How to Fix Dead, Thin, or Discolored Grass

Updated on November 16, 2016

Grass Problems

As a landscaper in San Diego, I came across many of the different grass problems that often plagued homeowners, and learned how to overcome them in order to give a person that beautiful lush lawn that every homeowner loves.  In order for grass to grow well, it needs to meet a very specific set of conditions, and when one or more of these conditions are not met, you'll end up with some pretty specific problems.  Some of the more common grass problems include, thin grass, dead spots, fungus, weeds, and discoloration.

Grass naturally wants to grow up thick and vibrantly green.  But it often encounters problems and obstacles that keep it thin, patchy, and weak.  Overcoming these problems is the key to having a beautiful lawn.  The only downfall is that some of these problems are systemic, meaning that you might have to make some major changes in order to get your grass to grow back properly.  We'll go through the common problems step by step and how to overcome them.

Grass problems can very quickly transform a beautiful lawn like this into an unsightly mess.
Grass problems can very quickly transform a beautiful lawn like this into an unsightly mess.

Grass Problems -- Thin Grass

Sometimes grass comes in weak, thin, and patchy. This can be caused by a few different reasons. One of the common things that causes this problem is shade. Often when grass is overshadowed by trees and bushes, it just plain won't grow well. Grass loves sunshine and water. If you deprive it of either, it's not going to do very well and will be thin and patchy. Another thing that causes grass to grow thin and patchy is poor soil conditions. This can sometimes be overcome by fertilization, and sometimes not.

Grass soil needs to have good drainage, be slightly acidic, and have some sandy content to it. If your soil has large clay deposits or rocks, it will cause the grass to grow very poorly. If this is the case, you can try adding gypsum periodically over the course of about three years. This will break up the clay slowly over time. But for clay and rocks, sometimes the only thing you can do is start over with better soil.

A third thing that can cause grass to thin out and lose its lush appeal over time is a lack of aeration. Grass needs to be aerated periodically every few years in order to reestablish proper roots. The aeration will allow the grass roots to decompress from being compacted during sports and other things, and will give them a nice flow of oxygen.

A fourth thing that can cause your grass to be thin and patchy is if you have the wrong kind of grass for your region. Certain grasses prefer some climates more than others. Other grasses have been bread for specific regions and conditions in order to more adequately tolerate things like heat and drought. Though most grasses will grow in any of the regions of the United States, they won't thrive in all of those regions and will be thin and patchy unless specifically suited to the particular climate.

Grass Problems -- Dead Spots

Dead spots are among the most common of grass problems and can be caused by quite a large range of factors.  I'll mention them all briefly.  Pests of one form or another are among the most common grass killers.  Rabbits will eat grass down to its bare nubs and kill whole areas before moving on.  If a rabbit is the culprit, you should see rabbit droppings in and around the area of the dead spot.  Another culprit for some cases of dead spots is dogs.  Dog urine can kill grass and will leave circular dead spots.  A third pest that can kill grass is grubs.  Grubs are little worms that live beneath the surface and eat the roots of your grass.  If this is the case, there shouldn't really be any definite pattern to the dead spots, and the dead grass should pull up easily with no roots.  Grub poison can be bought at your local garden center.

Another thing that can easily cause dead spots in your grass is a broken, clogged, or inadequate sprinkler system.  Often, without the homeowner knowing it, one of the sprinklers in the system will become clogged or broken, or just plain won't have the pressure to reach to all areas of the grass.  When this happens, the grass in the under-watered area will start to die.  Either repair the sprinkler, or if it's just inadequate to cover all the areas, then you might have to spend 5 minutes a few times a week watering that specific area by hand.

Grass Problems -- Fungus

Fungus is a major grass problem for a lot of people. There are 4 major types of fungus that affect grass. They are:

  1. Fairy Ring fungus is a very common type of fungus. It grows in rings, leaving dark green and dead grass. If you have things beneath the surface such as old roots and stumps, fairy ring fungus can start to take root, decomposing the dead vegetation and also killing the grass.
  2. Rust Fungus generally strikes at the end of summer. Like it's name implies, it changes the color of your lawn to lighter shades of green and yellow.
  3. Pink Snow Fungus will kill your grass in patches, and has white and/or pink fungus that may resemble cotton. It comes with heavy snow cover and long sedentary periods. Difficult to avoid in some states.
  4. Slime Fungus is just like what it sounds like, slime. It forms when the grass is overly wet for long periods of time. If you leave grass clippings on the lawn instead of raking them or bagging, this kind of fungus will most likely start to appear.

Fungus generally likes to take advantage of dead matter. So if there's fungus popping up in your lawn, like mushrooms or other types of fungus, it's probably because there's dead matter about. Some fungus will grow on dead tree matter that's buried beneath the surface of the grass, like an old tree stump or the roots. Other fungus will take advantage of dead grass clippings that were left on the lawn after mowing. If you don't have any dead matter lying around for the fungus to decompose, you shouldn't have too much of a problem with it. But sometimes, like I said, the dead matter is subterranean and difficult to identify.

Grass Problems -- Weeds

Another common grass problems is weed infestation.  Things like clover and dandelions very quickly can infest an otherwise healthy lawn, sprawling out or growing very tall, making the lawn look poor.  Fortunately, specially designed weed killers exist that don't hurt your lawn but kill the infesting weeds.  If you aren't sure what kind of weed is infesting your grass and you want to get rid of it, take a sample into your local garden center and they should be able to help you identify it and find a product to eradicate it.

Grass Problems -- Discoloration

Discoloration in your lawn generally comes because of three factors. If you have a grass that doesn't like a certain climate, such as a cold one, and the weather gets a bit cold, it can start to turn the grass yellow. The other big cause of discoloration is poor fertilization. If you haven't fertilized your grass in awhile, or if you don't regularly fertilize, your grass can start to grow thin and yellow on you. A third cause of discoloration that's more rare is fungus. In one of the above sections, we discussed rust fungus which can discolor your blades of grass and make them yellow, orange, and brown.

For more about lawn care, check out my article on laying sod.

Laying Sod

Questions & Answers

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      • Bills Place profile image

        Billy Haynes 

        5 months ago from Paragould, AR

        We got a new place a little over a year ago and we have a bare spot in the front yard. Due to lack of sunlight I believe, but I keep trying to get grass to grow.

      • Benjimester profile imageAUTHOR

        Benji Mester 

        8 years ago from San Diego, California

        :( that's sad. Hopefully it will come back for you in the Spring.

      • Maryanne Maguire profile image

        Maryanne Maguire 

        8 years ago from Santa Monica, CA

        Yep, midwest here with no worries about grass - -it's dead :(

      • Benjimester profile imageAUTHOR

        Benji Mester 

        8 years ago from San Diego, California

        Right on. Thanks for stopping by!

      • barb t profile image

        barb t 

        8 years ago from Denver

        Hi Benjimester,

        Thank you for taking the time to share this information maybe this will help me keep my grass better next summer.

      • Benjimester profile imageAUTHOR

        Benji Mester 

        8 years ago from San Diego, California

        Thanks! Yeah, I've done that on more than one occasion. A lot of the time the garden center doesn't know either, but together you can usually figure it out.

      • Hilly Chism profile image

        Hilly Chism 

        8 years ago from Holland

        Good hub, I like the tip about taking a weed into the garden center for them to identify it.

      • Benjimester profile imageAUTHOR

        Benji Mester 

        8 years ago from San Diego, California

        Nice! Everything grows better in the midwest.

      • nicomp profile image

        nicomp really 

        8 years ago from Ohio, USA

        Living in the midwest, we have no grass problems this year, it's all dirt.

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