The Root of the Problem: Addressing 4 Common Problems in your Yard

BY pure turf
September 19, 2023
Lawn Care

There’s nothing quite as inviting as a lush, deep green yard. It’s a haven welcoming children and adults alike to take off their shoes and revel in its cool freshness. It's a backdrop for cherished gatherings, provides a home for small wildlife, and is a place to connect with nature.

But this idyllic picture isn't a reality for many homeowners. Instead, dying grass, bare spots, and weeds create a discouraging, uninviting space. 

Thankfully, there’s hope! 

In this blog, Pure Turf will discuss four root causes of an unhealthy yard and how to address them.

Let’s begin with the number one culprit: a lack of nutrients.

Lack of Nutrients 

Does your yard have a yellowish hue? Is your grass starting to look faded and patchy? 

If this describes your lawn, there’s a good chance it lacks some vital nutrients. Because many turf grasses aren’t native to the region, they need nutrients that often aren’t readily available in the environment. Unfortunately, many homeowners are unaware of this common problem until it becomes severe. (This is one reason why it's essential to check your lawn’s health regularly.)

Nutrient deficiencies cause a variety of problems in a yard. Here’s how to identify a nutrient-deficient lawn.


Identifying a Lack of Nutrients 

Common signs of nutrient deficiency include: 

  • Yellowing or discolored grass: This is a sign of severe deficiency. Depending on which nutrient is lacking, the grass may fade or turn purple (more on this later).
  • Stunted and uneven growth: If your grass is thin, patchy, or looks stunted, there’s a good chance it doesn’t have the nutrients it needs. This can also be a sign of other issues, so it's good to rule out issues like compacted soil and have your soil tested.
  • Susceptibility to weeds, pests, or disease: A weakened lawn will be much more susceptible to invasive weeds, pests, and disease. Your lawn may be nutrient-deficient if you are constantly battling weeds or dealing with frequent disease outbreaks. 
  • Slow recovery from stress: If your lawn is slow to recover from stressors like foot traffic, extreme weather, flooding, etc., it may need more nutrients for resilient growth.

Several nutrients are needed to maintain healthy turf grass, and the signs when each is lacking vary. Here’s an overview: 

  • Yellowing leaves (chlorosis) is the most common sign of nitrogen deficiency. Compared to other essential elements, nitrogen is required in the highest amounts. It's necessary for photosynthesis and is important for color, growth rate and density, pest resistance, and stress tolerance. If left untreated, nitrogen-deficient grass will eventually lose its leaves entirely. Heavy rain can deplete nitrogen, so adding nitrogen to your soil after heavy rainfall is a good idea.  
  • The first signs of phosphorus deficiency are older grass blades turning dark green with reddish-purple edges. Phosphorus is needed for root development and plant energy (aka, its reliance and growth). 
  • Potassium deficiency symptoms include rolled leaves, interveinal yellowing, and burnt-looking, dead spots on the tips and edges of the grass blade. Potassium is vital for controlling and regulating water, and it increases plant resilience against stressors like extreme weather, foot traffic, and pests. 

Solutions to a Lack of Nutrients 

If you determine that your lawn is nutrient deficient, your next steps are soil testing and fertilizing it

Numerous fertilizer blends are available, and choosing a blend according to which nutrients your lawn needs is essential. This is one reason why you should conduct soil testing before choosing a fertilizer blend. Choosing incorrectly could further damage your lawn. 

Here’s a quick overview of your options: 

  • Choose a fertilizer: After you’ve had your soil tested, you’ll need to start by choosing between a complete fertilizer mix (which contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) or an incomplete mix (which contains only one or two of the primary nutrients). 
  • Spread fertilizer: The ideal time to spread fertilizer on your lawn depends on your grass type. Cool-season grass blends should generally be fertilized in cool weather, while warm-season blends respond well to fertilization in warmer times of the year. 
  • Organic options: If you want to opt out of store-bought fertilizer, try composting. If you want to switch from a traditional lawn to an organic one, overseeding or replacing your grass with a native, organic variety is often more effective. 

(If you’re from TN, be sure to read our blog, Lawn Fertilization in Tennessee, which covers all of these points in greater detail.)

While it's possible to DIY fertilizing, there are a lot of necessary details to get right when dealing with a nutrient-deficient lawn. For a stress-free experience and optimal results, you should hire a lawn care professional

Compacted Soil 

Another common issue in lawns is compacted soil. Clay soils and areas that experience high traffic are especially prone to compaction. Tilling soil when it's too wet and adding sand to clay soils can also lead to compaction.

So how do you know if your soil is compacted? 

We’ll beak it down. 

Identifying Compacted Soil 

  • Poor drainage: If you see water pooling on the surface of your yard, you can be sure your soil is compacted. Compacted soil isn’t able to absorb much water or nutrients. This increases runoff, especially during heavy rainstorms, leading to erosion and topsoil loss.   
  • Hard surface: This one is a no-brainer. If your soil feels hard and is difficult to penetrate, it's probably compacted. 

Pro tip: Push a screwdriver approximately four inches into your lawn. If the screwdriver penetrates the ground with little resistance, your soil is probably not compacted. However, if pushing the screwdriver in is difficult, your soil is probably compacted.

  • Thatch buildup: Thatch (a layer of dead grass and other organic matter) tends to build up more readily on compacted soil. 
  • Patchy Growth: If your lawn is patchy or growth is uneven, compaction could be the issue. The grass roots will struggle to reach deep enough and access the necessary water and nutrients for healthy growth.  

Solutions to Compacted Soil 

  • Aeration: The most effective way to deal with compaction is to aerate the soil. Core aeration is the process of removing small cylinders of soil with a machine. This loosens the soil and improves water and nutrient flow to plants. It also creates a better environment for new seeds to germinate. 
  • Topdressing or Seeding: It's a good idea to topdress and/or seed your lawn after aeration. Topdressing is spreading a thin layer of compost to your lawn’s surface. This enhances water retention and root penetration of new and existing grass and improves overall soil health. 
  • Loosening with hand tools: If you want to DIY aeration, it is possible to loosen your yard with hand tools. However, this takes more work, isn’t as effective, and can make your yard look bad for a while.
  • Avoid heavy foot traffic: If you want to decrease the chances of compaction, limit heavy foot traffic and don’t park vehicles on your lawn.
  • Choose grass with deep roots: Some grass blends have deeper roots, and this can mitigate soil compaction in the first place. Ask your local landscaping or lawn care company about deep-root grasses best suited for your area. 
  • Gypsum: A natural mineral, gypsum is effective for reducing compaction and improving overall soil health. 

Compacted soil is detrimental to your lawn health, but thankfully there’s a way to address the problem! Regular aeration reduces compaction, allowing your lawn to breathe, absorb nutrients, and thrive.

(Learn more by reading our blog Aeration and Seeding.)

Grass Types 

While most lawns will need additional nutrients to sustain healthy turf grasses, sometimes a lawn won’t flourish because the grass isn’t well-suited to the climate or soil conditions

Let’s take a closer look. 

Identifying Problems with Grass Types 

  1. Incompatibility with the climate: When the grass type isn’t well-suited to the climate, it can become stressed, prone to diseases, or even die off, leading to an unhealthy-looking yard. For example, a cool season grass like Kentucky Bluegrass will struggle in Southeastern areas of the US. 
  2. Poor soil adaptation: Some grass types need specific soil conditions, such as soil pH or drainage, to thrive. Planting a grass variety that doesn't match your soil's characteristics can result in poor growth, discoloration, and overall decline.
  3. Maintenance demands: How much attention your lawn needs will depend on the grass variety you choose. Some require more fertilization, more frequent mowing, or are easily damaged by foot traffic. 
  4. Shade Tolerance: Be sure to purchase grass compatible with the shade or sun in your yard. If your current grass isn’t compatible, you’ll need to reseed or add/remove shade for a healthy lawn.


  1. Maintain properly: Ensure you’re giving your grass the care it needs to be healthy. If you don’t have the time, consider reseeding with a more low-maintenance variety.  
  2. Address shade or soil conditions: Sometimes, cutting down a tree or adding nutrients is all you need to do to adjust the environment so your grass thrives. 
  3. Reseed: When shade, maintenance, or soil adjustments aren’t possible, you may need to reseed your lawn completely. 
  4. Plant the best grass: If you’re just starting your lawn, choose the best grass for your situation. Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself: 
  • Is my lawn shaded, sunny, or partial shade? 
  • How much foot traffic will my lawn get? 
  • Is my area subject to drought or flooding? 
  • How much maintenance am I willing to do? 

Selecting suitable grass for your climate ensures a vibrant yard and will save you time, resources, and frustration while promoting lasting beauty!

Shallow Roots 

Last but not least, shallow roots quickly take your lawn from lush and beautiful to brown and wilted. Roots are supposed to reach deep into the soil for nutrients and water, but sometimes they curl upward instead. This may result from compaction, thatch build-up, poor cutting practices, pests, weeds, overwatering, and more. 

Here are five ways to identify if the grass in your lawn has shallow roots.

Identifying Shallow Roots

  1. Drought Sensitivity: Grass with shallow roots becomes stressed quickly during dry periods, showing signs of wilting and browning despite minimal water loss.
  2. Easily Dislodged: Shallow-rooted grass can be easily uprooted by foot traffic or minor disturbances, leaving patches of exposed soil.
  3. Inconsistent Growth: Uneven growth, patchiness, and thinning areas are common signs of shallow root systems unable to support healthy grass growth.
  4. General Discoloring: Your lawn will start to look brown or blotchy due to the browning grass, thatch, and thin places.  
  5. Spongy Underfoot: If your lawn feels squishy when you walk on it, it has a lot of thatch and this often corresponds to shallow roots.

Solutions to Shallow Roots

  1. Aerate the Soil: Core aeration involves removing plugs of soil from the lawn, allowing air, water, and nutrients to penetrate deeper into the ground. 
  2. Use proper irrigation: Water deeply and infrequently rather than shallowly and frequently. This encourages roots to reach deeper for moisture. Ensure that water reaches at least 6-8 inches into the soil during each watering.
  3. Adjust soil conditions: Amend the soil with organic matter like compost to improve soil structure, drainage, and nutrient availability, creating an environment that promotes root growth.
  4. Increase mowing height: Mowing your grass too short can cause shallow roots. Maintain a higher mowing height to allow more leaf surface for photosynthesis, which supports root growth.  

Remember that addressing shallow roots may take time, and consistent efforts are required to shift the root growth pattern. By implementing these practices, you can encourage healthier and more resilient grass with deeper root systems.

How Pure Turf Can Help

If you're dealing with the issues we’ve addressed in this blog or simply want a healthy lawn, Pure Turf would love to help! We offer various plans that transform a struggling lawn into a lush, beautiful one. We offer numerous lawn care services, including mosquito control and prevention, lawn disease treatment, weed control, and more! 

Contact us today if you want to have a meaningful conversation about your vision for your lawn.

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