are present because conditions were favorable for their growth. Some of the damage they create is reversible and the grass will bounce back. Other times, the damage is severe and the grass in these areas is killed. Diseases like Necrotic Ring Spot, Brown Patch, Summer Patch and Take-All Patch demand your attention.

Oftentimes, you can suppress these diseases by changing your lawn care maintenance, e.g., fertilizer less, water less, manage thatch thickness, etc. If fungicide treatment is necessary, contact your local lawn and garden extension service for recommendations.

Human Error

Sometimes we get in our own way. I can personally attest to that! Missteps happen. Spilling fertilizer or gas on your lawn, accidentally using the wrong herbicide like Roundup®, excessive use of ice melters or even using a charcoal grill too close to your grass— All of these, and others, often do a self-inflicted number on your lawn.

Taking cautionary steps, like filling your fertilizer spreader or your mower’s fuel tank on the driveway rather than your lawn is a good start. Carefully read herbicide labels and do not overuse granular ice melters during the winter.

How to Repair Bare Spots on Your Lawn

Follow these steps to ensure the best results:

  1. Remove the remaining duff by aggressively raking the spot until you see bare soil. You want to make sure you remove all of the thatch and dead grass.
  2. If your bare spot is caused by dog urine, this is a great time to add a few handfuls of granular gypsum, scratch it into the surface and then flush with water. Allow the area to dry out before continuing.
  3. If needed, add a small amount of clean topsoil to the area to bring it up to grade with the surrounding lawn. Gently scratch it in so it blends nicely with the existing soil. Lightly tamp it down.
  4. Reseed the prepared soil with a high-quality grass seed mixture. Reach out to your lawn & garden extension or a reputable garden center for help in selecting the correct seed mix. Stay away from the cheap stuff, especially ones with annual ryegrass.
  5. Apply a thin layer of soil over the seeded spot. Apply no more than 1/8 to ¼ inch of soil and again, lightly tamp.
  6. Lightly sprinkle a starter fertilizer over the newly seeded spots. This is optional.
  7. Finally, carefully water the area, being sure not to use too much water pressure.

Water these seeded areas for the next two or three weeks until all seed has germinated. Some seed types germinate more quickly than others, so light, frequent watering is critical even after you see the first light-green fuzz. You can continue to mow your lawn as usual.

Will Grass Spread to Bare Spots?

That depends on the type of grass seed you’re using. Some grasses spread by producing underground stems called rhizomes or above-ground runners called stolons. Examples of these would be Kentucky bluegrass, creeping red fescue, bermudagrass and St. Augustinegrass. Choosing the right grass seed for your lawn is important. Learning more about the growth habits of each will improve your chances of success. If you choose wisely, the spreading nature of these species will work to your favor and accelerate the speed at which your bare spots heal.

FAQs

How Can I Tell What Type of Grass I Have On My Lawn?

If you live in a northern state, chances are you have cool-season grasses in your lawn. If you live in the South, Southeast or Southwest, you have warm-season grasses growing on your lawn. That’s the easy part.

After that, it gets a bit tricky and you need to look closely at an individual grass plant. There are identification keys available online or on YouTube. Two of my favorites are Penn State’s Cool-Season Turfgrass ID and North Carolina State Extension’s Turfgrass Identification.

Does Cutting Grass Make It Spread Faster

Maybe. All grasses, including pasture and forage types, are stimulated by mowing. Removing vertical growth encourages them to grow laterally or sideways. So in theory, mowing your lawn using a sharp blade, may promote spreading. And that goes for your entire lawn!

Will Grass Reseed Itself?

No. Allowing your lawn to go unmowed and expecting it to go to seed and regenerate itself simply doesn’t work. It’s an old wives’ tale. The best way to keep your lawn healthy and looking its best is to mow regularly at the recommended height for the grass types in your lawn.