8 Most Common Lawn Problems: And 4 Prevention Tips!

You might be surprised to learn that the most common lawn problems aren’t necessarily diseases. While there are many lawn diseases you need to ward off, let’s look into the problems that arise from nature or poor lawn management.

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Diagnose Common Lawn Problems

It’s important to correctly diagnose problems with your lawn. Why?

Well, think of it this way. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to use a spray if its’ the wrong spray. And typically, bringing out the spray gun is the last alternative in having a good lawn.

With a bit of experience, you’ll find that the vast majority of so-called lawn disease problems are not diseases but a direct result of poor management practices. Fix the way you take care of your lawn first, and the problems will in most cases take care of themselves.

Unfortunately, correctly identifying a disease or problem is not easy, even for experts. Doing so requires lots of experience, knowledge, and even detective skills.

common lawn problems - too much shade
Unhealthy lawns often occur simply because the grass is getting more shade than sunlight.

The Best Diagnosis is Prevention

Because it’s difficult to figure out the problem, your best practice is to prevent problems from happening. And that requires proper lawn management.

It also means that if you follow a few basic recommendations for repairing the damage that does occur, most of the time it won’t matter which specific species of fungus is doing the damage; your management practices will prevent or cure the problem.

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t spray fungicides when appropriate to get rid of problems. But a DIY spray is too often a Band-Aid. It is better in the long run to solve the underlying problem rather than to keep applying short-term fixes. It’s why so many homeowners opt for a professional lawn care treatment program … to prevent these problems from occurring.

Don’t Mistake Common Lawn Problems for Diseases

Common lawn problems are caused by non-disease events such as drought or too much fertilizer. The following are not diseases; rather, they are the physical results of mismanagement.

1. Improper Fertilization

If you apply unbalanced amounts of fertilizer (let’s say you used too much nitrogen), then the grass will respond with quick, lush growth. This lush growth is a lunch invitation to every pest and disease in the area.

It’s far better to feed at the recommended levels than to try to push the lawn along with a bit more food just because you want to finish the bag.

2. Nutritional Imbalance (Fertilizer Burn)

Fertilizers are basically forms of salt. If you apply too much to a lawn, you’ll kill the plant roots. We call this burning the plant. You’ll most often see this problem when you fill the fertilizer spreader and that little bit extra bounces out of the spreader.

This is why most garden centers recommend filling the spreader on a driveway or other non-lawn area where the spills won’t do any damage.

American Landscapes Cincinnati fertilizer spreader
Make sure you learn how to use a fertilizer spreader before you do this yourself. Improper fertilization is a common cause of lawn problems.

3. Drought

Grass that’s allowed to become too dry may in fact become dead. Even though grass may go dormant in the head of summer, it will requires some moisture around the root zone.

Sometimes, when the top layers of soil become too dry, the soil compacts and rain will have a hard time penetrating the compacted layer. Some of the rain will run off, preventing the grass plants from using the water. We refer to this excessive drought condition as permanent wilt.

4. Freezing & Low-Temperature Injury

There is a wide geographic zone that will never see this particular problem, but here in Cincinnati it can be a problem. Sometimes, when weather conditions are just right, grass can be “winter killed.” Normally, this occurs late in a particularly cold winter when the snow begins melting, refreezes, then stays frozen (as a layer of ice) on top of the turf.

If the temperatures drop too low under these conditions, grass death can occur due to temperature stress. This is most often seen in cases where the grass plants are already stressed by other diseases or environmental conditions.

common lawn problems - walking on frozen grass
Don’t allow your turf to get “winter killed” by walking on a frost-covered lawn before the grass goes dormant.

5. Shade & Poor Air Circulation

Grass is a sun-loving plant. If you try to grow it under evergreen trees or dense-shade trees such as maples, the grass won’t get enough light. That causes stress. Combine that with poor air circulation caused by city fences and it’s no wonder that you have grass problems.

6. Root Injury – Dog Urine

This is the number one cause of small 8- to 12-inch circles of dead grass on the lawn. We must have a lot of dogs in Greater Cincinnati because we see it daily. Unfortunately, by the time you see the problem, it’s usually too late. See our tip below for some help.

7. Soil Compaction

This can be a problem with heavier soils or soil with larger amounts of clay, like we find in the soil throughout Cincinnati. It is particular a problem there is a lot of foot traffic (like kids cutting across your corner lot or the mail carrier’s path).

Compaction prevents oxygen from getting to the roots. It can also stop water from entering the soil. Or once it gets in, it slows water drainage. Compaction stops tender young roots from growing strongly. The cure here is to properly aerate your lawn.

how often should I water my lawn - shoveling clay soil
Compacted soil is an issue in the Cincinnati area due to heavy amounts of clay. This can lead to water-deprived grass roots.

8. Sun Scald & Shock

If you mow the grass too short, you remove foliage that is necessary for making food. On some species of grass, you also expose the growing stolons to sunlight. These stolons then get sunburned. If you look closely, you’ll see burned brown areas. This burning causes grass stress and as you know by now, that’s something to avoid.

The grass will also go into physiological shock if you remove more than one-third of its growing surface at any given time. Mow off too much and your grass will simply stop growing under its stress. During this stress period, it is open to attack from diseases and pests.

Tips to Prevent Common Lawn Problems

1. Keep Off Frozen Grass

In the early fall, before grass has totally stopped growing, never walk on a lawn that is frosty and covered with ice crystals. You will break and wound the grass plants, opening them up to fungus damage. Once the grass has thawed, it is safe to walk on them again. By the way, you don’t have to worry about this in late fall after several hard droughts have causes fungus spores and the grass to go dormant.

2. Measure Your Shade

If you have a camera light meter, you can check out the level of shade under trees. If the shade level is 600-foot-candles or less, forget about growing grass. It’s too shady.

3. Don’t Cut Your Grass Too Low

You might think slowing down grass growth by cutting too much off the top sounds like a good idea. It’s the old “if it doesn’t grow, then I don’t have to mow it” trick employed by countless husbands. But consider this: If your grass isn’t growing (and it won’t for up to 4 weeks after a severely low cut) then the only thing that will grow is weeds.

common lawn problems - grass cut too short
Your lawn will look burned out if you cut your grass too short. Visit the Related Resources link below titled “How often should I mow my lawn?” for instructions on ideal grass-cutting heights.

4. Drink More Water

A safe remedy is to get your dog to drink more water so that it’s urine is more highly diluted. A couple ways to sneak more water into their meal plan is by adding water to their food (something we do regularly here) or adding a no-salt broth to their drinking water.

There are some water additives that you can put into your dog’s bowl to keep their urine from killing your grass. It sometimes works. But it’s always a good idea to check with your veterinarian before you go this route.

5. A Cure for Dog Urine Damage

The best cure in this case is prevention. If you see a dog urinating on your lawn, you have just one hour to prevent any damage. Soak the area liberally with water. This will dilute the urine (or urea, a form of nitrogen) and push it below the roots of the grass.

Final Thoughts

While they’re not defined as diseases, the 8 common lawn problems discussed in this article are just as difficult to deal with. Especially if you don’t have a proper, ongoing lawn management and maintenance program. You can always develop a system for yourself or hire a professional to handle it for you. Your lawn will thank you!

Need More Help?

Need a pro to help prevent these common lawn problems? Just contact American Landscapes here for a free, no-obligation estimate. Or call us at (513) 947-8727.

You can also learn more about our lawn care applications and treatments, landscaping, and outdoor lighting services by reading our blog. In addition to fertilizer and weed control, we provide mosquito control, lawn aeration, lawn seeding, and much more.