How to get rid of lawn patches may not be the most pressing problem in our lives, but it can be one of the peskiest. Since we have to walk by those patches every day, we feel like we really ought to be able to solve such a simple thing. Are we going to be beaten by a little brown patch? I don’t think so!
Luckily, getting rid of lawn patches is not rocket science, and doesn’t require a second mortgage. A few simple diagnostics, a few easy remedies, and you’ll be wall-to-wall green again shortly. Treat it as a fun project, where you can play a little Sherlock Holmes, a little MacGyver, and throw in a little Clint Eastwood. Lawn patches? Make my day!
1. Identify the cause
Before you start, you must put on your deerstalker cap, and do a little sleuthing, Sherlock Holmes style. Homeowners are trained to think they must solve all lawn problems by buying a bag of “something” at the hardware store and dumping it on, but half the time, this will only make your lawn’s problems worse. Compost and sand are the only things you should be dumping on your lawn.
There are 5 different main kinds of lawn patches, and each one has its own solution. Read on!
Grass is genetically engineered to go gross less in a long, hot dry spell. Dead will start to appear in patches, and spread. Before you start, think about your lawn, climate, and time of year.
Dead grass is completely normal. If you want to maintain a vibrant green lawn through a long hot spell, you will need to irrigate. Irrigation isn’t very eco-friendly, so if you really have to, consider using rainwater stored in rain barrels. You’ll need about 1500 litres or more to capture the rain off your roof, so those 45 gallon barrels likely won’t be enough.
Get a professional saving water company to size your roof’s water capacity to your lawn’s needs, and install adequate slim-line barrels with convenient switches and taps. You can automate this, even to soil sensors.
Underground irrigation is the most ecological irrigation, and you want to add water just before dawn, to avoid causing fungal diseases, and wasting water.
2. Treat soil compaction
Soil compaction is a very common cause of lawn patches. You can easily diagnose this yourself, by tapping the soil and looking at it. Soil should be almost fluffy in spring. If you are looking at a brick, you have a compaction issue. Compaction is of course common in areas stepped or walked on lots.
Although you could have the lawn aerated, and you can even buy special gardening shoes with long spikes in them from Lee Valley Tools, compaction is best dealt with by changing the consistency of the soil, by adding sand and compost. Read on to the Soil Quality section for permanent compaction solutions.
If you experience compaction in high traffic areas, adding some flagstone steps, or a proper path, is the best way to go. To stop compaction in high traffic areas without flagstones, you will need to follow the Soil Quality instructions very closely.
If you aren’t sure about how to get rid of lawn patches, this next piece of advice is crucial. Almost every issue about lawns, from weeds, to compaction, to diseases, boils down to the following.
3. If you have lousy soil, you will have lousy grass!
Grass has evolved to perform best in an open sandy area, so the roots can get deeper into the soil with more organic material. Unfortunately, suburban lawns have been scraped of their original topsoil, compacted by heavy builder’s machinery, and they are made of heavy clay with less organic matter.
Placing new sod over bad soil is just a waste of money. The new grass will die because it isn’t properly supported. Luckily you don’t need to replace your soil, you can make it better.
The fastest way to a perfect lawn is to top dress with ½” of sand and 1” of pure compost in spring and fall. If you don’t kill off your worms with pesticides, they will drag this food down into the soil, while aerating your lawn as they go. Let them do all the work! After all, they have evolved over millions of years to do it.
4. Maintain nitrogen balance
Lack of nitrogen is the least likely reason for yellow patches, but it is the first one most people suspect. Billions of dollars of advertising money can’t be wrong, can it? Who knows, but adding too much nitrogen wastes money, and can promote fungal diseases in humid weather. As it turns out, fungi like nitrogen too.
If you don’t stop your lawn’s natural ability to produce nitrogen by applying herbicides and pesticides, (which interfere with the lawn’s worms and other nitrogen producing ecology), and you add an inch of pure compost as a top dressing spring and fall, your lawn will not need any added nitrogen.
It’s better to encourage your lawn to maintain its own nitrogen balance. Giving a lawn free nitrogen is like giving a six year old a can of pop to give them “energy”. Before you know it, your lawn will be hooked on the easy stuff. Go make a sandwich, junior!
5. Defeat dog urine
Dog urine can be high in PH, and cause micro-patches of yellowing. These patches are hard to beat unless you have a lot of time on your hands, and load up your shotgun with rock salt. Just Kidding! But seriously folks, just try and stop dogs from peeing on the lawn.
You can help by rinsing the spots immediately with water, or by getting your veterinarian to change the PH content of your dog’s urine through dietary assessment and adjustment.
6. Rework walkway edge patches
One of the classic lawn patch problems are the bare spots along concrete pathways. These are caused by the sidewalk contractors using gravel to backfill the 2” x 6” wooden forms used to contain the concrete, and then being lazy about removing the gravel.
Grass does not grow on gravel. Once you look around your neighbourhood, you’ll be amazed at what a common problem this is.
Gravelly soil along pathways is one area that top dressing may not fix. If you have bad patches along your concrete walkways, you’ll probably need to dig down 5” or so and throw that junk out, and replace it with real soil that grass can grow on.
7. To Seed or to Sod?
Whether you need to dig out a lawn patch and replace the soil, or just amend it, you will be faced with the question of whether to seed or sod. Generally, buying sod is counter productive. If your soil isn’t fixed, your new sod will just die. Sod is also hard to keep on hand for repairs. If you really want sod, one clever trick is to keep a little sod farm in a small part of your garden for patching.
Seed is the simple and best way to go. Throw a little seed in your top dressing every spring and fall, and once you remediate your patches, just throw some extra seed on twice a summer. If the seed doesn’t fill in nicely in a season, then you need to keep working on the soil.
Top dressing with pure compost and sand is how to get rid of lawn patches the easy and permanent way. Once you’ve gotten rid of those patches, don’t be afraid to show off your landscaping skills to friends and family!