Grass dies in patches of lawn

Q.  Over the years, you have provided me with many useful gardening hints. Here is my question and I hope you can help me.

Lawn with bare patches
Lawn with bare patches

I have several large patches of bare ground as a result of putting in drainage pipes in my lawn. I have rototilled the areas, raked up and removed all the weeds and rocks, put in Scott’s grass seeds, plus top soil and fertilizer, and watered throughout the spring and summer months.

All of the areas have nice shade from our trees. In some areas, I have done this three years in a row in the spring. The grass grows beautifully but sometime in mid-July to August, in all these areas, the grass starts dying and turns brown. Meanwhile, in adjacent areas of lawn, where there was no construction damage, the grass is still very green and alive.

As I mentioned, this has happened three years in a row. Every spring, I go through the process to put down new grass seeds because the entire area is bare and covered with weeds. Can you explain to me why the grass dies in August? Yes I know August is very dry, but the rest of my lawn is fine. Why doesn’t the grass put down deep enough roots after three years?

A.    There may be a problem with the chemical composition of the soil in the affected areas that affects grass.

I have a similar experience in a small area where I grow great rhubarb, but cannot grow radishes and other vegetables. A soil test was done and provided me with a list of the needed nutrients.

Call the extension service of your local university for advice on having the soil tested, followed by recommendations on treatment.

Sod gets overturned near fence

Q.  First, some background: A fence around our backyard was replaced in April due to decay. The previous owners of our house had left a bit of land outside the original fence because they wanted less lawn to maintain. We decided to take the fence to the property line to expand the yard for our toddler.

The fence is made of plastic boarding on three sides, and chain link on the side that’s been pushed back. A wooded area is on the other side of the fence. We had some sod lain in mid-April of this year to cover the expanded yard. It seemed to take well and in a month or so, really looked as though it was part of the original yard. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve noticed pieces of sod overturned, particularly near the chain link fence and in pockets near the adjoining sides of the plastic fence. Overall, the sod closer to the chain link fence appears to be dying. It looks thinned out and beat up as well as dry.

At first we thought our lawn guys had mowed too soon after the rain and were creating the furrows and gouges, and flipping sod over accidentally. But then we noticed the sod continuing to be flipped over long after they’d left. Now our theory is that perhaps animals (there seem to be some aggressive chipmunks this year) are attempting to dig under the sod and inadvertently flipping it up. What do you think? And what if anything can we do to help the sod ?

A.    You may have a mole problem, and possibly a skunk problem as well. Both of them are looking for grubs under the sod. You can get a product to control grubs from a hardware or garden supply store, and apply it according to directions on the package as to timing and coverage. Or have your lawn guys do it.

Use a product that will get rid of the grubs now, but also consider the application of milky spores for long-term control. Milky spores will take a while to cover the entire lawn, but it is a permanent fix. Be sure to follow directions carefully in applying milky spores. The best time to do so is August as explained in the directions, so you should wait until next year.

New septic system makes mowing difficult

Q.   Two years ago a new septic system was installed in my home. Where the property was once level, there is now a large mound with three sides that are very steep making it very difficult to cut the grass on the slopes. What am I better off doing:

  1. Adding more soil to the steep areas to try and grade a more gradual slope?
  2. Planting ground cover over the entire mound to eliminate having to cut the grass in that area?

Are there any other alternatives? I used to love to cut my lawn, now I hate cutting that area.

A.   Although it seem harmless to add soil to the steep slopes — and it may be the best solution — I suggest that you consult with with the system’s designer before changing the contours of the mound system as engineered.

An alternative is to plant ground cover, choosing one that has a very thick root system so it will help draw moisture from the mound. You could also plant water-loving shrubs and transform the steep slopes of the mound into an attractive feature of your yard.

These two suggestions will help what is known as “evapo-transpiration,” a desired function on a mound system. A landscape designer, contractor or garden supply house can advise on the best types of plantings to use.

Restoring lawn after installing a pool

Q.    Last summer we had an in-ground swimming pool installed in our yard. My lawn was destroyed. It is now all uneven dirt and mud with deep ruts. About 5,000 square feet of lawn was affected.

Should I hire a landscape contractor to reseed and establish a new lawn or should I use sod? If I reseed, will the grass grow spotty and sparse? And if I go with sod, do I have to water it frequently for it to take hold? Thank you very much for your advice.

A.    Why didn’t the people putting the pool in back-rake your backyard? It should be their responsibility. You will need to have the yard smoothed and leveled regardless of the way you choose to repair the lawn.

Seeding is a lot less expensive than sodding, but laying sod gives you an instant lawn, which is not subject to the vagaries of the weather. If you decide to seed the area, you may want to consider having a contractor spray seed and binder – a process called hydro-seeding.

Regardless of your choice, the lawn will have to be watered regularly until it is established.

Shrubs that deer won’t eat

Q.      I’m in need of a list of shrubs and trees that deer will not eat.

A.      There are many shrubs and trees that are rarely damaged by deer, but that is no guarantee that if the deer are starving they won’t touch them. Some deer-resistant shrubs are barberry, common boxwood, Japanese plum yew, heath, John T. Morris holly, Lydia Morris holly, Oregon grape holly, moonglow juniper and bayberry. Some deer-resistant trees are mimosa, river and paper birches, dwarf Alberta spruce, red and pitch pines. Your best bet is to visit a well-stocked garden center and see what they suggest that appeals to you.

Grass stops growing

Q. We have a problem with our yard in back (shade to sun with large Norwegian pine nearby). Where we had grass is now dirt (and mud in the winter). This problem seemed to happen this year but the grass had always been thin. We have a service do our fertilizing. I hesitate to overseed (or sod) in the spring if we have another problem to solve first or if I should bring a professional in to look and make a recommendation.

A. Call the extension service of your local university to find out how to take soil samples and where to send them for analysis. The results of this analysis will tell you what you need to do to improve the soil. You should also ask them what kind of grass seeds or ground cover to use in this area.