Preventing Brown Lawn Spots

Now that we’re well into the fall months and winter is officially right around the corner, you’ll probably see more and more brown spots on your lawn. When homeowners see such sights, particularly this time during the year, they often attribute it to the season–after all the grass is dormant and there’s less rain, with much cooler temperatures.

To a good degree, that sentiment is true, but weather and climate alone are not the only causes of browning grass patches. There can be a few different reasons you’re seeing what appear to be deadening patches throughout your yard and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with seasonal change.

If you grew-up having the chore of raking leaves in the lawn, especially during the fall months, you probably attribute that mundane task with parental discipline and their want to keep the yard looking good. However, you might not know that raking leaves is far more than an aesthetic choice, it’s one that’s often necessary for the health the grass systems incorporated into your yard. Sure, it might keep the yard tidy, but it also keeps it healthy.

Common Reasons for Brown Lawn Spots

So why is it that raking is healthy for grass? Well, that’s because the majority of yards in North America, particularly those in the northern United States, as well as throughout the midwest and into the south, are composed, in-part or in-whole, of what’s known as “cool-season” grass. One example is Kentucky bluegrass, which, contrary to conventional wisdom, is not actually dormant during the fall. In fact, the opposite is true, such grass is really the most active during the fall season, as it seeks to revitalize from the heat of the summer.

Symptoms of brown and large patch diseases may vary greatly with the type of grass and soil conditions. The diseases usually cause thinned patches of light brown grass that are roughly circular in shape. These areas range in diameter from a few inches to several feet. Often the center of the patch will recover, resulting in a doughnut-shaped pattern. When disease conditions are favorable, large areas of the lawn may be uniformly thinned and eventually killed with no circular patch being evident. This type of pattern is commonly seen on infected St. Augustine grass grown in shady, moist locations. —Clemson Cooperative Extension

It is through the months of fall such cool-season grass does its best to “make hay” in a necessary process to strengthen its root system. If the grass is not given free reign to soak-up as much sunshine as possible, it will be deprived of much-needed nutrients and water. The latter two are more scarce during autumn and sunlight becomes all the more critical to the equation. If you allow leaves to cover your lawn, an impenetrable canopy will prevent that precious sunshine from getting to the grass.

Preventing Brown Lawn Spots

Though leaves can be a problem, causing brown lawn spots, these are not the only cause. There are a few other sources of browning lawn grass and ways to prevent and/or treat such unsightly spots. Here are the most common causes and treatment protocols:

  • Brown spots in unexpected, but seemingly consistent places. If you are raking the leaves and doing so regularly, but still see brown grass patches in your yard, it could be an organic life form that’s causing those spots. A popular best friend and quadruped, your furry family member, your dog. Dog urine is quite harmful to grass because it contains concentrated nitrogen, which actually burns the grass. Given enough potty visits in a particular area, which dogs are well-known for having their favorite places, and the result is brown patches in the same places. One way to prevent this is with a pit stop made of pea gravel or mulch.
  • Broad creeping brown spots. Though mowing is a weekly requirement in Sarasota during the spring and especially the summer months, it slows during autumn. However, the need to mow doesn’t completely stop, mowing in Florida is almost a year-round job, and, if you’ve notice brown patches, take note of when they begin to show and are most prominent. Then, check your lawnmower blade, it’s probably dull and/or you’re cutting too close to the soil.
  • Brown patches appearing after raking leaves. If this is the case, the explanation most likely is spelled-out above. Leaves block sunlight and, if left in the dark long enough, cool-season grass, most especially, will suffer and begin to wither, struggling for light, nutrients, and water. Rake regularly to prevent brown spots from forming under fallen leaves.

Should you not experience browning in the fall but see it when it’s most unlikely, like in the summer, then the cause is either Japanese grubs and beetles or it’s brown patch fungus. One way to tell is the latter thrives most in hot, humid conditions.

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