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Horticulture Questions and Answers

Home  >  Lawn Care  >  Selection, Culture and Care  >  Pests and Problems  >  What are the major lawn problems for our area?

What are the major lawn problems for our area?

Lawn problems can be aggravating, hard to identify and difficult to deal with. Problems can be caused by disease, usually fungal, insects, weeds, poor soil conditions and inclement weather. It is important, therefore, to identify the causes of the problems so the correct solutions can be applied. After all, it is no help to use an insecticide if the dry brown grass is a result of a fungus or a lack of water.

When problems occur, it is best to start the diagnosis of the problem as soon as you see the symptoms. For some lawn diseases, the telltale diagnostic symptoms are lost after a few days when the grass turns brown and dry.

Start with the simple problems first. Dull lawn mower blades result in frayed grass blades causing the lawn to look grayish or white. Uneven fertilizer application leaves telltale stripes of light and dark green. Inadequate fertilization can make the lawn look pale and fail to thrive. Too little water can make the lawn dry and brown. Too much water or poor drainage can make the lawn rot and appear straw colored. You can remove a 6" soil plug to determine whether moisture has reached the correct depth. A cool-season lawn needs at least one to one and a half inches of water a week from rain, irrigation or a combination of the two.

Thatch can be a mystery. While grass clippings from mowing do not contribute to thatch, once a thatch layer has developed, these clippings speed its formation. Once formed, thatch harbors disease causing fungi and insects. Thatch causes shallow root development and retards the movement of air, water and nutrients into the soil. Thatch build up can be minimized by at least two desirable cultural practices: 1) fertilize only modestly and regularly to maintain vigor without excessive growth and 2) cut the grass regularly at the recommended height to maintain vigor and avoid shock.

Insects, such as white grubs and billbugs, attack the turf by eating the roots. This causes the grass to die in irregular areas. When checking for the moisture depth in your lawn you can check to see how many grubs per square foot are present. Treatment with an insecticide is recommended if 10-12 grubs per square foot are found.

Sod webworm and cutworms chew on the blades and stems of the grass leaving irregular brown or dead areas. They can be identified by looking for the worms near the soil surface or watching for small moths flying zigzag patterns over the lawn in the evening.

Mushrooms in the lawn can be of concern for fear that they may be poisonous and children may eat them. Under some circumstances they compete with the lawn for water and nutrients and even prevent water from penetrating the soil surface. Many kinds of mushrooms can invade a lawn, some can be poisonous if eaten. Since mushrooms grow on decaying organic matter such as old tree roots, it would be necessary to remove the organic matter to remove the mushrooms, which in most cases is impractical. If you are concerned about the mushroom growth, break them up with a rake, fertilize the lawn a little more heavily in the area and water slowly and thoroughly. Otherwise, there is no direct way to prevent or stop mushroom growth in lawns at the present time.

See our Visual Guide on "Lawn Problems: Cool-season Grasses" and "Lawn Problems: Zoysia Grass".