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Revive Your Lawn: Solutions for Dealing with Dry Grass

June 26, 2024     

Dry patches on a lawn are unsightly and can severely impact the overall look of your garden. They create uneven, brown, or yellow areas that stand out against the lush green grass, making the lawn appear neglected and unhealthy. These patches can also lead to further deterioration if not addressed promptly, potentially allowing weeds and pests to take hold.

Although the UK is renowned for its wet, rainy weather most of the year – believe it or not – we actually experience some relatively sunny summer months, which can lead to dry grass and issues with our lawns. However, lack of rain and long, hot summers are not the only reasons for dry grass and problem turf.

Before remedying dry patches, it’s essential to identify their cause accurately. Treating the symptoms without addressing the root cause can lead to recurring problems and worsen the situation.

This article explains how to identify the most common causes of dry grass and provides tried and tested solutions for dealing with them.

Top Causes of Dry Grass

1. Thatch Buildup

Thatch is a layer of organic matter that accumulates between the soil surface and the green vegetation (grass blades) above. It comprises leaves, dead grass, roots, stems, and other debris. A small amount of thatch (less than half an inch) can be beneficial, as it helps protect the soil and roots from temperature fluctuations and foot traffic. However, thatch becoming too thick (more than half an inch) can cause significant problems for your lawn.

Identification: You can often see thatch buildup by looking closely at your lawn. You likely have thatch buildup if you notice a dense layer of brown, spongy material between the grass blades and the soil. To identify the amount of thatch on your lawn, press your fingers into the lawn and feel for a spongy layer beneath the grass blades. If this layer feels thick and springy, it indicates excessive thatch.

Solution: Dethatching is the process of removing the excess thatch from your lawn. You can dethatch your lawn using a dethatching rake to pull up the thatch manually or use a power dethatcher or a lawn scarifier for larger lawns.

Once you have removed the thatch, focusing on aeration and regular raking in the future is essential. Aeration helps reduce soil compaction, promotes a healthy root system, and allows air, water, and nutrients to penetrate deeper into the soil, improving lawn health. To aerate your lawn, use a rolling lawn aerator, lawn aerating sandals, or a garden fork to spike your turf.

2. Insufficient Watering

Water is essential for healthy grass growth. It supports various physiological processes, including nutrient uptake, photosynthesis, and cell turgor (rigidity), which helps grass maintain its structure and resilience.

Identification: Irregularly shaped brown or yellow patches are common signs of water deficiency. These patches may be more prevalent in areas exposed to full sun or high traffic. In addition, grass blades may appear wilted, curled, or brittle. Healthy grass should spring back after being walked on, whereas dry grass remains flat and shows footprints.

Solution: Addressing insufficient watering involves adjusting your watering practices and ensuring your lawn receives the moisture it needs to thrive. Aim to water once or twice a week, providing about 1 inch each time, to encourage deep-root growth and improve drought resistance.

Timing is also essential; water your lawn early in the morning, between 6 AM and 10 AM, as this reduces evaporation and allows grass to dry before evening, decreasing the risk of fungal diseases.

3. Nutrient Deficiency

Like all plants, grass requires certain essential nutrients to grow, thrive, and maintain health. Three of the most critical nutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), commonly referred to as NPK. Each of these nutrients helps grass develop a robust root system, recover from damage, and successfully reproduce.

Identification: When grass lacks these essential nutrients, it can present in several different ways:

  • Nitrogen Deficiency: Grass turns pale green or yellow, especially older leaves. Growth is stunted, and the lawn may also appear thin and weak.
  • Phosphorus Deficiency: Grass displays a dark green or purplish tint, especially in cooler weather. Root growth will be poor, and the lawn may have thin, bare spots.
  • Potassium Deficiency: Grass has brown or yellow leaf tips and edges resembling scorch marks. The lawn may show signs of wilting and increased disease susceptibility.

Solution: Addressing nutrient deficiencies involves applying suitable fertilisers and improving soil health.

  • Nitrogen Deficiency Solution: Apply a nitrogen-rich fertiliser (or one specifically formulated for nitrogen deficiency) to boost grass growth and revive its colour.
  • Phosphorus Deficiency Solution: Use a fertiliser high in phosphorus, such as bone meal, to help grass develop a robust root system.
  • Potassium Deficiency Solution: Apply a potassium-rich fertiliser, such as muriate or sulfate of potash, to strengthen cell walls and enhance vigour.

In addition, dressing your lawn with organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure can improve soil fertility and structure, enhancing nutrient availability.

4. Disease

Fungi primarily cause lawn diseases, although bacteria and viruses can also play a role. These pathogens thrive under excess moisture, poor drainage, inadequate sunlight, and stressed or weakened grass. When a lawn is infected, the disease can interfere with the grass’s ability to absorb water and nutrients, leading to dry patches and overall decline.

Identification: Fungal diseases are the most common culprits behind dry grass patches. They can attack different parts of the grass, including the roots, crowns, leaves, and stems, causing symptoms like discolouration, wilting, and death of grass blades.

Solution: Water deeply and infrequently to encourage deep root growth. Be sure to do this early in the morning to allow the grass to dry before evening, reducing the risk of fungal infections.

You can also apply fungicides preventatively if you have a history of lawn diseases or if conditions are favourable for disease development. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for timing and application rates.

5.Pests

Pests such as grubs, chafer beetles, leather jackets, and ants can damage grass by feeding on plant tissues, roots, and soil, which disrupts the grass’s ability to absorb water and nutrients.

Identification: Pest damage often manifests as dry, brown patches that spread over time if left untreated. To identify pest damage, look for insects on the grass blades, soil surface, or thatch layers and check for signs of root damage, such as weakened grass that easily pulls up from the soil.

Solution: To promote grass health, keep the lawn well-maintained with proper mowing, watering, and fertilisation practices. Regularly remove excessive thatch to reduce pest habitat and improve air circulation and water penetration into the soil.

6.Dog Urine

Dog urine contains urea, a compound that breaks down into nitrogen and salts as it decomposes. When dogs urinate on the lawn, especially in concentrated areas or repeatedly in the same spots, the high nitrogen content can overwhelm the grass’s ability to absorb nutrients and water.

Identification: Dog urine often leaves behind circular or irregular-shaped patches of yellow or brown grass and is typically more concentrated in areas where dogs frequently urinate or mark.

Solution: Immediately after your dog urinates, thoroughly water the affected areas to dilute the urine and minimise urea concentration. Use a garden hose or watering can to apply enough water to saturate the area.

7.Poor Drainage

Poor drainage prevents water from adequately infiltrating the soil, leading to waterlogged conditions or uneven moisture distribution across the lawn. This can result in areas where grassroots become waterlogged and suffocate or, conversely, where water drains away too quickly, leaving the soil dry and unable to support healthy grass growth.

Identification: In areas with poor drainage, the soil may develop cracks or fissures during dry periods, indicating excessive water runoff and lack of moisture retention. Grass in these areas may struggle to grow due to compacted soil, which restricts root development and prevents water infiltration.

Solution: Perform core aeration during periods of active grass growth, typically in spring or early autumn. This involves removing soil plugs from the lawn to alleviate compaction and improve air and water movement into the soil.

You can also incorporate organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, into the soil to improve soil structure and water retention.

Once you’ve identified the cause of dry grass and employed the correct solution, ongoing maintenance is essential to keeping it healthy and vibrant. Continue to water, mow, and fertilise your lawn as needed, adjusting frequency and duration based on weather conditions and requirements. It’s also important to perform routine maintenance tasks such as edging, dethatching, and topdressing to keep your lawn in optimal condition.

Check out our blog section for more advice on caring for your lawn.

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