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It’s hard not to feel a sense of satisfaction as you look out on the bright, green grass of a well-manicured lawn.

The grass is trimmed neatly, the lawn is healthy, and… there’s a bare patch in one spot that’s making everything look bad.

If you’re asking “Why is my lawn dying in patches?”, well – lots of things can cause a patchy lawn, including:

How to fix a patchy lawn? There are two main ways – reseeding with grass seed or laying down new sod.

After that, it’s up to you to properly maintain your lawn so the grass is healthy, happy, and looking good.


Front elevation facade of a new modern Australian style home with large yard.


Why is My Lawn Patchy?

Before you grab some lawn seed or start laying down new turf, it’s important to know why your lawn is dying in patches.

Even if you do manage to repair your lawn, if you don’t treat the underlying cause, the dead patches will just keep coming back.

Moreover, you need to check if your lawn is actually dying and not just dormant. Healthy grass crowns (the base at soil level) mean your lawn is just going dormant.


Poor soil conditions

Green and yellow grass texture, the front yard is disturbed by pests and diseases causing damage to the green lawns, in poor condition, and requiring maintenance lawn in bad condition patchy grass.

This is one of the most common causes of a thinning lawn. Grass, like all other plants, takes its water and nutrients from the ground.

If the soil doesn’t hold water (or holds too much water), or if it can’t provide enough nutrients, grass struggles to grow.

A sure sign of ground trouble is if your lawn is thin all over.

Do a soil test to check the pH level of your soil, as well as the type of soil you have. If your soil is too acidic or alkaline, you’ll likely have to mix in some additives such as mulch to balance it.

Alternatively, if you have heavy soils like clay that get waterlogged, you may have to mix in something lighter (such as sand or perlite) to improve drainage and aeration.


High foot traffic

Another very common cause of bare spots or thin lawn patches is heavy foot traffic. Constant walking can trample grass and cause compacted soil, leading to thinning or dead patches in lawn.

In cases like these, it might be good to step back and assess whether you should fix the patchy lawn grass or not. 

It may be better to simply turn the area into a footpath or replace the turf with small gravel or pavers.


Bad lawn mowing job

The rule of thumb is to mow only 1/3 of the blade height to maintain healthy grass.

If you cut too short and leave only a thin layer, that can cause lots of problems. The blades can’t photosynthesise properly and could scorch due to too much sun exposure.

Alternatively, if you don’t regularly sharpen the lawn mower blades, your mower will rip out clumps or cut unevenly. That leaves the grass more susceptible to disease and poor health.


Too much thatch

Lawn rake at a dethatched lawn grass heap in the spring garden

Thatch is organic matter like grass clippings, leaf mulch, and twigs. It’s great in thin layers, but too much thatch can lead to problems.

Usually, thatch will simply break down and add nutrition to your lawn. But if it’s too thick, it breaks down too slowly and builds up. 

That will then prevent water and sunlight from reaching the healthy grass, increasing the risk of waterlogging or fungal disease.

If your lawn feels spongy when you walk on it, you likely have too much thatch. Other signs include thin patches or uneven growth.

Before you can start fixing the bare spots, you’ll need to dethatch your lawn.


Underground debris or holes

There could be organic or inorganic debris under the top layer of soil that’s affecting the surrounding grass.

Debris that hasn’t or can’t decompose could be interfering with the ability of the grass to take root. It could also affect soil drainage or nutrient and mineral makeup, which would then cause patchy areas.

When the debris does decompose, it could leave a hole that will cause the existing soil to collapse.

Sometimes, though, it’s not debris but wild animals. Some wildlife burrow underground, which could lead to soil collapse. Other times, when digging for insects and grubs, they disturb the soil and the lawn above.


Not enough sun 

Check if the surrounding plants are growing tall enough to block incoming sunlight. Too much shade means the lawn isn’t getting enough sun to photosynthesise and make its own food.

Tall fences can also block the sun at certain times of day.

Depending on your grass type, your lawn may need a particular amount of direct sun every day to stay healthy.

Fixing this problem could be tricky – it could be as simple as regularly pruning the plants so the grass gets more sunlight. In more extreme cases, you might have to rearrange your garden beds.

One alternative is to change the turf to a shade-tolerant lawn variety so you don’t have to worry about sunlight. If a fence is the problem, get creative with some landscaping and shade-tolerant plants.


Pet urine

Two Jack Russell terriers playing fetch with a ball, running towards camera on a lawn in spring with daffodils in the background.

If you own a dog and let it out to use the bathroom, then dog urine is the likely cause of that bare area of grass.

Your dog’s pee is high in nitrogen, which causes yellow patches on lawn. You’ll likely find them along fence lines or near yard features (trees, raised beds) since dogs like to pick these spots to do their business.

Prevent yellowing grass by thoroughly watering the surrounding lawn after your dog has finished peeing.


Diseases, pests, and weeds

disease causes patchy lawn

There are several types of fungi, pests, and weeds that could turn a healthy lawn into a patchy mess.

Fungus usually takes over if a lawn is overwatered, overgrown, or thick with thatch. Pests could come from a local infestation, or your type of lawn grass could simply attract insects.

Do a quick test and pull up a clump of turf. If it comes out too easily, you likely have a pest problem (such as grubs or beetles). You might even see the pests in the bits of dirt clinging to the roots.

Meanwhile, a weedy lawn means your grass is getting choked out by weeds like bindii or nutgrass. It’s important to remove weeds so they don’t take up the necessary nutrients for your lawn to thrive.


Drought or insufficient watering

Extreme weather conditions like drought can cause dead grass or dry patches on lawn. In times like these, you’ll want to water gently but thoroughly in the early mornings so the water doesn’t evaporate as quickly.

lt would also lead to thinning areas due to soil dehydration.


Before Fixing Bare Patches on Lawn

Once you’ve figured out what’s causing the thinning areas on your lawn, you can decide on the best way to repair it.

Note that no, the grass will not fill in the bare spots on its own. You’ll need to fix the area, then address the root cause. This will ensure your lawn stays healthy even after it’s been repaired.

However, seeding or sodding aren’t the only ways to revive dead grass. Try other solutions first, such as watering, weeding, aerating, dethatching, or even top-dressing the lawn.

If those don’t work, then here’s what to do.


Fixing patchy grass with seed

Hand in a glove holds the seeds of lawn grass over a cardboard box

If you’re fixing bare patches of lawn using lawn seed, you’ll have a limited time window to work.

Make sure to choose lawn seed that matches your grass type. Alternatively, choose native grasses since they’re best suited for the Australian environment.

Seeding is also the better solution if you only have thinning grass, not dead spots. This is called overseeding.


Fixing patchy grass with sod or turf

If you’re fixing the lawn by laying new turf or sod, you should be fine if you work any time during the growing season.

It’s important to know that sod or turf supplies at your local garden centre or nursery are likely seasonal, so call ahead to ask about availability and sodding times.


When is the best time to fix patchy grass?

No matter the season, it’s best to work in the early morning so the hot sun doesn’t evaporate the water and scorch the new grass or seeds.

When should you repair your lawn in Australia?

  • Cool-season grasses (e.g. buffalo grass or Kikuyu) should be seeded or sodded during early autumn or late spring. For seeds, aim for soil temperatures of 10–15ºC.
  • Warm-season grasses (e.g. ryegrass or fescue) should be seeded or sodded from late spring to early summer. For seeds, aim for soil temperatures of 21–30ºC.
  • A seed mix of cool and warm grasses should be planted in late spring.

Check the weather report ahead of time to make sure you’re not expecting rain or inclement weather.


How to Prepare a Lawn to Fix Patchy Grass

Before you start sowing seed or laying down turf, it’s important to prep your lawn.

Remove weeds at least two weeks in advance, either by using an appropriate herbicide or good old-fashioned manual labour.

Determine the root cause of the bare patches. This way, you can fix the problem alongside repairing your lawn or take additional steps afterwards to maintain your lawn’s health.

Use a garden rake to remove any thatch, debris, and dead grass from the bare spot.

Prep the soil using a lawn aerator to ensure adequate drainage and air circulation.

If your soil is deficient in any way (such as unbalanced pH or nutrient levels), you may need to amend the soil with mulch or compost.

If your yard has drainage problems due to uneven terrain, you can consider levelling your lawn as well.


How to Fix Bare Patches in Lawn with Grass Seed

man sprinkling seeds on lawn

Choose suitable seed types from your local nursery or garden centre. Make sure you’ve prepped the lawn beforehand.

To start planting grass seed, rake some shallow furrows in the bare spot of the lawn. This will make it easier to sow.

Scatter the new seed into the furrows as evenly as possible, following the packet’s instructions.

How much grass seed to fix patchy grass? As a general estimate, you’ll need 25g of seeds per square metre.

Lightly rake some soil over the seeds to cover them, then follow with a light sprinkling of water.

Keep the soil consistently moist while the seeds germinate. Otherwise, they may dry out and die off or result in patchy growth.

Do not mow until the new grass has reached 5–7cm tall. Keep children and pets away from the newly-seeded area.

NOTE: Germinating seeds will take longer than laying sod, but will often let the new grass set down deeper roots. It’s also more affordable, and gives you a stock of seed for future use!


How to Fix Bare Patches in Lawn with Sod or Turf

stacking lawn sod or turf

Using lawn sod or turf layers works best if you need to repair bare patches quickly or have large bare areas to fix.

Additionally, some types of lawns (such as a buffalo lawn) can only be repaired using plugs or sod.

After you’ve prepped the ground, use a sharp spade, shovel, or pair of shears to cut the turf just a little bigger than the affected areas.

Move over to the bare patch and cut out a same-sized patch of ground. You may have to cut out some of the surrounding plants as well.

Go just deep enough so that the new sod will be on the same level as the surrounding lawn. Then remove the layer of soil and old grass.

Loosen the exposed soil with a rake or cultivator so that the roots of the sod can reach down and anchor into the earth.

Carefully lay the sod or turf patch into the hole and gently firm it down. Dress the sides with topsoil or compost to help the sod adhere and fill in any gaps.

Use your garden hose to water the patch well. Keep the area consistently moist for the next several days so the sod can “bond” with the ground around it.

Within 2–6 weeks, the sod should have fully rooted and look indistinguishable from the rest of your lawn.

NOTE: Using sod will yield quicker results, but it’s more expensive and requires more labour. Sod is most cost-effective if you’re fixing several patches at a time or fixing large bare spots in your lawn.


Essential Lawn Care and Maintenance

After a lawn repair job, it’s crucial that you maintain the turf and keep it healthy. Knowing how to fix a patchy lawn is great, but you shouldn’t be doing it over and over.

Keeping the ground well-aerated ensures good drainage and air circulation. Aerate your lawn once a year, either in early spring or late autumn.

Dethatch your lawn as necessary, especially if you use a lawn mower that has a mulching attachment. Note that you should only do this for warm-season or mixed-type grasses, as cool-season grasses do not respond well to dethatching.

The best time to dethatch your lawn in Australia is from late spring to early summer – so late October to early December.

Fertilise your lawn only as necessary to prevent fertiliser burn.

Similarly, water your lawn only as necessary to prevent waterlogging. It’s best to water in the early mornings, so the moisture doesn’t evaporate too quickly and can penetrate the ground.

Don’t get the hose out if you’re expecting rain – that will cause the ground to get soggy.

And of course, regularly mow your lawn (or hire a professional lawn mowing service in your area). This ensures healthy grass and encourages proper growth – meaning less risk of bare spots in your beautiful yard.

About Author

Jamie Donovan

Jamie is an Australian horticulturalist and landscape designer. He enjoys writing about landscape architecture, garden design and lifestyle topics.


About Author

Jamie Donovan

Jamie is an Australian horticulturalist and landscape designer. He enjoys writing about landscape architecture, garden design and lifestyle topics.