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How to fix irregular brown/dying patches of grass?

How to fix irregular brown/dying patches of grass?

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  #1  
Old 06-09-15, 07:02 AM
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How to fix irregular brown/dying patches of grass?

Overview
I am having some problems with my lawn and am interested in suggestions for proper care. In my opinion, the lawn looks generally healthy, but there are many irregularly shaped tan/brown patches where the grass appears to be dying. They can be seen in the attached photos. The pictures show several areas of trouble on the upper level next to the patio, and especially where the lawn meets the drylock concrete block wall. There are also some of the same patches on the lower area of the lawn.

General Care
The lawn is in northern New Jersey, and is a mix of ryegrass, kentucky bluegrass, and fescue. I mow the lawn once a week. The short areas get mulched, while some of the shadier areas, where the grass grows longer, get bagged. I manually move a sprinkler around to water the lawn if it has not rained recently. I try to get 1" of water per week (as measured by weather.com + a rain gauge).
In late March, I raked out some minor winter mold patches.
On April 11th, I fertilized with Scotts Turf Builder Halts Crabgrass Preventer with Lawn Food, using a rotary spreader on setting 3.5.
On May 2nd, I applied Scotts GrubEx.

Question
Do you know what the problem is with my grass that is creating these ugly patches? Can you please recommend a solution?

My best guess is not enough water. The lower area with patchiness gets more sun than does near the shed (where there is no such problem). On the upper level, the grass next to the deck (which would get slightly more shade) mostly looks fine. But why would the grass near the retaining wall look so thoroughly bad? The wall is not mortared, so it does not retain much water.

I did a lot of extra watering these past two weeks, but the brown areas have not grown back yet.

Thank you!

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  #2  
Old 06-09-15, 08:46 AM
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What's the soil like underneath the area where the grass is more sparse, and was this area elevated above the remaining lower part of the lawn, or was it the actual level before any landscaping was done?

From what I can see, it looks as though there's either sand or clay under the grass. If so, you'll need to enhance the soil to make it more loamy.

I'm noticing also that there's a narrow border of almost bare earth on the inside of the retaining wall. And the most bare areas are directly by the patio.

I'm wondering what was done to this area when the patio was excavated and poured - was dirt moved and piled onto the adjacent area?

I'm assuming of course that you don't have dogs or cats using that area?

Also, how long ago was the elevated area landscaped? Are the browning out areas new this year?

I also notice that the lower level seems to slope downward. I'm wondering about the slope of the land before the house was built as from what I can see in the photo, the main part of the house is on a higher level than the back of the house.

BTW, I love the retaining wall with the entrance to the lower part. It reminds me of an English or French courtyard which would lead to an extensively cultivated kitchen garden.

You might also have some grubs in that area of the lawn.
 
  #3  
Old 06-09-15, 09:14 AM
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Hi @NorthernWinds, thanks for your reply. Answers below:


> What's the soil like underneath the area where the grass is more sparse, and was this area elevated above the remaining lower part of the lawn, or was it the actual level before any landscaping was done?
The upper area was the actual level before any landscaping was done. Before we moved in, the yard was already a tiered area. We had the wall built and extended the upper area a few feet. But the dead grass covers both newly created ground and existing ground.

> From what I can see, it looks as though there's either sand or clay under the grass. If so, you'll need to enhance the soil to make it more loamy.
There is no sand or clay. The tan color you are seeing is the dead/dying grass matted down. Under the grass is several inches of top soil, and below the top soil is fill dirt. I was generally present when the area was landscaped.

> I'm noticing also that there's a narrow border of almost bare earth on the inside of the retaining wall. And the most bare areas are directly by the patio.
I'm sorry for the confusion. Those areas you are seeing are not bare earth. That is the color of the grass in these areas. Though I can understand why it might look like sand. I should have gotten a close-up picture.

> I'm wondering what was done to this area when the patio was excavated and poured - was dirt moved and piled onto the adjacent area?
So there's the grass between the patio and the wall, right? Half of that distance is the old yard, which was just leveled and seeded. Half the distance is totally new, having been created from fill and new topsoil, before being seeded.

> I'm assuming of course that you don't have dogs or cats using that area?
Correct, no pets. There is an occasional fox or deer only.

> Also, how long ago was the elevated area landscaped? Are the browning out areas new this year?
This work was done in summer 2013. The grass first grew up in fall 2013, and looked great throughout 2014.

> I also notice that the lower level seems to slope downward. I'm wondering about the slope of the land before the house was built as from what I can see in the photo, the main part of the house is on a higher level than the back of the house.
I don't know much about that. When I moved in, the slope was pretty much what you see. A flat upper area, and a sloped lower area.

> You might also have some grubs in that area of the lawn.
Our lawn definitely does have grubs. Last year there was a lot of damage from skunks digging up grubs. So I put down a grub treatment (GrubEx) last month. It's possible that the brown areas have a higher concentration of grubs. I wouldn't know why, though.
 
  #4  
Old 06-09-15, 09:38 AM
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I'd reseed and water as needed. 2 yrs isn't all that long to get a lawn established especially if conditions are less than ideal. If reseeding doesn't help, then I'd investigate further Keep after the grubs - they like the roots
 
  #5  
Old 06-09-15, 09:41 AM
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Hi @marksr. Thanks for your comment. Is there still time to reseed now, or better to wait until the fall?
 
  #6  
Old 06-09-15, 09:48 AM
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You can reseed this late but it is more challenging. It will need more water and probably straw to protect the new growth in the bare spots. Spring and fall are the best times to seed.
 
  #7  
Old 06-09-15, 12:07 PM
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I wouldn't re-seed now - it's best in the fall with your type of grass anyway.

Have you had a soil test done?

Also, don't bag the clippings, that's moisture and fertilizer for the lawn.

June is the best month to treat grubs so kill those guys gone.
 
  #8  
Old 06-10-15, 07:47 AM
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Here are some close-ups of the lawn. The areas that look like sand in the zoomed out photo are actually matted down dead grass. If it were just an issue of under-watering, I would have expected that larger areas of the lawn would be dying. Instead, these are these very small patches.

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  #9  
Old 06-10-15, 08:12 AM
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I think it's grubs (Japanese Beetle?) and to verify this, I'd plan to go out and dig up a little patch of sod, without making any noise in advance, and roll a couple feet of it to see if grubs (white guys with orange heads) are present. After investigating, you can put it right back in place.

Three years ago, I inoculated my lawns with Milky Spore (from St. Gabriel Organics) to rid myself of the grubs, and it seems to be working. It wasn't the dry patches that bothered me so much as it was the moles, Raccoons and Skunks that tore up the lawn to get to the grubs (just doing their jobs). None have appeared so far this year, and the Milky Spore is expected to last in the soil for 20 years.
 
  #10  
Old 06-11-15, 08:30 AM
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Hi @Vermont! Thanks for the idea. I myself had wondered if it was grubs. I had a bad grub infestation last year, which lead to the lawn being town apart last fall by skunks looking for a snack, just like you experienced.

On May 2nd, I applied had Scotts GrubEx over the entire lawn. Maybe I didn't do it soon enough. I went out yesterday and dug up several patches of soil, and actually did not see a single grub. They were plentiful last year, so I know what to look for. And your suggestion made sense, so I'm surprised that I didn't find them yesterday. I was digging up the dead patches of grass. Maybe once they kill the grass they move on, so I should dig up a green patch of grass.

I like this Milky Spore idea. It looks like it needs several applications, but will still be cheaper in the long run than using GrubEx every year.
 
  #11  
Old 06-11-15, 10:22 AM
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Originally Posted by kmp878
". . . I like this Milky Spore idea. It looks like it needs several applications . . ."
It's slow in getting started; but if you have Japanese Beetle Grubs, the Milky Spore attacks only those grubs, and it invades the carcasses of the dead and dying grubs, providing an almost endless supply of additional "applications", from year to year.

St.Gabriel makes the Milky Spore powder out of ground up diseased grub carcasses . . . . looks like bleached white flour !

It loses its effectiveness when there cease to be Japanese Beetles in the area, laying eggs in nice lush lawns.

I never had grubs (or mole, raccoon or skunk damage) until we created a large Raspberry patch a few years ago (about 50' X 50', with mowed grass in between the rows of raspberries). That patch drew in the Japanese Beetles, and things progressed from there. So I use "Sevin" on the adult Beetles, and Milky Spore on their larvae offspring . . . . plus I use some ultra-sound devices to discourage the miscellaneous rodents (who are just doing their jobs).

It's like a whole series of unintended consequences . . . . just to get fresh Raspberries !
 
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