Tips to Beautify a Barren, Grassless Location



With more than 9,000 known species of grass, the Gramineae family is one of the largest in the world.  To most homeowners, a healthy green lawn is an essential element in a yard.  While the upkeep is one aspect of maintaining a beautiful property, many lawn problems, especially barren patches, require an understanding of the key components of health: soil composition, fertilizer, and water.

The Signs of Health or Stress

Similar to most living things, your lawn speaks a unique language indicating health and strength or stress and barrenness.  Have you ever walked over your lawn to leave behind a path of footprints?  Blades of grass do not wilt; grass requires water.

Additional signs are:

  • mushrooms and other fungi signify a need for drainage or less precipitation.
  • cat and dog urine contain damaging amounts of nitrogen, resulting in small patches of deadened grass, usually brown in color.

Amazingly, grass appears as a network of interwoven roots collecting water and nutrients.  Some roots anchor down into the soil while others spread to develop new root systems, which influence growth.  With a lack of one of its essential needs, the surface reveals problems occurring underneath the ground.  Often enough, barren areas will materialize and grow larger. One of the issues may be the soil composition.

Soil Composition

The first action is to determine the problem.  Use a sharp spade to cut at least a few inches below the area surrounding the dead turf.  The goal is to lift for inspection. Similar to most plants, grass performs well in dirt comprised of rich organic soil that is well drained. In a small area, remove at least six inches from the surface and replace with topsoil. Determine if the location lacks drainage, has too much shade, or includes red clay (compaction and little air), or if the soil is loamy (lacking nutrients).  If adding grass seed covered with straw is not likely to grow, it may be time to test your Ph levels.

Soil Testing

Before starting to guess what the problem with your soil is, you have a resource close to home that can help you: the Cooperative Extension Office of Winston-Salem.  While an extension agent will be happy to answer questions, one recommendation will be to have your soil tested at a nominal cost. Results arrive by email and offer the level of soil fertility, which is a measurement of the soil’s pH. The scale runs from 0 to 14. While seven is neutral, most grasses prefer slightly acidic soil, ranging between 6.5 to 6.8. When the soil’s pH levels run too high, additives such as powdered limestone can improve fertility or you can add of sulfur when numbers are low.  For great results, soil tests conducted every few years can offer direct answers. Other types of amendments include topsoil, compost, or fertilizer.

N, P, and K

One common question is, “What should I use to fertilize my lawn?”  Most bags come in a three-number combination.  The first represents nitrogen, N, which promotes green, leafy growth.  The middle number, accounting for the percentage of phosphorous, establishes seeds, builds strong roots, and boosts the health of the fruit.  Lastly, potassium offers disease resistance to plants, promotes hardiness and vigorous growth, and protects against heat. While a bag may present a 20-5-10 combination, each number signifies the percentage of each nutrient as a whole. Most lawn fertilizers have high amounts of nitrogen, such as 30%, and low rates of phosphorous and potassium.

Nature has the means to protect our environment. It may come as a surprise, but grass clippings contain a large amount of nitrogen.  By allowing the clippings to remain in place, the process of decomposition will offer a boost of nutrients.

August is a great month to start rejuvenating and beautifying your yard!  Don’t forget to water!


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