Without much context or looking at the lawn, the there are countless reasons this can happen. Drought alone could be a cause, but overwatering, underwatering, traffic and insects are common factors–among a long list of others. It would be nearly impossible to name all the possible reasons in a single article, but let’s do a basic walkthrough of what was done to determine the main issue.
I took a trip to the clients property where we were looking at some of the grass that was beginning to die alongside their driveway and around the house. The grass hadn’t completely withered away, but you could tell that half was pretty pale, dry and any green blades were sparse.
I start by observing any obvious patterns and signs leading to fungus or insect damage. Standing back from the turf and observing the damage as a whole, there wasn’t much of an obvious pattern. Just a gradual fade of color starting at the sidewalks and siding and creeping away towards the main lawn areas. In my experience, fungus typically has more of a defined pattern or recognizable shapes/signs. And after a close-up inspection of the leaf blades, I feel I can comfortably rule out fungus as the main cause.
I continue my investigation by getting down and performing a tug test. The pattern alone didn’t suggest insect damage, but a few more checks will confirm my suspicions. The tug test suggests a pretty solid root structure, but the ground is also dry which may be affecting the results. I pull apart the grass to find no visible insects, and another close-up of the leaves shows no signs of chewing/dropping. At this point I’m confident insects are not the primary cause of the damage.
I asked the customer a few questions of course regarding foot traffic, watering schedules, etc. and after a few more observations I feel I’ve determined the root cause.
The areas around the house that were clearly being hit a little harder were primarily at the base of the home and would be in direct sunlight for most of the day. I realized that the house was painted a bright beige color, which looked great, but was effectively reflecting the sunlight to the lawn below. The constant sun exposure, coupled with the reflected rays from the house were sure to be stressing out the lawn in this heat.
Concrete and asphalt are both notorious for radiating heat from the sun. If you’re driving up a street on a hot day, you might notice what looks like invisible heat waves on the street. This happens on your driveway and the sidewalk adjacent to your yard. This radiated heat can scourge your grass, causing a large amount of it to start drying out. This was certainly a contributing factor in this lawn.
If your yard doesn’t have any trees, it could be worth looking into other types of grass that handle direct sunlight better than what you may currently have. This lawn in particular was composed of mostly fine fescue. Although their fine blades are known to help the plant retain moisture in hot conditions, this doesn’t stop them from checking out in excessive heat.
Varieties like TTTF and most Kentucky Bluegrass varieties are much better suited for direct sunlight in cool-season areas. TTTF is great for building a dense turf stand that will shade the soil effectively, reduce overall thatch build-up, develop a much deeper root system, and even reduce demand for fertilizer and watering. This makes TTTF a common choice for homeowners in the cool season zone and even parts of the transition zone. Alternatively, Kentucky bluegrass is a naturally sun-loving grass. It performs rather well in cool-season areas and spreads naturally with rhizomes to repair itself under healthy conditions.
So getting to the big question, “why is my lawn dying even when I water it?” Well, the homeowner informed me that their watering practices consisted of hand watering for a few minutes in mid-day because they figured they were giving it a much needed break from the heat and overall reducing stress.
There we find the underlying problem. They were on the right track, but the fact of the matter is, wetting the top layer of soil to cool the grass is not nearly enough, even if it’s done every day. If you’re battling a thatch layer, your water may not even be making it to the soil for the lawn to utilize.
If you’re in a state where the rainfall is extremely low ro infrequent, especially during summer, and you’re experiencing more sunlight, this can be a cause for dead grass. While mid-day watering isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I don’t think it’s the most efficient way to leverage your watering. When you water during the daytime, sunlight tends to evaporate the water quickly, so a good portion of it isn’t given ample time to reach the root system. This is especially true if you are not watering enough in a single session, which seems to be the case here as well.
For the length of time you should be watering your lawn, consult your local rain gauge or tuna can. They’ll tell you exactly what you need to know.
No I’m not crazy… (maybe a little) but what I really mean is, take a rain gauge, simple dish or tuna can and put it in your yard while you water. From the time you turn the sprinkler on, you want to measure how long it takes to fill your chosen container to a half-inch with water. This number should remain pretty consistent which means you’ll only really need to perform this test once—as long as you remember the time for use in later waterings. Water a half inch, ideally 2-3 times per week.
If you’re watering your grass during the daytime and it doesn’t seem to be responding, try switching your watering to early morning, which is the ideal time to water. This will allow your grassroots to get the moisture they need and plenty of time to drink it up!
If your lawn is already experiencing dead patches, there’s a couple of practical steps you can take before giving me a call. For the average homeowner, the most simple and attainable solution is to water, water, water. Don’t overdo it, but making sure that the soil stays consistently hydrated is the first major step in reviving a heat-stressed lawn. For the more ambitious individual, you can use liquid solutions to relieve stress and manage moisture levels in the lawn for an effective and overall successful recovery!
There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Ultimately if you’ve tried these things and nothing has worked, it just means it’s time to take a different approach.
If all else fails, I would recommend having a pro come out and run diagnostics on your lawn to better understand the root cause (no pun intended) of why it’s dying. If you are a bit of a lawn geek yourself and simply want to learn how to diagnose your own lawn problem, I’d be happy to lend a hand or offer resources not yet posted to the site. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot a message through the chat or our contact page.