4 Types of Lawn Damage (And How to Fix Them)

Your lawn takes a beating, season to season, from winter-weather salt damage, insects, rodents and birds, family pets, weeds and thatch. While there’s not much you can do to prevent damage once it’s been done, you can make repairs to get your lawn looking lush and green again.

Although, damage to your lawn can come from any of the above stressors — or all of them — you can fix any unsightly or dead patches in your yard by first determining the problem, and then applying the appropriate solution. See below for step-by-step solutions to some of the most common problems that may exist in your yard.

Winter Salt Damage

Lawn spreader spraying soil conditioner

The winter can often be tough on your grass, but the main culprit of winter damage is road salt and other de-icers.

Step 1: Evaluate

These harsh chemicals run off of sidewalks, walkways and driveways and burn adjacent grass and other vegetation. After winter weather is over, it’s a good idea to evaluate your yard to see where salt may have affected grass and vegetation in your yard so that you can take the necessary steps to reverse any damage.

Helpful Tip

The best offense is a good defense; preventing or lessening salt damage is the most effective way to keep salt and de-icers from hurting your lawn. During winter, try not to use de-icing salt (sodium chloride) — or use it sparingly. Use calcium magnesium acetate, which is the most environmentally safe product to remove ice. It is allegedly as corrosive as normal tap water. You can also use burlap screens, plastic fencing or snow fencing to protect areas of your yard adjacent to roadways from salt spray and snow buildup.

Step 2: Give Grass a Flush

Thoroughly water your lawn adjacent to concrete surfaces to flush remaining salt, de-icer and residue from plants and soil. Try adding a few drops of a mild dishwashing liquid to a hose-end sprayer attachment when spraying your yard using a garden hose. This will wash away salt residue and any other buildup from the grass and help oxygen make its way to the roots.

Step 3: Treat the Grass

Pelletized gypsum soil conditioner is a good treatment for salt-damaged grass. Gypsum (calcium sulfate) replaces salt (sodium chloride) with calcium and sulphur, both of which “heal” the grass and foster its growth. It also helps soil retain water and decreases erosion.

Simply spread a thin layer over the affected areas of your yard, using a lawn spreader and then thoroughly water it. You should see results in a couple of weeks. If the grass hasn’t returned to its natural green color, you may have to remove these patches and reseed.

Helpful Tip

Treat the grass with gypsum as soon as you notice salt-affected areas. The sooner you repair it, the less damage there will be and the faster the regrowth.

Insects, Rodents, and Birds

Grub causing lawn damage

Insects (their larvae, in particular), rodents, and birds work together to do damage to a healthy lawn. Certain beetle larvae, usually referred to as grubs, can infest the soil beneath the grass and attack roots. This can kill the grass and leave brown splotches on an otherwise green lawn. Animals such as moles, voles, chipmunks and skunks can riddle your yard with their tunnels and digging, often — as in a skunk’s case — looking to feast on grubs. Certain bird species can nibble on the grass leaves themselves, as well as make your attempts at seeding new grass more difficult.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do to prevent these attacks. While there are a number of available insect-control products and rodent-control products at your local True Value hardware store, it can be hard to stop all infestations. Usually, you just have to take your lumps and work on repairing your grass after the fact.

Step 1: Investigate

Rodents will leave telltale signs with furrows and holes in your turf. These spots can be fixed by filling in the holes with topsoil and then reseeding where necessary (see Step 3). Insect infestations can be harder to spot, although sometimes signs of animal activity can be a tip-off. In most cases, look for uneven yellow or brown patches in your grass. The sod in these areas will seem slightly detached from the rest of the earth and often is easily pulled up. You may see grubs immediately; however, you can also dig a few inches into the ground with a trowel to look for them.

Step 2: Remove Grub-Affected Soil

Use a shovel or garden spade to remove the dead grass, topsoil and a couple extra inches of soil from the affected areas. Place the discarded soil into a trash bag and dispose of it.

Step 3: Aerate, Fertilize, Seed and Water

Use a hand rake to loosen and turn over the soil. This allows it to receive more oxygen and water. Additionally, you can use an aerator to thoroughly stir around the loose soil to prepare it for fertilizer, seeds and water.

Water the area using a garden hose, giving it a good, long soaking. Spread fertilizer and some topsoil (if needed) to the patch and then water thoroughly again. Spread grass seed over the area using a seed spreader (for larger areas) or by hand (for small patches). Lightly aerate the soil again using the hand rake or an aerator to work in the seeds and fertilizer into the soil. Water the spot every day for a month or so until the grass has re-grown and blended in with the surrounding lawn.

Helpful Tips

You can add hay or straw mulch to facilitate sprouting, particularly on sloping areas. This helps prevent soil erosion and cuts down on the need for frequent watering. But don’t use too much mulch—the more straw or hay you use, the more likely you are to get some weeds.

Don’t start mowing your lawn until your new grass is about 1½” tall.

Pet Damage

Dog inspecting yellow spot on lawn

Yellow spots on your lawn are often the work of man’s best friend, whether it’s your dog or a neighbor’s wandering canine. In most cases, a dog’s waste can be beneficial to grass because it acts as natural fertilizer. However, dog urine has high concentrations of nitrogen in it. When this nitrogen is combined with the natural nitrogen amount in soil, this high concentration overloads the soil and damages it, causing the grass to turn yellow.

You can counteract this “nitrogen burn” easily. It can start with your dog. Training a pet to eliminate waste in a selected spot in your yard can keep the damage confined to one area. However, there’s not much you can do about errant neighbor dogs, except by reaching out to your neighbors to keep a better eye on their pet. Here are some tips on how to fix the damage once it has already been done:

Step 1: Soak It

Try to take note of where you see your dog urinate, if it’s not obvious by the yellow patches in the grass. You want to soak this area excessively with water from a hose. Use a lot of water; the more the better. The longer the urine stays on the grass, the more damage it does. If you use a sprinkler to water your lawn, this is helpful too because it helps wash away dog urine consistently. However, it’s often not enough water to keep the damage from happening by itself alone.

Step 2: Spread Lime, Water Some More

Lightly spread horticultural lime over the affected spots. Don’t add too much lime; follow the directions on the package closely. Too much can have the opposite effect and do more damage. Thoroughly water the spot again. Keep watering every day. Eventually, the natural green color of the grass will return. If it doesn’t return in a few weeks, you may have to dig out the area and reseed.

Weeds and Thatch

Rake and aerator used to dethatch lawn

Weeds compete with grass for survival. They must be removed in order for your lawn to thrive and look its best. Your local True Value hardware store carries a number of commercial weed killers that you can use to kill weeds, but not the surrounding grass.

Here are some other tips on keeping the weed population down:

  • Mow regularly and don’t cut it too short. If your grass is cut on the highest mower setting, the grass will be high enough to block sunlight from weeds trying to grow.
  • Pull weeds regularly. Remove them as soon as you notice them. Use a weed puller for quick and easy removal. These devices also help you to remove the weed roots, which is a must for effective weed killing.
  • Regularly aerate your lawn. This helps oxygen make it to your grass’s roots by breaking through compacted soil. A healthy lawn goes a long way toward avoiding weeds in the first place.

Thatch builds up when grass clippings are not chopped finely enough with a mulching mower or if excessive clippings are not removed after cutting. To prevent thatch from accumulating, rake your lawn after mowing, especially at the end of the growing season. If you’ve got thatch buildup, you might need to dethatch.

You should dethatch if thatch is more than 1/2″ thick. Use an iron rake or a thatch rake (also known as a “scrake”) to cut through and rake off thatch. This will also scarify the surface. For large lawns, you may want to consider renting a walk-behind dethatching machine.

Helpful Tip

Contrary to common homeowner practice, you should never dethatch in mid- to late spring or during your lawn’s active growing season. Dethatching at this time exposes the soil and can give weeds a chance to take over your yard. Instead, dethatch your lawn in the fall after the growing season.

That’s it! Here’s to a vibrant lawn that your neighbors will envy.

Winter Salt Damage: Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.

Insects, Rodents, Birds, and Animals: Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.

Pet Damage: Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.

Weeds and Thatch: Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.