When you have bare spots on your lawn, you’re probably keen to fix them. The method you should adopt to fill in bare patches varies according to what type of grass you have. Many homeowners wonder if grass will spread to bare spots by itself, or if you’ll need to invest your time and money to repair and re-seed your lawn.
In this article, I’ll explain why some grasses fill-in and repair bare spots on their own, and why you’ll have some work to do to repair other types of lawn turf.
I’ll also cover what causes bare spots so you can prevent them from occurring again, I’ll share a simple trick to find out which kind of grass you have, and how you can go about fixing bald patches if your lawn turf doesn’t spread via rhizomes.
Will Grass Spread to Bare Spots and Repair Itself? (Answered)
It depends. Grass with rhizomes (under-ground runners) spreads laterally, and naturally fills in bald or bare patches on your lawn. The same is true for grass that spreads via Stolons (above-ground runners). All you need is patience as you prevent additional damage to that area, and if you have these types of grass your bare spots will fill in on their own over time. Other types of grass (clump-forming grasses) won’t spread and repair bare spots. If you have this type of lawn grass, you’ll need a hands-on approach to fill bare spots with some compost and grass seed.
Why Are There Bare Spots in my Grass?
Of the many causes of bare spots in a lawn, the biggest culprits are pets and humans. If you have dogs or kids running around, your lawn will probably be a little patchier than the yard owned by your child and pet-free neighbor.
Jumping and running around damages the grass by pulling it up from the roots, and animals digging, scratching, or using your yard as their bathroom will effectively doom spots of grass.
Barbecuing, over-fertilizing in one particular spot, or accidentally spilling gas while refilling the lawn mower can all also cause bald patches. There might be a growth problem or disease affecting the lawn too.
Sometimes a toy or a tool gets buried in a lawn. When this happens, there can be a bare patch above it.
And if you start to clean up your leaves in the fall but leave them sitting on the lawn for a few weeks before bagging them up and composting them, then your grass may die from lack of sunlight.
Bare spots don’t just appear without a reason. It’s typically a sign something has gone wrong.
How to Repair Bare Spots in Turfgrass
Once you’ve determined the cause, you’ll be able to find the cure too.
For example, you can counteract your dog’s ‘spot’ with a quick spray from the hose to prevent his or her urine from burning your grass.
Combat disease or growth issues by top-dressing your lawn once a year, and consider overseeding and aerating your lawn at the same time. This is one of my go-to tricks for the healthiest lawn on the block.
If the patch is particularly big and you’re expecting company, consider buying a few rolls of sod and making a clean patch that instantly makes your lawn look as good as new.
Once you’ve carried out these repairs, you can continue to tend to your lawn as normal. Make sure you water the areas which have been reseeded or sodded.
Will Grass Spread to Bare Spots?
The shorter answer is: it depends on the grass you have.
Kentucky Bluegrass and Bermudagrass, which are very common in the U.S., spread over bare spots particularly well. These types of grass have above ground stolons and/or rhizomes below ground. Basically the grass reproduces by sending out lateral runners (above ground in the case of stolons, and below ground in the case of rhizomes), which take root and form a new plant.
Some grass types reproduce via seed, but I’m particularly fond of mixing in some rhizome grass in my lawn so that over time and with proper care my yard gets thicker and fuller, creating that attractive blanket of grass that invites you to walk around barefoot.
These spreading grasses are more commonly found in the south of the U.S. If you’re located in the north, then you’re much more likely to have non-spreading grass and will need to reseed in order to fill in your bare patches of lawn.
Examples of these non-spreading grasses include Perennial Ryegrass, Chewings Fescue, and Tall Fescue – all of which can be used to fill in bald spots.
Note, however, that Tall Fescue can only be used on a lawn that is already made up of the same grass. It doesn’t mix well with other kinds of grass, so if you patch a lawn with tall fescue you’ll have a tall stand of grass that is off-color and sticks out like a sore thumb. This will make for an unsightly yard.
You can read my full guide to Fescue grass lawns here.
More About Rhizomes and Stolons
The following illustration provides a good representation of the lateral growth of some grass plants, either through Rhizomes (which are sent out through the soil) or Stolons (which run laterally above ground).
Let’s take a closer look at each type of spreading grass:
Rhizomes are stems beneath the ground that pop up at a distance from the mother plant. These stems form an entirely new plant that produces its own rhizomes, so it’s self-propagating.
Rhizomes are a great way to get grass to spread relatively quickly. They’re often thick too due to tillering. As mentioned above, Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescue are good examples of grass with rhizomes.
While these grasses are good for lawns, one downside is that they can easily creep into flower gardens and other unwanted places in the yard. Rhizomes grow easily in good soils but will struggle to grow in denser, clay soils.
Stolons are the opposite of rhizomes because they grow above the ground and travel on the surface of the soil. They can travel far from or close to the mother plant, and when the root node comes into contact with soil it will take root, creating a separate grass plant that no longer relies on the mother plant.
Examples of stolons include Bentgrass, St Augustine, and Zoysiagrass, which spread efficiently quickly above the soil. They will propagate especially quickly if the soil is nutritious and not clay-like.
Stolons are survivors and can work their way through other types of grass on a lawn and become dominant, so consider your existing turfgrass before introducing one of these grass types.
How do I Identify my Grass?
The first clue for identifying your grass type is your geographical location.
Like most vegetation, grasses have preferred climates. For your grass to survive through the seasons, it needs to be adapted to the region in which it grows.
If You Live in the North
Most perennial grasses growing in the northern half of the US are cool-season grasses. The term ‘cool-season’ refers to their peak growth periods (spring and fall). These types of grasses will thrive in cooler northern conditions and perish in hot southern climates.
There are a number of common lawn grasses in the north. Below is a table that can help you to identify your cool-season grass type.
|Grass||Color||Vernation*||Shape of tip||Width of blade||Growth style|
|Fine fescue||Medium to dark green||Folded||Sharp point||Tapered||Either bunching or rhizomes|
|Kentucky bluegrass||Dark blueish green||Folded||Concave||Slightly tapered||Spreading, rhizomes|
|Perennial ryegrass||Medium to dark green||Folded||Sharp point||Slightly tapered||Bunching|
|Traditional tall fescue||Light green||Rolled||Sharp point||Slightly tapered||Bunching|
|Turf-type tall fescue||Medium to dark green||Rolled||Sharp point||Slightly tapered||Bunching|
If You Live in the South
Most lawn grasses of the southern half of the US are warm-season grasses. These grass types have their growth peak during the height of summer. The colder temperatures further up north kill these grasses in winter.
Below is a table of common lawn grasses found in the south.
|Grass||Color||Vernation||Shape of tip||Width of blade||Growth style|
|Bahia grass||Light green||Folded/rolled||Sharp point||Medium to wide||Stolons/rhizomes|
|Bermuda grass||Dark green||Folded||Sharp point||Tapered||Stolons/rhizomes|
|Centipede grass||Light green||Folded||Concave/sharp point||Medium||Stolons|
|Zoysia grass||Light to medium green||Folded||Sharp point||Tapered to slightly tapered||Stolons/rhizomes|
For a quick answer to what kind of grass you have on your lawn, you can also consult a horticultural specialist at your local garden center.
Just show them a photograph or dig up a sample of your grass before you visit, and they should be able to tell you quickly what you have growing in your yard.
An Additional Tip
If identifying your lawn grass seems confusing, and you aren’t sure about where to visit a horticultural specialist (or if there is one near you), try digging up a cross-section of your healthy lawn grass abutting the bare patch.
Carefully examine the grass and root structure that you see above and below the soil. If you have grass that’s spreading laterally and forming new plants, it will be easy to identify that. If all of the roots are fibrous and grow down into the turf, that will be obvious too.
This is perhaps the simplest way to quickly find out if your turf grass will spread to bare spots in your lawn.
Final Thoughts About Bare Patches in Lawn Grass
Will grass spread to bare spots? As I’ve explained here – it depends. To understand if your grass will spread to bare spots on your lawn requires that you first identify which kind of grass you have in your lawn.
If you live in the south and are lucky enough to have Bahia, Bermuda, or Zoysia grass, then the answer is likely yes. However, if you live in the north and have different types of grass then the answer is probably no.
However, even if you are blessed with grass that has rhizomes or stolons, I usually recommend that you reseed bald patches on your lawn with a blend of grass that matches your turf.
Leaving a bare patch on your lawn and waiting for grass to repair itself can invite aggressive lawn weeds to take root. Re-seeding a small area is easy to do, costs very little, and within a few weeks you can enjoy a uniform carpet of grass.