Finding solutions for our common lawn problems |

Finding solutions for our common lawn problems

Curt Swift
Free Press Gardening Columnist
Courtesy photos
Staff Photo |

A stroll around the neighborhood is a great opportunity to check out your neighbor’s lawns. You will notice some with deep green spots where a wayward dog stopped to urinate; you’ll see lawns with stripes of grass in various shades of green; you might even see rings of deep green. Many of these lawns will have very sparse areas except where patches of clover are taking over.

All of these conditions are indicative of a lack of nitrogen. Other nutrient deficiencies are much harder to identify. The way to correct any nitrogen deficiency is to apply a nitrogen fertilizer and you can pick up a bag of lawn fertilizer at any garden center in town. I would suggest applying no more than one-half the rate recommended on the product label. Too much nitrogen sets the turf up for disease problems later in the summer.

Lawns with rings or partial rings of deep green are infected with a “fairy ring” fungus. The mycelium (root-like structure) of the fungus breaks down dead roots and stems and releases nitrogen resulting in the green rings. Since there is no proven way to eliminate the fungus the best alternative action is to fertilize with nitrogen. The lawn will green up and blend in with the green of the rings.

Homeowners and property managers with lawns that were not properly taken care of in the past may recover to their previous beauty simply by fertilizing, watering and mowing. This is, however, only true with a Kentucky bluegrass lawn. KBG is a sod-forming grass and will spread and fill in dead areas as long as the spots are not too extensive. One KBG plant can fill a bare spot up to 18 inches across in a season if properly taken care of. Tall fescue and perennial ryegrass, the other cool season grasses grown in this area, are bunch grasses and will not fill in bare spots without the application of seed. If your lawn consists of bunch grasses and you have bare spots, I would encourage you to contact a lawn care provider and see if they can inter-seed your lawn. If the lawn is tall fescue, use tall fescue seed; if the lawn is perennial ryegrass, use perennial ryegrass seed.

Perennial ryegrass has the advantage of slow growth matching the growth rate of KBG. When seeded into a KBG lawn, due to its rapid germination rate, it will fill in dead spots much quicker than if the lawn is seeded to KBG. This is very helpful when you have a wedding or other activity planned and don’t have time to wait for Kentucky bluegrass to become established. Perennial ryegrass germinates in four to seven days while KBG takes 14 to 21 days to germinate.

If you have a tall fescue lawn I would suggest you help the bare spots recover by reseeding with tall fescue. Like perennial ryegrass, tall fescue is quick to germinate and will fill in dead spots quite rapidly. If you inter-seed a tall fescue lawn with perennial ryegrass, the lawn will have a clumpy appearance due to the strikingly different growth rates of tall fescue and perennial ryegrass. Tall fescue also produces organic compounds that are allelopathic. These molecules, while having no effect on tall fescue, will cause perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and other grasses to have a hard time getting established.

Spring is also a great time to fertilize your pines and other ornamental and shade trees. Many pines have light green, bordering on yellow, needles. This is typically due to a lack of nitrogen. Applying a fertilizer within the drip line of these trees at the rate given on the label will help these trees recover from the winter and cause the needles to green up. The only exception on fertilizing trees applies to honeylocust and locust trees. These trees are nitrogen-fixing and when fertilized with nitrogen lose this ability.

Unless the product says otherwise, always water fertilizer in shortly after making the application.

If you have questions, especially ones I can answer in this column, drop me an email at I may not be able to answer all of your questions but will do my best to get back with you in as timely a manner as possible.

Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at or check out his blog at He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.

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