Archived Story

Brown grass problematic

Published 10:22am Monday, April 30, 2012 Updated 12:23pm Monday, April 30, 2012

Bunkey had spots of brown grass last fall, but, since they weren’t too extensive, he just ignored them.

This spring, the spots have enlarged. Now they are all over the yard. He tried the “grab and pull’ to determine if the spots were grubs, but instead of a patch of dead turf, came up with a handful of brown leaves. So, not grubs — what now?

Most, if not all brown patchy grass has some kind of fungus killing it. If you absolutely must know what the particular disease is, come to the extension office and look through our disease book. Whatever the type, the treatment is the same.

First rake all the dead stuff off then treat the area with a fungicide for grasses.

Next, over-seed with a variety of fescue, not the usually recommended blue grass. The fescues are more resistant to funguses than the blues. Cover the area with straw or burlap.

Remove as soon as you see a green blade. Keep the area watered until the grass is well established.

If you have had grubs the last one to two years, do treat your lawn again this year. The University recommends treating three years in a row to properly get rid of all three stages of grubs.

If you have areas under oak trees, for instance that get no sun, either plant with a shade loving ground cover or, if you are lucky, let moss cover the area. Moss doesn’t need to be mowed and is green all year. The only caveat is that a mower will dig holes in the moss and it won’t stand up to traffic.

If you insist on cutting the lower limbs off your conifers, do plant either a ground cover, hostas or shade annuals under them. They grow that way to protect the small feeder roots that are often, just under the layer of needles. Exposing the roots damages them. They die and can no longer gather food, water and oxygen the tree needs.

A better solution to weeds under those trees is to pull or cut the weeds off, then add a thick layer of mulch over the area.

Wood chips are a particularly neat and natural looking mulch. Whatever you do, do not under any circumstances use rock mulch under any live plant. It cuts off the oxygen the plant needs to prosper. It also heats up in the summer frying the tiny feeder roots that are just below the soil.

Rock mulch was quite popular in the 60’s and 70’s, sold to lazy gardeners who didn’t want to renew their mulch each year.

While you don’t have to renew the stuff, you do need to clean it periodically. This is not the easiest job. To do it well, you will need to remove all the rocks, wash the plastic or landscape cloth off, (it will be full of dirt,) wash the rocks then reinstall them. Landscape cloth is wasted money.

A mulch will prevent weeds and let the dirt and rain fall right through it, something landscape cloth is supposed to do but does very poorly. To renew mulch, give it a good rake one year and add more only if it is getting thin.

Enjoy the spring and hope it doesn’t lead to a tropic summer. Our native plants and trees don’t like it anymore than the sweaty gardener does.


Bev Johnson is a master gardener in Otter Tail County.

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