Diagnosing lawn problems with your turf or sod

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Diagnosing Lawn Problems

Diagnosing lawn problems is not hard - you need to observe the turf and understand some basics about turf grass physiology and the impact of the environment.

Some common problems are:

Grass in the shade?

No turf looks as good in the shade as it does in the sun. There are two problems with grass in shade: reduced sunlight and reduced air movement. While everyone understands the problems of reduced sunlight, reduced air movement is an equally serious problem. For more information, see our Grass In Shade page.

Grass in the sun?

Poor looking grass in sunny areas is the result of the plants being stressed. The action that you take will either cause more stress or relieve it. The trick is to find what is causing the plants to be stressed. Possible stressors are:

  • Fertility: Home lawns need three or more fertilizations per year to look good. If it has been four to six weeks since the last fertilizer was applied, another application is due. However, it is also important to avoid over applications! Learn more on our page about Evaluating a Fertilizer Program.
  • Mowing: Short, mowed turf has short roots. You should set your mower high - 2 ½ inches or more. Let the clippings lie, unless they are long and could smother the grass. Leaving the clippings does not cause thatch and does recycle nutrients to the lawn.
  • Watering: Are you watering properly? The only proper way to water is thoroughly but infrequently. Over-watered lawns are shallow rooted, because air is cut off from getting to the roots. You cannot properly water a lawn by setting a timer for weeks or months at a time. For more information, see our page on Overwatering.
  • Insects: Grubs can eat the roots of turf and are an easy problem to check for. Just grab the turf and pull up; then, look at the surface, or a little below the surface, for white worms. Grubs are usually only a problem in May, August and September. You may want to treat your lawn for grubs if you find more than 5 per square foot. See our Grubs page for information about these insects.
  • Temperature and humidity: Cold temperatures in the Fall and Spring reduce leaf growth. Cold temps in Winter, especially when there is no snow cover, often turn leaf tips brown. When the grass grows in the Spring, the brown tips soon disappear. High temperature in the Summer stresses the turf and slows the growth. Proper irrigation will lessen this stress. A week of high humidity at night is perfect for disease development. An overall good turf care program and the use of disease resistant varieties is the only preparation for this condition.
  • Disease: Prevention -by mowing, watering, and fertilizing properly, is the best cure for lawn disease. If you follow proper prevention techniques, you will seldom have a disease severe enough to require renovation of the lawn, unless you have grass with inferior genes. Lawn diseases do occur and the first instinct most homeowners have is to apply a fungicide. This approach is wrong because, in most cases, the fungicide needs to be applied before the outbreak occurs. By the time the symptoms are seen, it is too late to apply a fungicide. Homeowners applying fungicides seldom see results worth their time, effort, or expense. The more practical approach is to view a disease as a symptom of stressed turf and then work to correct the causes of the stressed turf. Newer grass varieties have improved genetics that lessen the severity of devastating diseases.

Genetics

If you do a good job of caring for your lawn and it still does not look as good as you want it to, maybe the grass lacks the genetic potential to look good. There are hundreds of grass varieties, and they do not all look or cost the same. Sodco uses Kentucky Bluegrass and Fescue Blends because they have the greatest potential to look good, out of all the available varieties for this area. Replacing a poor quality lawn with a better lawn is expensive. It is better to start out with the best possible genetics.