Fix the underlying problem before you resort to unhealthy chemicals.
However, like many problems for which chemicals seem like a quick, easy fix, lawn problems can usually be corrected without nerve-damaging and ecohazardous chemicals like glyphosate (used in Roundup) and 2,4-D (used in products made by Scotts and Weed B Gone).
Here are some of the most common lawn and yard problems you’ll encounter, what they signify, and how to fix them:
Some weeds you can eat, some weeds are pretty, and other weeds are signs of a problem. If you want your lawn to be healthy, clover is a good weed to have in the landscape. It usually appears when your soil is low in nitrogen levels, but it helps fix the problem by bringing nitrogen to the soil. Solution: Leave it alone! When you mow, the clover clippings will add nitrogen to your lawn, helping to fix the problem without fertilizer.
Dandelions indicate that your grass isn’t developing healthy roots, or that there are nutrient problems in your soil. The turf may be either low in calcium, too high in potassium, or too acidic. Get a soil test to find out what’s out of whack, and use the results to strategize ways to balance out the nutrients. You can use a spray of undiluted white vinegar to kill the existing weeds (aim carefully so you don’t zap too much nearby grass), or dig out their deep root systems with a dandelion weeder.
It only takes a little bit of sunlight breaking through your grass to allow crabgrass to grow, and usually it appears when you’ve mowed the lawn too short. Dig out the crabgrass, roots and all, and then set your mower’s blade higher. Corn gluten will help prevent crabgrass, too. But, again, it has to be applied in early spring, before the crabgrass has taken root.
4. Bare or ragged patches
Bare spots in your lawn may be a sign of nothing more than heavy traffic or too much dog stuff. If heavy traffic is the culprit, consider replacing grass with a gravel walkway, and make dog-poop cleanup part of your weekly lawn maintenance. However, bare spots may also be caused by armyworms, which you’ll probably be able to see crawling around in the soil. Rather than resort to fertilizers or additional grass seed, kill the armyworms off with beneficial nematodes, which you can buy from online retailers.
5. Brown grass
This is usually a sign of overmowing, which prevents the grass from getting enough water. Set your mower a little higher and mow less frequently. The higher you allow your grass to grow, the better it retains moisture, especially during hot, dry spells. Sometimes brown grass is a sign of nutrient depletion, in which case you may want to plant some clover to help affix nitrogen in the soil. A soil test will tell you if your soil needs added nutrients. Brown grass may also be caused by white grubs, a pest that can be eliminated with the same beneficial nematodes used to fix bare patches.