Lawns: dead patches

Dead patches of grass on lawns are very common. However, it is usually easy to trace and remedy the cause, restoring green and healthy grass.

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A brown lawn, caused by drought. Credit:Neil Hepworth/RHS The Garden

Quick facts

Plants affected: All lawns
Main causes: Soil damage and lack of water
Timing: All-year-round

What are dead patches on lawns?

Patches of brown dying grass becoming patches of bare soil can appear in otherwise green swards, spoiling the appearance of the lawn.

Symptoms, causes and remedy

Below are some common causes of dead patches, and how you can remedy the situation:

Symptom: Irregular random patches that appear after mowing
Cause: Spilt petrol and oil can kill grass
Remedy: Avoid topping up fuel and oil levels on the lawn and be careful not to overfill fuel tanks or exceed recommended oil levels. See our advice in lawns: repairing for information on repairing the dead patches

Symptom: Irregular brown patches during dry weather, where tree roots run under the lawn, or in sandy areas
Cause: Lack of soil moisture
Remedy: See our advice on lawns: care during drought for further information

Symptom: Irregular brown patches on new lawns
Cause: Buried builders' waste or rubble. Soil compacted by machinery
Remedy: Remove the material or remedy soil compaction before over-seeding, re-seeding or re-laying the lawn

Symptom: Circular patches with bright green margins on lawns to which dogs have access
Cause: Female dogs' urine in particular can damage grass
Remedy: Water affected areas immediately. Consult your vet before feeding your dog any of the products that are claimed to prevent damage

Symptom: Regular brown stripes or patches appearing after feeding the lawn
Cause: Overdoses of fertiliser
Remedy: Carefully calibrate equipment before use. Also take care to deliver the correct dose evenly. Ideally, spread fertiliser before rain, or else water the lawn just after feeding. Controlled release lawn fertilisers may be less likely to cause scorch

Symptom: Regular stripes or patches that appear after applying weedkiller or moss killer
Cause: Overdose by lawn weedkiller or moss controls. Path and contact weedkillers can be carried onto the lawn on footwear and appear as footprint-sized dead patches
Remedy: Carefully calibrate equipment before use. Also take care to deliver the correct dose evenly. If walking on the grass after spraying is unavoidable, carry two carrier bags with you to place over your shoes

Symptom: Dead patches that appear on ‘high spots’ on uneven lawns after mowing
Cause: This is known as ‘scalping’ of the turf by the lawn mower
Remedy: Raise the mowing height. See our advice on lawns: repairing for more on dealing with this problem

Symptom: Dead patches spreading rapidly, often associated with birds pecking the surface
Cause: This suggests that insects are feeding on the grass roots
Remedy: Leatherjackets and chafer grubs are the most likely culprits

Symptom: Dead or discoloured patches that spread rapidly, often during moist weather
Cause: Lawn diseases mainly strike in moist weather, particularly in late summer, autumn or winter
Remedy: See our individual advice pages on lawn diseases to find out more information; lawn rust disease, red thread, Fusarium patch / snow mouldfairy rings, take-all patch and slime moulds on lawns

Symptom: Dark green followed by brown patches with no recovery after rain
Cause: Not fully understood but the presence of water-repellent fungi appears to be a major factor
Remedy: Various remedial actions can be tried to help the lawn to re-wet; see our page on dry patch

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