My lawn is getting thin and fading. What is wrong?

Possible Answer: Shade – Shade is an incredibly common problem in our area.  Our wonderful Live Oaks and other native trees generally make our lives better, but they can literally murder a lawn.  The tree canopies spread and capture as much of the sunlight as possible, often leaving little light under the tree.  The canopy growth is often gradual enough that we don’t notice how large the tree has grown until the lawn underneath fades into bare dirt.  The trees can be trimmed to allow more light to the lawn, but this is a temporary solution.  Permanent solutions usually include either removing the tree or removing the lawn and planting something else in the yard instead.

Also, look out for structural shade.  Shade cast by houses, buildings, or fences block out more light than trees and can kill off grass quickly.  This is most common on house side yards, between the building and a side fence.  An easy solution is to remove the grass and use rock as a ground cover.

Possible Answer: Traffic – Foot traffic over a lawn causes damage to the grass.  In most instances, the grass recovers and pops back fast enough that the damage is never noticed.  If the lawn experiences high traffic the damage can accumulate to the point that the grass will thin and die.  The good news is that there are a lot of solutions to this problem.  One of the simplest is to remove the grass and add something that can take the punishment.  For example, adding flagstone steps along a driveway gets rid of traffic damaged grass permanently. 

If the damage is caused by your kids running around in the lawn (future Olympic Athlete, or NFL star in the family?) removing the lawn isn’t a great solution.  The effects of high traffic can be negated by improved maintenance.  Aerate the soil.  It will counteract the compaction caused by running feet pounding down on our clay soil.  Fertilize regularly so that the grass will grow faster.  And make sure you mow weekly.  Weekly mowing encourages thicker growth which can handle the traffic better than a thin lawn.

Some grasses can deal with high traffic better than others.  You may want to consider going with Bermuda in high traffic areas.  The grass was developed for playing fields, and if it gets enough sunlight and fertilizer, it does well with high traffic areas.

Possible Answer: Shade and Traffic – If you are unlucky enough to have both Shade and Traffic, all is lost.  Grass can only take traffic if it has massive amounts of light.  The answer to shade and traffic usually involves a chainsaw to remove the trees or putting in something other than grass.