Top 10 Most Common Grass Problems

The grass could always be greener — or less weedy or patchy, depending. Read on for the top 10 grass problems, as identified by a longtime lawn care pro.

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.

If you have a lawn, chances are you have some sort of lawn problem — possibly several. Some may be naturally occurring; others you may have accidentally had a hand in. Identifying the problem and understanding its source is the first course of action that sets you on a path to a greener, healthier lawn.

Over-Watering

Signs: Yellowing or discoloration of the grass, or the presence of mushrooms.

Worry more about over-watering than your lawn becoming too dry. In most situations, your lawn only needs about an inch of water per week. Include rainfall in that amount, too. If you have an irrigation system, chances are you’re overdoing it.

Too Much Shade

Signs: Thinning grass; mats of algae or moss.

Structures and large trees can create heavy shade. You can’t do much about the shadow cast by your house, but you can raise the canopy of your trees — or maybe even remove a couple.

Moles, Voles and Other Critters

Signs: A pattern of ridges, and potentially dying lawn at the perimeter of your lot.

Mole damage is easy to spot. They create tunnels just under the lawn surface, pushing the ground up and creating unsightly ridges, often killing the grass in their path. Mowing over the lumps can scalp the grass, exacerbating the problem. The best way to rid your lawn of moles is by trapping them or using baits like Talpirid or Victor Bait Pellets.

Skunks and raccoons also can damage or even kill your lawn as they dig for grubs and other food. Don’t worry about animals like voles that merely cause cosmetic problems, like early spring “runways” in the grass. These areas will grow back on their own.

Dog Damage

Signs: Yellowish dead spots.

Dog urine kills grass due to its high salt content. Scratch up these dead spots, apply gypsum first and then flush the gypsum into the soil with plenty of water. Finish by reseeding and covering the seed with some soil. And don’t worry — the gypsum is pet safe.

Patchy Grass

Signs: Grass growing in various colors, strengths and lengths.

Not all grass seed species play well together. Reseeding or spot seeding with a different type of grass from what’s already growing is the leading cause of patchy lawns.

You don’t need an exact match, but do make sure you to stick with varieties suited for your lawn and intended for use in your area. Northern lawns should be reseeded with a mix containing mostly Kentucky bluegrass, with a smaller amount of perennial ryegrass. In shaded areas, look for a quality seed mix with at least 50 percent fine fescue. For southern lawns, consider Bermuda grass, centipede grass, zoysia grass and tall fesuce.

It’s a good idea to consult with local lawn and garden professionals on more specific recommendations for your site and intended use.

Compacted Soil

Signs: Pooling water; dull, limp, discolored and/or thinning grass.

Your soil is a living, breathing thing. Compaction from naturally occurring heavy soils, heavy equipment or repeated mowing patterns shrink essential pore space, squeezing the life out of your soil. It’s hard for grass roots to penetrate compacted soil to reach the water it needs to thrive.

To check if your soil is compacted, stick a screwdriver into the ground. If it penetrates easily without much effort, you’re good. If you have difficulty getting the screwdriver into the ground or can’t get it in at all, your ground is compacted. Change your mowing patterns regularly and aerify your lawn each fall to loosen it and give your grass roots room to grow.

Weeds

Signs: A non-grass plant or flower causing variation amid your otherwise uniform lawn.

They come in all shapes and sizes, depending on where you live and how you maintain your lawn. Prime contenders for the top three most common weeds: crabgrass, dandelions and clover. Some are more of a challenge than others, such as creeping charlie and broadleaf plantain, which are invasive and can choke out your lawn.

The best weed prevention is healthy grass. A dense, thick lawn, plus regular hand weeding, should keep weeds from muscling their way into your beautiful lawn. To get to that point, start with a high-quality weed killer, following label instructions.

Turf Diseases

Signs: Patches, lesions on leaf blades or a greasy, smutty substance on lawn surface.

Some diseases such as ascochyta and dollar spot are mostly cosmetic. Others, like necrotic ring spot and brown patch, can be deadly to your lawn, so be sure to pay attention and get to the bottom of which you’re dealing with. Typically, a change in weather will make it go away. But if temperatures and humidity remain high for an extended period of time, these diseases could kill your grass.

Lawn fungicides are available at your favorite retailer that you can apply yourself. Not all fungicides work on the same lawn diseases, so pay attention and ask. Remember to read and follow label instructions carefully. Or you can hire a pro to identify your disease problem and recommend a treatment.

Over-Fertilizing

Signs: Spongy, puffy or excessively thatchy grass.

You can suffocate your lawn with too much tender loving care, and you’ll notice the signs when you walk across your lawn. Over fertilizing can lead to puffiness, which can result in patchy, unsightly scalping when you mow.

Always choose quality lawn fertilizers that contain at least 50 percent slow-release nitrogen, to provide a more even feeding without flushes of unwanted growth. And consider this your official directive to spend less time watering and fertilizing your lawn and more time simply enjoying it.

Buying Cheap

Signs: General patchiness, lack of uniform appearance, apple-green color and a myriad of weed and disease problems.

We’re all guilty of cutting corners somewhere in our lives. My advice when it comes to lawn care products? Spring for the expensive stuff. Cutting corners and buying cheap means you’re not giving your lawn what it needs, even when you think you’re doing all you can. Spend a little more and you’ll most likely end up with a better performing product — and a better-looking lawn. As they say, you get what you pay for!