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Did you know that most of the lawn varieties in Utah are cool-season grasses? This means that they thrive during the cool parts of the year, like spring and fall, and try to go dormant when it gets hot. When the heat is on, our lawns require quite a bit of water to stay green. They also become more prone to disease and insects.
Brown spots are often a result of underwatering, but there are many other reasons a lawn turns brown, some of which will only become worse if you increase watering.
Here are five common reasons lawn goes brown and what you can do about them.
1. Irrigation issues
Our climate is much too hot and dry for lawns to grow without being irrigated. A lawn that is stressing from want of water will first take on a dark, blue-green hue that turns a straw color if it doesn’t get watered. Areas without sufficient water will be relatively 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.
How to fix
First check your sprinklers to make sure there are no blocked, sunken, tilted or broken heads that are keeping water from reaching the brown spot. If you have a spot that your irrigation system simply doesn’t reach, consider watering it with the hose once a week. Unless your entire lawn is stressing from want of water, don’t increase your watering time or frequency.
Insect damage can look like an irrigation issue but adding additional water will do nothing to green up those areas in your lawn. Insect damage will look like drought in color but has a very different pattern. There are often green, healthy patches mixed in the brown spot. Grab a handful of yellow grass blades and give them a tug. If the lawn lifts easily compared to the healthy, green lawn next to it, insects are likely eating the roots.
How to fix
If you suspect that insects are damaging your lawn, pull back the lawn and see if you can find the little bug/grub in the soil just below the turf surface. Webworm, Billbugs, and grubs are common culprits in our area. Ask your local nursery or USU Extension agent to learn how to properly get rid of and control the insects. These insects have life cycles and must be treated with the right thing at the right time to effectively eradicate them.
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. 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
Most disease and fungus 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 garden.usu.edu to learn specific ways to manage or treat the disease or fungus.
4. Dog spots
Those of us with dogs are all too aware of what a dog pee spot looks like. For those of you who don’t own a dog but have mysterious spots appearing on your front lawn, it might be because of your neighbor’s pooch. The lawn dies from a high concentration of salt from the urine. The spot will be yellow with a dark green border.
How to fix
The best thing you can do to help your lawn recover quickly is to flush the salts out of the soil with clean water. Use a hose directly on the spot, but don’t water the entire lawn area excessively.
5. Fertilizer burn
Fertilizer burn happens when too much fertilizer is put onto the lawn or when the weather is too warm when it is applied. If fertilizer spills on the lawn, it may look like a dog spot, dead in the middle and dark green on the outside. If over-application happens, striped patterns will often be seen.
How to fix
The only way to help your lawn recover from an overdose of fertilizer is to flush it out with clean water, though be sure to not overdo it. Avoid burn by applying fertilizer at the recommended rate on the packaging. Also, avoid applying when the weather is hot unless you are using a fertilizer specifically formulated for hot weather.
Being able to identify the reason your lawn is going brown is vital to keeping it green and healthy without overwatering. Do a little homework before tuning on your water, you may be surprised about what the real cause is.
For a free audit on your sprinkler system to find out how long and how often you should be watering call 801-771-1677 to schedule an appointment at your home. This service is available through Weber Basin to those living in Weber, Davis, Morgan, and Summit counties. All others who are interested in a water audit should check availability at slowtheflow.org.