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Gardening | How to troubleshoot impending lawn problems

As lawns green up this year, many of us will discover patches where grass has eroded away, spots with damaged turf and areas of weak grass. Last year’s full blown and incipient problems are back.

Before we go about trying to fix bad grass and bare areas, keep in mind that all lawn problems are not solved with chemicals. There are reasons for bare patches and weak grass that have nothing to do with pests and disease. Fertilizer and extra water do not strengthen patches of weak grass. Treating your lawn with fungicide and insecticide often is not the solution for damaged turf.

Trees and their roots affect surrounding grass. The same is true for some shrubs that have shallow root systems. Surface roots out-compete grass for nutrients and water, leaving the grass to struggle. Extra fertilizer and more water are not the answer because the trees and shrubs will continue to win the competition. If you value your trees and plant material, trade the affected grass for mulch or ground cover.

Some interior pruning on smaller trees and shrubs will help open them up to allow more sun to penetrate and reach the grass. Remember, though, that the trees and shrubs will continue to grow, and this tactic may eventually cease to be effective. You will have to decide if you want the tree or the grass.

As certain trees and shrubs grow and mature, their surface roots are likely to expand beyond the mulch or ground cover. At that point, you may need to judiciously prune back the offending roots.

There is no reason that an entire yard must be planted with the same type of grass. One type of grass may not be suitable for all the conditions within a yard. Sun exposure, grading, drainage, shade from trees and buildings — yours and your neighbors’ — all influence how your grass grows. Sometimes the solution to bad grass is replanting the area with a more appropriate type of grass.

Grass under the shade of a large tree simply does not get enough sunlight to flourish. An area that receives less than four hours of sun per day during the growing season is too shady to support grass. Centipede and Bermuda need full sun. Neither will thrive under a tree canopy, beneath a building overhang or where a building shades the lawn part of the day. Zoysia handles some shade. St. Augustine, on the other hand, performs best in conditions of partial shade.

Most warm-season grasses don’t stand up well to the wear and tear of constant traffic and playing children. Bermuda and zoysia are the most resilient grasses. St. Augustine offers fair resistance, and centipede performs poorly under heavy activity.

How hard do you want to work? Before you renovate a large area of lawn, keep in mind that Bermuda and zoysia require more maintenance than St. Augustine and centipede. Centipede requires the least effort.

Moss grows in shady areas with poor drainage and wet or compacted soil. It thrives on acidic and infertile soil. A downspout, an outdoor faucet, a hose and compacted soil from constant foot traffic are perfect conditions for moss. Grass doesn’t grow, but moss does. Nature sometimes makes lemonade out of lemon juice. Why change it?

Repair dead grass from dog urine by cutting out the spots and inserting a plug of the surrounding type of grass.

Stop mole damage by trapping the critter yourself, or hire a wildlife control specialist. Meanwhile, tamp down tunnels so unearthed roots don’t dry out and kill the grass. You can also send the mole to your neighbor’s yard with repeated applications of castor oil spray on your grass and gardens.

It is worthwhile to fix poor drainage. Waterlogged soil kills grass because roots can’t get the oxygen they need. Fix the cause of the problem before replanting grass.

If you use a lawn service, interview the manager or owner before you choose a company. When considering a national company or independent northern transplant, make sure they understand our warm-season grasses before you hire them. No matter whom you hire, it is good to remain aware of what they do in your yard.