Most lawns in Northern Utah are “cool season” grasses, meaning they thrive during the cool parts of the year such as spring and fall. These same varieties of grasses try to go dormant when it gets hot. When the summer heat is on, our lawns require regular watering to stay green. They also become more prone to disease and insects as the plants get a little stressed.
While most people will assume brown spots are a result of under watering, there are many other reasons a lawn turns brown, some of which are made worse if watering is increased.
So, what can you do to prevent a misstep and keep your lawn green this summer without being wasteful with your water? Here are five common reasons lawns go brown and their remedies:
1. Irrigation issues
Northern Utah is too hot and dry during the summer months for lawns to grow without being irrigated. Relying on the rain just doesn’t cut it. A lawn that is stressing from lack of water will first take on a dark, blue-green hue that will eventually turn the color of straw if water is not applied. Under-watered areas will generally be evenly brown with no healthy green spots in the middle. You may see a pattern where the lawn is green by a sprinkler head or in the shade but brown everywhere else. Many of these issues are sprinkler system related due to broken parts or poorly designed or installed systems.
How to fix irrigation issues:
First, check your sprinklers to make sure they are not blocked, sunken, tilted or broken. All of these problems can keep water from reaching the lawn and result in brown spots. If you have a spot that your irrigation system simply doesn’t reach, consider watering with the hose once a week instead of turning everything on longer. Unless your entire lawn is stressing, don’t increase your watering time or frequency. Fix the sprinkler system by changing out the nozzles, replacing filters or changing the head spacing so that you can get proper coverage of the area being watered.
Insect damage can look like an irrigation issue, but adding additional water will do nothing to green up those areas. There are often green, healthy patches mixed in the brown spot in question. Grab a handful of the brown spots of grass and give it a tug. If the lawn lifts and roots pull up easily compared to the healthy, green lawn next to it, insects are likely eating the roots.
How to fix insect damage:
If you suspect that insects are damaging your lawn, pull back the turf and see if you can find the problem pests in the soil. Webworm, billbugs and grubs are common culprits as they often eat grass roots while in their larval stage. Ask your local nursery or USU Extension agent to identify the problem and then properly learn how to get rid of and control those insects. Insecticide for grass grubs is only effective during certain times of the year when the bugs are in larval form. Timing on this one is everything.
3. Disease and fungus:
Plant diseases and fungus can be difficult to identify. They often have a very distinct pattern in the lawn, like circular fairy rings or snow spots. They can also be identified by looking closely at the individual leaf blades, usually with a hand lens. If only a portion of the blade has affected areas and the rest is green, it is most likely a disease or fungus.
How to fix funguses and diseased lawns:
Most diseases and funguses are encouraged by excess amounts of water. Adding water to these spots will only aggravate the problem. Contact your local garden nursery, USU Extension agent or visit utahpests.usu.edu to learn specific ways to deal with lawn disease or fungus. There are some fungicides available, but good cultural and irrigation practices usually resolve these issues.
4. Dog spots:
Those of us with dogs are all too aware of what a dog spot looks like. For those of you who do not own a dog but have mysterious spots appearing on the front lawn, it might be because of your neighbor’s pooch. The lawn dies from a high concentration of nitrogen from the urine. The spot will be yellow in the middle with a dark green border.
How to fix dog spots:
The best thing to do is to flush the salts out of the soil with water as soon as possible after the dog does his thing. Use a hose to directly target the spot or spots, do not run a whole irrigation cycle, as this could lead to new fungus or other disease problems and is a wasteful watering practice.
5. Fertilizer burn:
Fertilizer burn happens when too much fertilizer is put onto the lawn or when the weather is hot when applied. If fertilizer is spilled on the lawn it may look like a dog spot, dead in the middle and dark green on the outside. If the over-application happens during a treatment, striped patterns will often be seen in the lawn.
How to fix:
Once again, we cringe to say it, but the only way to help your lawn recover from an overdose of fertilizer is to flush it with water. The easiest way to avoid burn is by applying fertilizer at the recommended rate on the packaging in the first place. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Also, avoid applying fertilizer when the weather is hot, unless you are applying a fertilizer specifically formulated for hot weather application.
And that’s it! This is all you need to know about identifying why your lawn is going brown and how to help it stay healthy, all while being water conscientious. For more information, gardening classes and other resources available to help you achieve an attractive and water efficient landscape, visit our website at www.weberbasin.com.