Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Brown Patchy Lawn Dilemma

brown patches on lawn

Hello fellow readers, After our volunteer sing at the Karen Ann Quinlan Home for Hospice last Friday, my singing buddy, Ken of Branchville NJ, asked about grub remedies for his lawn riddled with brown patches. He tried a product from a home store, but it didn’t help. It may not be a grub dilemma, after all. Perhaps chinch bugs or a fungus amongst us is the culprit of Ken’s brown patchy lawn dilemma.

brown patches on lawnHow to identify if Chinch Bugs

I shared a trick that my turf professor suggested long ago. Push in a coffee can with both ends opened at least two inches deep into the soil on the edge of the area affected. Then fill the can with water. Wait about ten minutes and see if critters float to the top. Look closely as the as chinch bugs nymphs are tiny, the adults are about a quarter-inch long. They suck the sap out of the turf, causing dead patches that look like the impact of drought. It can be readily remedied organically by dusting the affected areas with a Diatomaceous Earth (DE) and Pyrethrin combo, such as Perma-Guard. The lawn will recover but give it time.

How to Check for Grubs 

If no critters float, then remove a foot by foot piece of turf to check for grubs. It will be easy to peel back if you have a grub dilemma. But only if you see ten or more, is it considered a problem. A few root-feeding grubs will not impact a healthy lawn.

What are grubs anyway, you ask? They are the larvae of several kinds of beetles, the most known as a nemesis are Japanese beetles. I read about chemicals used to treat grubs, which makes my eyes glaze over. Never mind the risk of the substances drifting into your garden beds, and the impact on our environment and beneficial bugs.

Milky Spore is a safe, all-natural biological control using milky disease spores, which is lethal to Japanese beetle grubs but harmless to humans, pets, and beneficial insects. The bacteria will live in the soil for 10 to 15 years and can be applied anytime the ground is not frozen.

large brown ring shaped patch on lawn with a dachshund dog in the center

Lexi center-stage in a Fairy Ring – previous column link below

A brown patchy lawn could be a fungus

If not grubs and chinch bugs, perhaps Ken’s dilemma is a fungus which recalls a column about fairy rings. They appear as dark green or brown circular bands ranging in size from a few inches to fifty feet. Mushrooms can then develop in a circle outside of the rings during spring and fall after periods of heavy rain.

Ken sent a picture of his blotchy brown lawn—a mottled pattern rather than rings which could be dollar spot. Have you ever noticed shiny clusters of droplets on what looks like cobwebs in the yard? The webs are the branching nature of dollar spot fungus, which ultimately causes silver dollar sized brown spots in the lawn. Spots can spread into much larger irregular shapes and grow together, making large patches of brown areas in your yard.

a healthy green lawn free of brown patches

Most of Ken’s lawn is healthy and happy.

Prevention is the best strategy 

Prevention is the best remedy to fungus by removing excess thatch and aerating compacted soils, and watering lawns in the early morning during periods of drought. Topdressing your yard with aged manure or finished compost to encourage beneficial soil microbes will also help prevent disease.

Keep your lawn three inches high to ensure a robust root structure. While turf damage can be more severe if nitrogen is deficient, always test your soil before fertilizing and never over-fertilize as it can increase other turf diseases. A healthy lawn will endure fungus and insects, consider them a part of the cycle of life.

Garden Dilemmas? (and now on your favorite Podcast App.)

You’ll enjoy the antics of Curt’s brother in a previous column about Fairy Rings

a grey striped cat tucked in a garden

Mittens sitting vigil amongst Ken and Genie’s garden

While prevention is best, there are suggested earth-friendly ways to control or treat Dollar Spot and Fairy Rings offered by Planet Natural.


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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