Yellow Lawn Care: Reasons And Fixes For Yellow Lawns

Yellow Lawn Care: Reasons And Fixes For Yellow Lawns

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

During the summer, many of us have unattractive yellow lawns. This is due to our conservation efforts with regard to water. Water rates go up in summer and much of the country is in drought conditions, so suspending water to the lawn makes sense. There are also other issues that can cause a lawn to discolor. Among these are dog urine, pests, disease, overuse, and fertilizer amounts. But do you know how to turn a yellow lawn green again? Read on for some fixes for yellow lawns.

Common Yellow Lawn Problems

Yellow lawn problems could stem from a host of conditions. The most common is dryness but excess nitrogen is another. This is most frequently from dog urine but can also come from over fertilizing.

Nitrogen is the first number in a fertilizer ratio. It enhances green, leafy growth and is a necessary nutrient for a healthy lawn. However, too much nitrogen can cause a lawn to yellow. This is because it burns roots and changes the pH of the soil. This creates issues with the roots’ ability to uptake other nutrients and water. Always water in fertilizer deeply.

Similarly, dog urine has high nitrogen content and burns spots in the lawns. These are easily recognized as yellow spots bordered by greener grass. This is because the diluted edges of the urine area are actually feeding the grass, but the concentrated center is burning the roots. Train Fido to go in another area of the garden.

Another potential cause is heat and sunlight. Excessively hot weather and areas that are exposed to full sun all day will dry out quickly, and the heat stresses the lawn. This results in yellow areas. Watering more frequently and deeply will usually correct the issue.

Yellow Lawn Diseases, Pests and Deficiencies

If you don’t have a dog and you water frequently, you may have to get down on your hands and knees to find the culprit. Small larvae or insects could be chomping on grass roots and affecting the color or there may be a disease. Look for patterns when determining if you have any yellow lawn diseases.

Faded, yellow turf grass can also stem from disease or deficiency. Lack of nitrogen or iron will cause the green to fade. A soil test can indicate if there are any deficiency areas and then you can correct them with a plant food.

Diseases are usually fungal with some of the most common diseases being:

  • Fairy rings
  • Snow mold
  • Fusarium
  • Smut

Combat with a good fungicide applied in spring and with good cultural yellow lawn care. This includes regular watering, thatching and aerating, mowing properly and giving the lawn food in early spring and again in early summer.

If you still can’t find the issue, get out a magnifying glass and lie down in the grass. Part the blades and look in the thatch for larvae and insects. Any number of insect larvae may be eating the roots of the grass. Adult insects are not usually the problem so you need to get to the larvae when they are young. Once you have identified the culprit, use an insecticide formulated for that pest.

Fixes for Yellow Lawns

After you have figured out why your lawn is faded, it is time to figure out how to turn a yellow lawn green again. The easiest way is to give the lawn good care and enhance the vigor and health of the turf grass so it has the strength to combat any pest or disease problems.

  • Thin out trees so plenty of sunlight can get into the area.
  • Maintain a sharp mower and only mow when the grass is dry.
  • Improve drainage in the lawn and aerate to increase air circulation to roots.
  • Rake up excess grass clippings which can make a home for pests and harbor disease. The same goes for fallen leaves.
  • Another very important aspect of yellow lawn care is to water deeply, but infrequently, in the morning when leaf blades will have time to dry.
  • Fertilize as recommended and watch for weed competitors which can suck resources from the lawn.

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How to Fix the Most Common Lawn Problems

A little maintenance (and a keen eye) can keep lawn problems, such as weeds and bald spots, at bay.

A healthy, lush lawn is an essential element of your yard. It's more than just a backdrop for your barbecues it's where your kids play and where family memories are made. But nothing puts the brakes on a celebration or a relaxing afternoon outdoors than unsightly spots or uneven growth. Fortunately, many lawn problems are quick to identify and easy to remedy with the right products and tips. Here are 10 common problems, along with the best solutions:

1. Uneven growth in the shade

Many types of grass seed don't love very shady spots. If you've got uneven growth in the shade, take these three three steps:

  • Make sure your trees are properly and regularly pruned.
  • Find a shade-tolerant grass type for your region.
  • For textural interest, intermix a shade-tolerant grass seed, such as Pennington One Step Complete for Dense Shade, with ground cover — either blooming or foliage focused. Good ground-cover options include Ajuca, creeping golden Jenny or Vinca.

2. Patchy slope

It's not impossible to grow grass on a slope the trick is to manage the incline so that the grass can root deeply. There are two ways to do that:

  • Match the type of grass with your region and the growing conditions. For example, don't plant a shade-tolerant variety in a sunny spot or the lawn will be stressed due to lack of sun.
  • Terrace the space by breaking up the slope with naturalistic groupings of oversize boulders, or establish more formal terraces with retaining walls. Whatever design solution you choose, stepping the incline will reduce runoff and enable the grass to grow more evenly.

Weeds of all types love to take root in lawns, and they're more apt to take over when your grass isn't well tended. To rid your yard of weeds, practice healthy lawn habits:

  • Mow regularly with a sharp blade.
  • Measure the rainfall, and then supplement as needed. Most lawns need about one inch of water a week. If you're in a particularly dry part of the season, water in the morning before temperatures rise.
  • Fertilize with Pennington Ultragreen Lawn Fertilizer 30-0-4, following label directions.

4. Bald or bare spots

Patches of dirt in your lawn, whether due to heavy foot traffic or disease, are unsightly and invite the invasion of weeds. To fix, take these three steps:

  • Dig up the spots, as well as several inches of lawn surrounding them.
  • Lightly till the areas and rake
  • Add topsoil and apply Pennington One Step Complete blend, following package directions and watering as needed.

5. Damage caused by pets

Cat and dog urine contains damaging amounts of nitrogen, which can cause your lawn to brown. The solution is two-fold:

  • Dig out the affected areas, layer in top soil, reseed, and then treat with a high-quality fertilizer, such as Pennington UltraGreen Starter Fertilizer 22-23-4.
  • Create a designated play and relief area for your pet on the perimeter the lawn.

6. Rusts (yellow-orange powdery spots)

Plant diseases known as rusts are caused by fungal spores, which can turn your lawn reddish-brown or yellow-orange. Rusts leave a powdery residue that can rub off on your hands and make inroads on areas of grass that are underwatered, extremely overwatered, or low on essential nutrients, such as nitrogen. Rusts spread easily and weaken grass, so practice good lawn-care habits:

  • Fertilize regularly with Pennington Ultragreen Weed and Feed 30-0-4.
  • Aerate annually.
  • Don't overwater or underwater.
  • Mow regularly.

Additionally, it's a good idea to perform a soil pH test once a year to determine the levels of phosphorus and potassium, and help you adjust nutrients as needed. Soil tests are available for a nominal fee from county extension offices.

7. Light rings filled in with grass

Sometimes called fairy rings, these unsightly spots are often found near patches of mushrooms. Simply remove them as you would bald spots, and then plant fresh grass seed, such as Pennington Smart Seed. Always select a grass seed appropriate for your region.

Moss can quickly overtake lawns that are compact, wet, shady and underfertilized. To eliminate moss, try these strategies:

  • Prune trees as appropriate to maintaining their health to decrease the amount of shade and encourage grass to grow.
  • Aerate and de-thatch to encourage healthier grass and relieve compacted soil. In thin grass areas, till the ground lightly and overseed with a grass that's appropriate for the sun/shade conditions.
  • Monitor both the amount of water the lawn receives and the pH level of the soil. Perform a pH test at least once a year. For very acidic soil (a pH number below 7), treat with high-quality lime, such as Pennington Fast Acting Lime for very alkaline soil (a pH number above 7), add sulfur.

9. Thinning grass

A lawn that's less than lush likely suffers from bad soil and/or the wrong type of grass. Test your lawn's pH levels, and adjust as needed. Then, overseed using a grass type that's appropriate for your region.

10. Suspicious holes

Critters, such as raccoons and moles, can damage your lawn by digging, creating wilted, patchy areas. What those animals are searching for are common lawn pests called grubs. Grubs, if left unchecked, could infest an entire lawn. To find out if you have grubs, peel back a little patch of lawn and look for small, white, worm-like creatures. To remedy, use AMDRO Kill Ants & Spiders, which may also be used to treat grubs. Depending on the level of damage, you may need to remove the infected lawn and reseed.

A weekly inspection of your lawn can help you identify and eliminate problems before they become landscape catastrophes. Monitor the health of your grass, and it will reward you with months of green, lush growth.

Pennington Pennington 1 Step Complete and Smart Seed are registered trademarks of Pennington Seed, Inc. Ultragreen is a registered trademark of Central Garden & Pet Company.

How to Fix a Yellow Grass Lawn

Consider the grass type, season and temperature before you attempt to fix a yellow grass lawn. Some types of grass appear yellow during seasonal temperature changes when they enter a dormant or resting phase. For example, Bermuda grass is a warm season grass that goes dormant in winter. Kentucky bluegrass is a cool season grass that goes dormant in the summer. Besides dormancy, a grass lawn can turn yellow because of soil deficiencies or diseases. You need to first find the source of the problem to fix a yellow grass lawn, sometimes through trial and error.

Perform a soil test to determine the pH of the soil. A do-it-yourself kit will indicate whether the soil is acidic, neutral or alkaline. Some kits also provide the level of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. If you know the pH level, you may be able to find out how to treat the lawn grass .

  • Consider the grass type, season and temperature before you attempt to fix a yellow grass lawn.
  • Besides dormancy, a grass lawn can turn yellow because of soil deficiencies or diseases.

Apply fertilizer if the soil test indicates that the lawn grass has an iron deficiency. Nitrogen facilitates chlorophyll formation, the stuff that keeps plant life green. When the soil lacks nitrogen, the entire grass lawn turns pale yellow, starting at the bottom of the blade. The nitrogen found in fertilizer provides the nutrients to turn grass green in a matter of days.

Spray an iron compound called ferrous sulfate on a yellow grass lawn to correct an iron deficiency. Like nitrogen, iron is involved in chlorophyll formation. When soil does not have enough iron, parts of the grass lawn turn yellow at the top of the blade. This type of yellowing occurs frequently in sandy soils with a high pH. According to the University of Florida Extension Service, it’s possible to counter an iron deficiency with a mixture of 2 ounces of ferrous sulfate and 3 to 5 gallons of water applied to every 1000 feet of grass lawn space. You should see the color improve within 48 hours if an iron deficiency is the source of yellowing.

  • Apply fertilizer if the soil test indicates that the lawn grass has an iron deficiency.
  • The nitrogen found in fertilizer provides the nutrients to turn grass green in a matter of days.

Use magnesium to fix a yellow grass lawn. Magnesium is another element that contributes to chlorophyll. The main symptom of a magnesium deficiency is yellow patches on the grass lawn. Add 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts to a spray bottle filled with 1 pint of water then spray the affected areas. Epsom salts are a form of magnesium sulfate that should turn the grass lawn green within 24 to 48 hours of application.

Treat patch diseases with a systematic fungicide. Fungus causes Necrotic Ring Spot in Kentucky bluegrass and fescue. The patches form large, irregular straw-colored rings. If left untreated, the rings turn bright yellow and sink into the soil. Yellow Patch is another fungus-induced disease that emerges in wet weather. The yellow patches are 6 to 12 inches in diameter and sometimes have red margins. Both diseases respond to fungicide application followed by a fertilizer program.

  • Use magnesium to fix a yellow grass lawn.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts to a spray bottle filled with 1 pint of water then spray the affected areas.

Mow the grass correctly to fix a yellow grass lawn. Scalping, or cutting the grass too short, leads to yellowing. Raise the lawnmower blade to the correct height for your type of grass.

To fix a yellow grass lawn with an iron deficiency, you can also spread a form of iron chelate to improve color.

Limit the frequency of fungicide applications and apply it to the diseased area only rather than the entire grass lawn as certain diseases can develop resistance to treatment over time. Some fertilizers come pre-packaged with an extra shot of iron. Combination fertilizers are not always the best solution for a lawn with a high pH. The phosphorus in the fertilizer can compete with iron and cause yellowing.

How to Fix Those Unsightly Yellow Spots in Your Lovely Lawn

Learn how to get rid of those unsightly yellow spots on your lovely lawn with this Gardenerdy post.

Learn how to get rid of those unsightly yellow spots on your lovely lawn with this Gardenerdy post.

Did you know…

… that yellow spots don’t just look bad, they also could be indicators of a fungal disease, pest infestation or poor soil quality.

With the temperature declining and mild weather approaching, you might be looking forward to spend some time in the garden. But, for all you know the pretty sight is ruined by ugly, damaged patches of yellow grass.

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Unfortunately, these patches don’t just look bad, they might also be indicating that there is something wrong with the garden, you might be using the wrong fertilizer, may be it is dehydrated, or infested, diseased or simply that your pet has decided on a favorite spot to take a leak.

Most of the time, they are easy to prevent and repair, but need patience and time – think a couple of months. If you are in a hurry and need a quick-fix, cover the yellow spots with sods. It will cost you more, but then your grass will be repaired in just a couple of weeks.

The strategy to fix yellow spots on your garden depends a lot on what has caused them in the first place. So let’s first look at the things that can make your lawn go yellow in places and then the solution to get it green again –

Problem: Soil Compaction

Physical damage can be caused by frequent walking on the lawn or a child trampling on it too often. It leads to land compaction, meaning the soil gets packed so close together that there are too little pores. The roots cannot spread, nor can water or nutrients penetrate the densely packed soil.

Solution: Aerate

Grass damaged due to excess traffic can be fixed by aerating it. You can rent a core aerator from a near-by store. For smaller lawns, the soil can be aerated with a fork – dig in the fork, about an inch in the soil then pull it out. Water the lawn a day before so that it is moist and easy to pierce. Follow the aeration with adding grass seeds, fertilizer and finish-off with a layer of loam. In case the lawn is too damaged and you need a quick-fix, sods are a great option too.

To prevent further unsightly spots, use tiles to create a walkway or put in stepping stones in the high traffic area.

Problem: Chemical Burns

Chemical burns can be a result of using too much fertilizer. You might find discolored or yellowing grass in stripes mimicking the pattern in which you spread the fertilizer after a day or two of fertilizing. Another cause of a chemical burn is accidental spilling of a chemical like fertilizer, herbicide or even gasoline.

Solution: Flush it Out

The best way to minimize damage is of course by prevention – avoid filling up containers or gardening equipment on the grass. But if you have already spilled or over-fertilized, water the patch immediately to drain out the chemical and minimize damage. You might have to water the area everyday for a week, and put in compost and rock dust to compensate for lost minerals. If the grass has already died, then the best thing would be to put a sod over the damaged portion or reseed it in the next season.

Problem: You’ve Mowed Too Much

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Mowing the grass cuts the leaves – the food factory of your lawn and results in shallow, immature root system. The cut grass also grows much faster, further driving up the energy need of the plant and putting additional stress on it. Visibly, ‘bare spots’ or yellow spots might also appear on your lawn as the new growth is more vulnerable to the elements, pests and weeds.

Solution: Cut Often and Cut a Small Amount

Every grass will have its own optimal height – for example, St. Augustine should be between 3-4 inches tall. It is best to stick to the upper limit, especially during summer. Also, note that you should not cut more than 1/3rd of the leaf tissue in one go. Use a different direction every time you mow, to reduce compaction and make sure that the blades of your mower are sharp.

Problem: Pet Urine

Pets, especially dogs, love to go on lawns. Unfortunately, the nitrogen in their urine might be high enough to kill the grass and result in yellow spots.

Solution: Train the Dog

Teach your canine to not pee on the lawn. Train the dog to go on a rocky or muddy patch. Just in case the pet urinates on your lawn, flush the place with water. Also, make sure the dog drinks plenty of water and reduce the amount of protein in their diet. This will reduce the amount of nitrogen in their urine. You can also use products designed to alter the dog’s urine.

Problem: Diseases and Pests

A large number of varieties of bugs or fungal infections can cause your lawn to develop spots of discoloration. These might have a distinct pattern, with some turning the edges yellow or causing brown spots to appear on the blade of the grass.

Solution: Contact an Expert

Although many of the diseases are recognizable, it is best you contact the USDA’s Cooperative Extension System Office or a lawn-care expert before you attempt to treat the disease or infestation.

Problem: Not enough nutrients

The soil in your garden might not have the right balance of nutrients for the grass to thrive, causing nutrient deficiencies and poor growth. Nitrogen is one of the most important macro-nutrient, be it for a potted plant or your lawn grass. It is needed for growth and chlorophyll production – which gives the plant its green color. A nitrogen-deficient plant is characterized by yellowing leaves – first the old leaves turn yellow followed by younger leaves. Older leaves may also die and the grass takes on a yellowish tinge overall. Magnesium, Manganese, Sulfur and Iron are other nutrients which can cause your grass to turn yellow or even make it crinkle and die.

Solution: Fertilize

Give the plant a mineral boost with a fertilizer. Look for the ones with ammonia, nitrate or urea in their name for nitrogen, and ‘added micro-nutrients’ for iron, sulfur, manganese or magnesium. Manures are excellent fertilizers too, both cattle or poultry manure may be used. Another option is to put blood meal, feather meal, bone meal, alfalfa or soybean in your compost.

A lawn can also get damaged by extreme heat and drought conditions. In such a case, the best thing to do would be to wait till fall, to reseed the lawn. Make it an annual custom, reseeding in fall or early spring will make it thick and minimize weeds. Also deep-watering the entire garden before 9 AM is a practice that will ensure not just a healthy, green lawn but will also benefit other plants. Another thing to consider would be using a hardier variety of grass, suitable for your climatic conditions. For example, Kentucky bluegrass will do good in cold climate, but might not be suitable for a place with frequent droughts.

If you haven’t fertilized and are experiencing grass spots, you many have a nutrient deficiency in your soil, and in this case you need to fertilize. The two usual suspects are iron and nitrogen. Nitrogen deficiencies tend to be systemic if your lawn has yellow patches all over, you probably have low nitrogen. Iron deficiencies tend to be in random patches.The solution for either nutrient, find a fertilizer that addresses your issue, and apply according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t overdo it.

If you notice that the yellow spots are all along the edge of your lawn by the sidewalk, dog urine may be the culprit. It could also be the miniscule leftovers the dog owner wasn't able to pick up. Both urine and feces are a dog’s body’s way of getting rid of excessive nitrogen, which unfortunately burns the grass. Solutions include training your dog to use only a certain part of your lawn (or place gravel in the area for easier cleanup), or talking to your neighbor and explaining the situation because nobody wants a spotty lawn.

5. Discoloration

Discoloration in your lawn generally comes because of three factors. If you have a grass that doesn't like a certain climate, such as a cold one, and the weather gets a bit cold, it can start to turn the grass yellow. The other big cause of discoloration is poor fertilization. If you haven't fertilized your grass in a while, or if you don't regularly fertilize, your grass can start to grow thin and yellow on you. A third cause of discoloration, that's much rarer, is fungus. In one of the above sections, we discussed rust fungus which can discolor your blades of grass and make them yellow, orange, and brown.

For more about lawn care, check out my article on laying sod.


Plants love water. Lawns are plants too. Lawns love water.

Thankfully, our climate means that occasions we actually have to get the hosepipe out are not more than a few times in a year.

Today there are inexpensive and clever little timers you can attach to a hosepipe which time and regulate the amount of watering without you having to stand on your lawn waving your arms from side to side. Your local garden centre and even Amazon sell them.

In periods of dry weather, the lawn will thank you for a drink. Earlier in the morning or evening is probably the best time to set the timer for the sprinkler to come on.

Water the lawn long enough for the lawn to have had a good soaking. It's difficult to say how long this is as lawns differ in their exposure and makeup. But if you pushed us to make a recommendation, it would probably be between 20-30 minutes.

Even if you are on a meter, the small cost of weekly watering during a hot spell will prevent your finer grasses or lawn edges dying off. It's cheaper than returfing or reseeding.

Lawn Mowing in Dry Weather

The most common mistake we come across in periods of dry weather is homeowners cutting their lawn too short. In periods of dry weather, our advice would be please, please don’t cut your lawn. If you have to… set the mower height to at least two inches.

The lawn will thank you. It will stay greener much longer, make more efficient use of the watering and recover quicker.

Does GreenThumb have a special treatment to help with dry weather and make the best use of lawn irrigation?

Funny you should ask… Yes we have. It’s called Oasis.

Watch the video: Grass Turning Yellow. What To Do?