Mystery brown lawn

Mystery brown lawn

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mctech – posted 07 July 2001 05:10

We have a mystery on our hands. The sections of our lawn that are typically the greenest have turned brown…even though we’ve had rain and the rest of the neighborhood is looking fine. My son has been cutting the grass at a higher height this year to promote growth…could this have something to do with it?


seed – posted 08 July 2001 15:05

mctech, sounds like a mystery without more information. What type of grass do you have and what country and state is it? Also, if the lawn is turning brown in patches, are they disctinctive or just in general areas? Is there anything else about the shape and appearance of the turning-brown grass, including the roots, and anything else you can think of?

Thanks, Phil

mctech – posted 08 July 2001 15:39

Hey Phil!

Heh! I was rather sketchy in my original post. Here’s some more detail.

* We live in Coastal Massachusetts about 20 miles South of Boston. About a quarter-mile from the ocean…but not subject to salty winds thanks to the woods.

Not sure of the grass type — fescue I think. But in truth, I just don’t know.

It just up and went brown across whole sections of the lawn. We did have a period of heat and humidity that typically dries things out. And it is in the open sun.

However, no other lawns had this happen…and we’ve had rain. There are now green blades coming up…but its still pretty dead-looking.

As I mentioned, we’ve been cutting it longer to promote growth…and now the longer brown blades look like some sort of thatch.

We use a mulching mower…and it could be sharper I’m sure. But that doesn’t explain this. We also fertilized back in April…nothing since then. (I was planning to follow up this month.)

We planted this ourselves about ten years ago…over the sandy fill that was used for our leaching field. I think we should have put more soil underneath…but, again, I haven’t seen this phenomenon before. It does go brown during droughts…but most everything else around here is nice and green.

Not that I like mowing…but this is perplexing.

Any help or insight would be most appreciated.


MMcCohasset, Massachusetts.

seed – posted 31 July 2001 18:13

Sorry to leave you stranded, but I’m still scratching my head. Nothing that you have described is distinctive, either in terms of the shape of the dead area or the color or the presence of spores or anything telltale. If there had been a color progression, from wilted turf to reddish brown, to dead, I might wonder about Anthracnose. But nebulous poorly defined dying areas are more easily explained by drought or nematodes. If we knew the variety of grass it might set off some bells for someone more familiar with problems in your area. You should also be sure that there isn’t some kind of insect, even an aphid, nibbling down in the canopy.


tdkx – posted 19 August 2001 08:35

It sounds like a fungal infection. High heat and humidity favor the development of these pathogens. I sincerely doubt it is anthracnose unless your lawn is severly compacted. Anthracnose isn’t usually a huge problem and would not leave patches like this. Anthracnose is associated with soil compaction and low nitrogen.

mctech – posted 19 August 2001 09:41

HI everyone!

I’ve been travelling and have been unable to get back to you….Thanks for the inquiries.

We have solved our mystery…and it’s a surprise. I only put two and two together after reading some news accounts from around the region.

In the early part of the Summer, we had line of extremely severe thunderstorms move through the area. Several weeks later there were reports of an unfamiliar type of extremly ugly worm/catepillar marching around the landscape in great numbers…and they appeared here as well.

It turns out these were “Army Worms.” I matched a specimen with some photos…and that nailed it. Upon further reading I discovered that what happened to my lawn literally overnight is their MO. They march through, munch the stalks — every single last one…and the lawn turns into a carpet of dead brown thatch within 48 hours.

The good news is that it eventually comes back. Unfortunately for me, what “came back” is now mostly crabgrass. So much for my Spring bombing with crabgrass preventer…I’ll have to start from scratch in the Spring.

So…you are probably asking…what’s the deal with those thunderstorms?

Apparently the storm cells were so violent and organized that they scooped up the little monsters somewhere in the Mid-West or the South…churned them around in the atmosphere for a long time and evenually dropped here on the Coast of New England. Strange…but true…if you believe the local entemologists.

Mystery solved. I think.

Thanks for the input.

tdkx – posted 19 August 2001 10:57

I can tell you right now that it wasn’t army worms. It WAS a FUNGAL infection. Remember you said that it didn’t affect your neighbors? Army worms don’t attack grass as much(if at all) as they attack the foliage of trees. In fact, I work at a golf course and the army worms attacked the trees and not the grass. I’ve never seen pathogens single out an individual property either. That is something to keep in mind. Talk to your neighbors about their maintenance practices.

bobster – posted 20 June 2003 16:23

I currently live in Aurora, Colorado; in the southeast Denver area. I moved into a house here just a year ago. Last year the grass was beautiful (Kentucky Bluegrass) but Colorado has had a terrible drought for some time, especially last year. Things have turned around this year after the large blizzard in February. We’ve also received heavy rainfall every day this spring. Lots of water. But about 85% of the grass in my front yard seems to have died. Small blades of green are coming through parts of the brown grass on one side of the yard. A portion of the yard does seem like carpet; like I could pull it straight up. About 5 houses to my left and right are having the same problem, but the rest of the neighborhood have beautiful lawns. One of the neighbors had his lawned tested by Scotts, and they said it was fungus and mites. I’ve used bug and mite treatment and fungus treatment to no avail. Since we are still technically in a drought, we’re not allowed to re-sod. Any advice?

certified-in-florida – posted 22 June 2003 15:11

Hey bobster,

When you say that you can literally pull it up like a carpet, it makes me think of grub worms. Check just under the soil surface for “C” shaped worms. Basically, they eat the roots of the grass off and the sod can be lifted just like rolling up a new piece of sod. I don’t know the climate or timing of the year for your area, but from your description, it would be a good place to start.

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