Dying grass

Asked August 26, 2019, 11:04 AM EDT

I live in Richfield and last summer some areas of our lawn died completely and by the end of the summer were bare dirt. This spring I tilled up those areas and reseeded and the grass came back and looked terrific for about a month. Now some of those same areas, have died again. The area has quite a bit of shade from river birch (it is not a wet area, that is just what was planted there, There is also a ginko nearby) I used dense shade grass seed. Much of the yard has just as much shade and is doing fine. Someone told me it could be grubs but I looked and did some digging and didn't see any grubs. I just sprayed the area with live nematodes. I would like to till and seed again soon but I would like to identify the problem first, I am a minimalist when it comes to lawns and have never used any fertilizer or chemicals on it, although my wife had a lawn service do some kind of treatment on it last spring (2018) and she thinks that perhaps the lawn service killed it. But this problem is occurring in only a few hundred square feet of our yard. The first pictures shows the grass now, 2nd shows in end of May, 3rd shows before seeding. Thanks

Ramsey County Minnesota

5 Responses

Thanks for the question.

A few observations/questions:

1). Often when there are turf issues, a standard response is to suggest doing a soil test. I hesitate to do this in your case since it seems as if you have many turf areas showing good growth.

2). Is there any possibility that these areas might have been exposed to such things as ice-melt, construction debris, herbicide such as RoundUp spill, etc.? In one of your pictures you showed a sidewalk along which no grass was growing. Were any chemicals applied to this walk last winter?

3). Without knowing what was in the spray applied or what constituted the treatment in 2018, it is impossible to determine whether they had an impact or not. Do you have any idea what was sprayed by your lawn service or further details about what was done in 2018.

4). At this point I suspect that these areas are not getting sufficient light. At the very least, grass need an absolute minimum of four hours of direct, continuous sunlight every day. Is this true for these affected areas. See the first paragraph in the following:


5). The fact that some areas of your yard seem to be growing well even though they are in shade, may or may not be relevant. Their growth does not guarantee that you will get growth in the areas shown in your pictures.

6). There are many different types of grass seed advertised to be shade tolerant. Sometimes such advertising is not always accurate. Do you know the exact types of grass seed you applied and where you obtained it?

7). I will wait to hear further from you before proposing remedial procedures. In the meantime, take a look at the following:




I will await your response. Thanks for using this forum.

Thanks for the thorough response. I don't know what chemicals the lawn service used on our lawn. But based on your suggestions and what I have read on the web site I suspect it is a shade issue. Since we have so many trees most of the yard does not get anything close to 4 hours of continuous sun. We have 2 medium sized Norway maples, 2 lindens, 3 multiple trunk birch, a ginko, a Ohio buckeye, and several small ornamental trees. I have attached a picture taken at 4 PM on 9/4/19.
The grass seed that I used is Scotts dense shade mix.
I am doing some pruning on the birch trees to allow more sun and will try seeding again.

Thanks for the response. Your last picture shows much shade. Could you please describe how this picture fits in with the three previous ones? More specifically, in your last picture what are the specific areas that you have been experiencing difficulty in growing grass?

If by chance you still have your bag of grass seed, could you look on the label for the specific types of seed that it contains together with their percent composition.

From what I been able to gather, this dense shade mix contains a fair amount of bluegrass which will not grow in the shade that seems to be present. I believe that a partial solution to your situation is to use some different types of grass seed. When you get a chance, look at the following:



Will look forward to your response. Many thanks.

The seed I used is Scotts Turf Builder Dense Shade MIx. It is `19% duration tall fescue, 18% endeavor 2 tall fescue, 8% wendy jean creeping red fescue, 3% avalanche Kentucky bluegrass and 50% fertilizer coating.
The most troublesome area is in the 4th picture, just to the left of the sidewalk leading to the house door and under that birch tree. This is the north side of the house so it gets a lot of shade. There is a patch of hostas against the house in that area and of course they are doing just fine.

The second photo shows a closeup of that area taken in the spring after the new grass grew in.
The first picture shows the same area after the grass died out this summer.
The birch tree is visible in all 3 pictures.

Thanks for getting back to me with clarification.

1). As I first thought and as you concluded, the issue is probably low light.

2). I do not believe that the grass seed you applied was the best. The fescue that was in the mix is indeed shade tolerant and comprised slightly less than 50% by weight of what you applied. The bluegrass requires a high degree of light and this was probably was it was present in such a low amount.

3). The seed mix also contained 50% WaterSmart PLUS Fertilizer Coating by weight. The chemicals within this coating are intended to protect the grass from disease as well as assisting the grass to retain moisture. Here is my concern. Less than 50% of what you applied was shade tolerant grass seed. This may have been insufficient.

4). Right NOW is the time to do your seeding. Thoroughly rake the bare areas to roughen things up and remove any dead material. Seed with a blend of fine fescue species such as Chewings, creeping red, hard, and sheep. Do not use perennial ryegrass as this species does not tolerate shade. You should be able to buy any or all of these fescue seeds in bulk from a gardening center. I fear that if you just use the Scotts product again, the results will ultimately be similar to what you saw this season.

5). Then do one more thing and this is a good trick for growing grass in difficult areas. I have been employing this for several years and the results can be amazing. Cover the newly seeded areas with a layer of burlap. You should be able to get this in rolls from gardening centers. This burlap will help retain moisture for your germinating seed. It will discourage migrating birds from eating the seeds – a problem common during fall seeding. If you receive heavy rains, the burlap will reduce the probability of the seed washing away. Once you see grass shoots emerging through the burlap, gently remove it. Water daily during the entire process.

Please get back to me if additional questions arise.

Good Luck!!