What on earth is happening??

cah1151July 16, 2014

OK Here is my story. A couple of weeks ago my husband purchased a random bag of seed at the local hardware store - I knew I should have gone with him - to try and cover up a couple of small light brown spots on our lawn. I am not sure what type of grass we have here in Massachusetts. And we basically only mow our lawn every couple of weeks. We do not fertilize or water, and we just want to blend in with all the other neighbors. Anyway, he watered it every day and after about 4 days white grass started to grow. I figured it would eventually turn green but instead it seemed like it was killing all the other grass around it. In the past few days or so these strange weird dark brown paths of dirt have appeared (see photo) with even more white grass around them. We have 4 large stretches like that around our yard. It seems like the recent rain we are having has made it worse, too. Do we have some sort of fungus? And what the heck can we do about it? People are slowly driving by our house and pointing! Thanks in advance.

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Did your husband purchase a starter fertilizer also by chance? That looks like tenacity whitening which is a chemical herbicide in a scotts brand starter fert. It whitens weeds before they die, it can can also whiten grass but usually recovers. I'm not not sure about the brown spots, but seeding in July is probably the worst time to do it unless your an expert renovater. Fall is best. Did he spread the fert in just that spot where the brown and white are? I'm not sure how much "actual" grass you have there, looks like an epic crabgrass infestation and some other weeds also, but not sure-Might need some more close up pics to tell.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 7:27PM
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Thanks for your reply. Well it's darn funny that you should ask if my husband also purchased a starter fertilizer because after asking him a couple of minutes ago he fessed up and said that he did purchase a bag of Scotts. Good eye! He wanted to try and make it right without telling me so he bought a bag of starter seed. As you can see neither one of us really knows much about lawn care. I am also posting a closer picture of the problem. He spread the seed mostly in the brown spots - and we have many more ugly plain empty dark brown spots than are in that picture - but I'll bet he emptied the rest of the bag all over the lawn. And we do not have hardly any "actual" grass in the brown spots. He mowed the lawn and spread some of the remains in the spots to try and make them look better. Oh boy Is there something we can purchase to fix this problem?

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 8:34PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

If you're not going to water, mow, or fertilize, it's hard to get real excited about fixing your lawn. This forum is mostly about proper watering, mowing, and fertilizing with a few other odd topics thrown in. But if you're not going to help yourself, it's hard for us to help you.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 11:35PM
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Well, gee, dchall_san_antonio, that's kind of mean of you to say that and you make me feel bad for writing. I thought this forum is for helping people and I wouldn't have written if I didn't need help. Of course I want to help myself. I think that's such a strange thing for you to say. We take pride in our home and we do what we are able to with what we have. Our yard is always neat and clean with some nice flowering plants and trees, and we certainly do mow it often enough, but we don't have a lot of money for watering and fertilizer. But we want it to look decent and not be an eyesore in any way. Now it is an eyesore and I am hoping that someone can please help me get our lawn back to normal.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 11:25AM
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cah1151- it's good that you reached out for help; after all we've all done things to our flowers, lawns, etc without realizing that something's not right until it's too late. I don't know how to tell you to fix it but watering seems to be of importance since it's the middle of July. I hope someone comes along with some advice and good luck with your lawn:-)

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 11:42AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Perhaps you are thinking lawn care is harder than it is.

Basics of Lawn Care

After reading numerous books and magazines on lawn care, caring for lawns at seven houses in my life, and reading numerous forums where real people write in to discuss their successes and failures, I have decided to side with the real people and dispense with the book and magazine authors. I don't know what star their planet rotates around but it's not mine. With that in mind, here is the collected wisdom of the Internet savvy homeowners and lawn care professionals summarized in a few words. If you follow the advice here you will have conquered at least 50% of all lawn problems. Once you have these three elements mastered, then you can worry about weeds (if you have any), dog spots, and striping your lawn. But if you are not doing these three things, they will be the first three things suggested for you to correct.

Water deeply and infrequently. Deeply means at least an inch in every zone, all at once. Infrequently means monthly during the cool months and no more than weekly during the hottest part of summer. Do not spread this out and water for 10 minutes every day. If your grass looks dry before the month/week is up, water longer next time. If that does not work, then you might have to water more than once per week during the summer's hottest period. Deep watering grows deep, drought resistant roots. Infrequent watering allows the top layer of soil to dry completely which kills off many shallow rooted weeds.

You will have to learn to judge when to water your own lawn. If you live in El Paso your watering will be different than if you live in Vermont. Adjust your watering to your type of grass, temperature, humidity, wind, and soil type. It is worth noting that this technique is used successfully by professionals in Phoenix, so...just sayin.' The other factors make a difference. If you normally water 1 inch per week and you get 1/2 inch of rain, then adjust and water only 1/2 inch that week.

Every week mulch mow at the highest setting on your mower. Most grasses are the most dense when mowed tall. However, bermuda, centipede, and bent grasses will become the most dense when they are mowed at the lowest setting on your mower. In fact there are special mowers that can mow these grasses down to 1/16 inch. Dense grass shades out weeds, keeps the soil cooler, and uses less water than thin grass. Tall grass can feed the deep roots you developed in #1 above. Tall grass does not grow faster than short grass nor does it look shaggy sooner. Once all your grass is at the same height, tall grass just looks plush.

Fertilize regularly. I fertilize 5 times per year using organic fertilizer. Which fertilizer you use is much less important than numbers 1 and 2 above. Follow the directions on the bag and do not overdo it. Too much is better than too little*.

At this point you do not have to worry about weed and feed products - remember at this point you are just trying to grow grass, not perfect it. Besides once you are doing these three things correctly, your weed problems should go away without herbicide.

* This used to read, "Too little is better than too much." Recent test results show that you cannot get too much organic fertilizer unless you bury the grass in it.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 12:09PM
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Thank you, surya55, for such a nice note. And for being so understanding.
And dchall_san_antonio, I honestly do not think lawn care is harder than it is. I do appreciate your basics and your collected wisdom, although nothing I read surprised me. I know we mow as often as we should and as needed. We don't water because our water bill is extremely high and we would rather shower than use it on our lawn. Fortunately we have rain at least once a week which pretty much takes care of that and keeps everything green. And we have fertilized in the past with some help and would not rule that out in the future. BUT the problem here is not what to do to maintain our lawn, it's what can we do to fix the unsightly problem we have now. Can you help me figure out what is happening to our lawn and what we need to do to fix it?

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 12:52PM
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I am by no means a lawn expert but I can safely say that you planted new grass seed at probably the worst time of year. Living in MA, I know from experience

You needed to water that area briefly four or five times a day to even have a remote chance of having any sprouts. And even then, our hot temperatures would be working against you as well. I am thinking that what you are seeing is maybe a bit of grass but also crab grass or some other weed.

Wait until Labor day weekend and rake up the dead area and plant grass seed along with a thin layer of topsoil. be sure to keep the area moist all day long for a couple of weeks. You will be amazed at how quickly grass can grow in the fall.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 12:58PM
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cah1151 - I just wanted to butt in as an independent observer and say that while dchall might have been a little blunt, you have to realize how passionate he is about proper lawn care. He is a font of knowledge and shares it willingly here for free. So, I would chalk it up to the written word. Things come across in print differently than when speaking. What you wrote looks a little like going to the doctor and saying, "I'm not going to quit smoking but I've got lung cancer. What can you do to fix it?" I KNOW you meant nothing of the sort, but "no water, no fertilizer' means permanently stressed lawn.

I understand why he said what he said, and I understand why you were insulted by it. Hopefully it can be written off as a misunderstanding. You never know, the nicer your lawn gets, the more interest you may have in making it even nicer!

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 1:30PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Ask Morpheus how many times he has watered his lawn this year. Then understand that eastern weather systems tend to be large, and a lot of people are getting the same conditions.

It did not rain yesterday. It isn't supposed to rain today, but I'm looking at a black cloud that will probably turn into today's thunderstorm. The question isn't if things are getting enough water. The question is how do you turn it off.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 2:11PM
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You may want to take the time over the next few weeks to rake out the grass that you currently have, rent a power rake from one of the big box stores or rental centers, or if you don't have a lot of lawn, buy a thatch rake and do it by hand. Get all the "junk" out of your grass that you can.

Then go ahead and buy the seed and straw / cellulose mulch and wait until late August. Rake up the brown spots again, spread your seed evenly, apply starter fertilizer according to directions on the bag and apply the mulch. Water 2x a day either sprinklers or mother nature, just keep it damp for a week or so.

You can overseed the other parts of the lawn if you wish at the same time - just mow it low before you start. There are plenty of lawn renovation posts on this site to help you out. Good luck.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 9:23PM
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>>Ask Morpheus how many times he has watered his lawn this year.

Twice. I'm actually battling fungus at the moment (not very hard as it's not very aggressive on my lawn...now look at the neighbors'). It's rained every day for the last seven. Now we get a two day break before it starts up again.

>>The question is how do you turn it off.

Oh, dear heart, you have that one exactly correct.

Proper watering is actually critically important to lawn health. Nature has been anything but proper this year in these here parts. I've never seen diseases run rampant like this.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 10:27PM
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As I think about it, I tend to modify the watering rule a little bit for those who are unconcerned about lawn green-ness during the (normally) dry, hot days of summer.

Water weekly from the season's start to July 4th if nature isn't keeping up with it. Do the same after Labor Day until the temperatures drop and water requirements drop accordingly.

Between the two? I don't care if you water at all. Bluegrass will happily go dormant, fescues will survive on very little water in the summer, as will rye. With fescue/rye lawns, expect some losses. Losses should be minimal to zero on bluegrass.

Yes, it's smart to supply 1/4" every 2 weeks if nature doesn't, but for me it usually would.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 10:32PM
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Perfect call, Greencarpet. That's Tenacity damage! You nailed it. As for the 'brown spots' near the pavement, we could use a couple of close-ups. I've got some good guesses, but I hate to guess in this business! The wrong info makes for long weekends!

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 12:55AM
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Well the earth mystery has been solved! This afternoon we had a very well-known reputable lawn company come by to access our situation. Two men got out of their truck, walked over to our worst area and said, "Wow, that's bad." They said we have a terrible case of something called pythium blight. I haven't had the chance to read much about it yet but I will. And the reason that it is all over the yard is because it was spread with our lawn mower blades. The company is going to put a fungicide on our lawn plus do some other things in stages - including aeration - over the next few months. We get a lot of sun, the weather has been very humid, we have had a lot of rain, plus my husband watered the heck out of everything when it wasn't raining. And mowed the lawn at the wrong time. Aaargh Not a good thing. Live and learn. I want to thank everyone who has written to me with their thoughts and ideas. I truly appreciate it.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 5:53PM
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I agree the newly seeded area probably did get taken out by pythium. However, please get your lawn care company to identify what perennial grasses you have in your lawn and double check their answers. You don't need a fungicide on crabgrass,which is what most of your yard looks like to me, nor do you need to aerify it until your ready to reseed.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 12:55AM
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It seems like the OP is satisfied that her problem is resolved. I hope she returns to the forum eventually to learn how to care for a lawn. I admit a little knowledge is dangerous (and I have a little knowledge), but I'm also experienced enough to know that the lawn companies, even the reputable ones, will do things to the lawn that aren't necessary, but cost the homeowner money. A little knowledge and a little effort to learn can save a lot of cash -- probably more cash would be saved than the cost to irrigate the lawn correctly, which was the OP's complaint early on.

Case in point: The landscaper who regraded and seeded my property came to me to see if I wanted his company to maintain my property - leaf blowing, lawn care, and so on. I asked him a few questions, including whether it was a good idea to fertilize in the fall. He kind of shrugged his shoulders and said, "You can if you want to."

Case 2 in point: My neighbor is the largest landscaper/designer in the whole area - huge staff, very professional operation. He dug up an 8x35' section of his front lawn (bordering my lawn) in the process in installing a pool in the back yard (heavy equipment going to the back yard ruined the lawn). He sodded the dug up area in May (KBG). He let it all die and then replaced it with the blown type seed (not sod). He let that all die in June after half of it germinated and then last week, the second week in JULY, he puts down sod AGAIN. Amazingly he has underground irrigation and actually used it the first day he put the sod down. That was last Saturday, exactly a week ago and I have yet to see the irrigation system kick on again. Two days ago they mowed the lawn to no more than 2 inches, and even scalped parts of the sod (yes, they ran over newly laid sod with one of those commercial mowers). So as I look out the window I'd say half the sod is brown and the other half is looking stressed.

He told me they used his property to advertise their business. He just didn't tell me they were advertising what NOT to do. Go figure...

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 4:52PM
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if that is pythium, or damping off, then dchall_san_antonio, he's your friend.
look up corn, or tricodermas, and dchall_san_antonio on these forums, check organic lawn care forum also.
cracked corn , at 20 lbs / 1000 sq ft, and a week or two will stop or slow your detrimental fungi.
I've turned around playing fields doing this.
And what you pay for corn and some time spreading it will be far less than the landscaper options / dependancies

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 2:52PM
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