5 Top Reasons a Lawn Thins

Just like the top of my noggin is thinning, so can your lawn.  The difference is I can put a hat on my crown.  I know a lot about turf – they don’t make hats for lawns.

Thin lawns are signs of several different factors.  Identifying that it’s happening is paramount to the health and value of the turf.  Some are easy to figure out while others need a keen eye.  Taking action right now will assure the success of your lawn.  We’ve compiled the 5 Top Reasons a Lawn Thins and the best way to repair it.  Which one do you think is going on right under your nose?

There are technically two ways of looking at lawns: sitting and standing.  When sitting, either from a passing by car or a chair you kind of get a side view of the lawn.  This view gives you a false impression of a lawn’s fullness.  When standing this aerial view is more realistic of how thick or thin the turf is. If you can see soil you’ve got a thin lawn.

Thin lawns can happen to even the toughest of turfs like common Bermuda, Hybrid Bermuda, and the good ol’ standby St. Augustine.  Their growth is lateral or sideways other than upright.

Fun Fact:  In the late 1700’s explorers mention seeing St. Augustine grass in Africa. It was introduced to Hawaii in 1816 and showed up in California landscape in the 1920’s.

All other grasses stand on their own.  Each lawn blade is an individual plant and is quite communal.  They like to party together, rub elbows, and crowd each other in order to stand up tall and strong.  They’re united in their efforts when all the right conditions prevail.  Let’s take a look at those not so favorable conditions and how to fix it:


1. Too Much Shade.

Lawns need as much sun as possible.  Here’s some homework – take a walk to your local park.  You probably need the exercise anyhow.  Look at how the turf is or shall we say isn’t growing well under the canopy of the trees.  This is usually because the trees have a thick canopy not allowing the sun to penetrate through.  If this is happening on your lawn pruning the tree is the only answer.  It’s always going to be a struggle growing grass under a tree but if you have an arborist that can come out for a hard prune once a year then two or three light prunings the balance of the year you just may be able to thicken it up as the sun peeks through bathing the grass as it moves east to west.

Buildings and walls that cast shade for a large portion of the day will definitely be a problem.  If there’s some sort of sun hitting those structures it’s worth a coat of white reflective paint to see if it’ll bounce off of it giving enough to grow.

2. Soil Compaction.

Gravity doesn’t pull, the earth sucks and so does compacted soil.  If you think about it your planter beds get freshened up with organic matter at least once a year.  Lawns don’t get that luxury.  They get abused from lawn games, mowing, kids romping it, pets frolicking to and fro.  It’s a hard life.  Each step is more compaction making it harder for the roots to grow and potential harm to the crown of the plant (the part where it comes out of the ground) and that’s not noble at all. Depending on the variety of grass it’s okay to slightly abuse it.  But, we still have to be cognizant of soil compaction.

Lawn aeration, poking holes in the ground, removing the plug then filling it up with sand is the best thing for lawn soil compaction.  The sand will keep the holes from imploding, helps with giving air to the roots and maximize watering and fertilizing.

Pro-Tip:  Unless you have caliche, adobe, hard pan, clay soil (in other words, horrible soil) you don’t have to aerate every year.  Every two to three years for most all other soil types is fine unless you host professional football, soccer, rugby and polo matches in your front yard – then, do it twice a year.

3. Mowing Too Low.

How low do you mow?  This isn’t a limbo contest so cut your lawn on the taller side.  A half-inch higher will make a world of difference.  A taller turf protects its grass pals from the elements like when it gets too cold or too hot.  Soil temperatures are always warmer than air temps and a taller turf keeps soil cooler.  In turn, you don’t have to water as much.  Plus, taller grass feels so good under your feet especially when running through the sprinklers.

4. Poor Watering.

You may be watering too much or not enough. Okay, there’s no doubt in my mind you’re watering too much.  A lawn only needs between 1 1/4” to 1 1/2” of water each week and a whole lot less when the weather gets cooler.  In fact, during the winter months it’s not uncommon to turn your sprinklers off altogether.  It’s really easy to remember: more H20 when it’s hot, less when it’s cool.

Pro-Tip:  When 20% or more of a lawn has thinned reseeding the whole lawn or re-sodding will be better in the long run.


5. Wrong Grass For Your Yard.

Depending on what your lawn lifestyle is will determine the type of lawn you should have. Some are more durable under certain circumstances:

St. Augustine.  A rough and tough turf that handles traffic and is the most shade tolerant.  The downside is it’s best cut with a reel lawnmower and it goes dormant in the winter. However, in the most mild of climates with fertilization and paying attention to watering it’s not unusual for it to stay green through winter.

Original Marathon.  This amazing year ’round grass can usually repair itself before you even know there’s a problem.  Great for active kids and is the best pet-friendly turf.  If you keep those trees heavily pruned it thinning will be at a minimum.

Marathon II.  With a more refined appearance, this turf is perfect for weekend lawn parties. It’ll take occasional traffic and looks phenomenal.  Full sun is imperative.

Marathon III.  This is the showcase of all turfs. Its slow-growing habit is like a diamond on your lawn.  The only time you want to walk on it is when you’re mowing.  Another full sun turf.

More varieties of sod can be found on Sod.com.

Nick Federoff, ThingsGreen.com

Syndicated Radio and PBS|KLCS TV Host


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