I live in El Dorado Hills, CA (northern CA). A new lawn (~150 sq ft) was laid ~5 month ago. I was told by the builder that they planted 90/10 fescue/bluegrass sod for grass.

I have been trying to take care of the lawn by mowing it once a month and watering it regularly. However, the condition of the lawn seems to have deteriorated. A recent picture:

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I am seeing a lot of dead grass spots appear. Don't understand why this is happening. I believe I made a couple of mistakes.

  1. On a couple of occasions, I mowed the lawn too low. I've corrected that by moving the setting on my lawn mower to maximum height.

  2. For fertilizer, I am using Milorganite (organic). In early August, I applied about 2lbs with a spreader (instructions say 35 lbs / 2500 sq ft). This was the first application. Instead of 'greening' the grass, a lot of it seems to have died.

  3. For watering, the sprinklers are set to 20 min at 6:00 AM for every other day. I will reduce that as we get into the fall/rainy season. The soil underneath is mostly clay.

  4. Temperatures have definitely been high (100-105) in the previous month so maybe that has caused stress on the grass.

Given the picture above, what am I potentially doing wrong? Any recommendations for any corrective actions I can take for the lawn to recover back to health?

Update on 4/18/2018:

Here are two pictures shows the update. I overseeded twice (once in Sept/Oct 2017 and once in late Jan 2018). We have gotten quite a bit of rain in the last 2 months and the grass has come back quite strong (I think). Still some bald spots in a few areas but I will add more seed to those areas in the coming fall. Will fertilize in May. Started mowing once per week. Things are looking much better! Thanks.

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  • This is a really well-written question! Is there a way you can re-format that picture so it will download here? I tried something but it didn't work! If not, I understand, it's just that if the existing link goes down in the future, noone will be able to see it. Thanks! – Sue Sep 12 '17 at 17:47
  • @Sue - This is fixed. Thank you. – user4979733 Sep 13 '17 at 0:00
  • So you have done some seeding which is apparent. The problem is the type of seed and the type of grass...Are you able to see the light green from the newly seeded grass that is dark green? I would take a major rake to this area, pull out the dead grass, loosen up the soil, and reseed again. Focus on the baby grass for watering. Once it is filling in and needing mowed water only enough to keep the soil shallowly moist...that might mean 3 or 4 or more times per day depending on the weather. Always always mow once per week. Twice is even nicer. Fertilize now with Dr. Earths Lawn Fert! – stormy Apr 18 at 23:28

Most mowers do not have adjustments to allow you the correct height for cool season grasses. 3 inches is minimum. 3.5" is best. I have tried to find the formulation for this Milorganite. Sounds promising but I am weirded out they do not post the percentages for NPK!

I am concerned about the water schedule. Turn off the timer for awhile. After watering, that soil (clay) should be wet at least 4" deep in profile. Do not water that grass until (and this works very well as a test) you walk on the grass and your foot prints stay down. The grass doesn't spring back up. Then water again. Do NOT water until you see your footprints.

Doing this trains your grass roots to grow deeply making you lawn drought tolerate! Also gets rid of weed worries. I see your grass is still too short. So glad you changed your settings but if that grass isn't 3" it is still too low and too short for cool season grasses. Have your favorite appliance repair shop do a custom 'lift' for your mower. Sharpen blades, have a separate set of blades already sharpened...

I have to add the most important point and that this is PUBLIC grass. People walk their dogs and those dogs piss on chunks of lawn like this. When lawns are properly fertilized extra piss will burn your grass. If dogs piss on poorly fertilized grass that spot will get very green. I think this is your problem. Perhaps a little sign telling your neighbors to not allow their dogs to piss on other people's lawns!

post script; mow once per week! Not once per month. Once or even twice per week is best and bag those clippings. Great for the compost bin or dumping on top of weeds in the back of your plant beds/property. Sharp blades always. Your grass looks healthy from what I can see in your picture...how does the rest of your lawn look? Does it have these 'piddle spots'? Aerate once per year! Pulling cores and leaving them where they fall...

  • And one more thing, get the plastic bands and tags and stakes off your tree! – stormy Sep 11 '17 at 20:57
  • Thank you. I will try your suggestions. BTW, the NPK ratio for Milorganite is 5-4-0. homedepot.com/p/… – user4979733 Sep 11 '17 at 21:01
  • Fine for a lawn but where will the necessary potassium the third number come from? If you are able to purchase Dr. Earth's Lawn Fertilizer, let me know. You should try this stuff. 'It's organic'...whatever, it is amazing fertilizer. More expensive and slow release but wow have I been impressed. You use it half as much as the Scott's or Ortho quick release so the cost evens out. This has bacteria that love to eat thatch or non decomposed grass and roots. How smart is that? Other brands are out there other than 'Dr. Earth'...this is the one I tried and have used it ever since! – stormy Sep 12 '17 at 0:11
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    The spare sharp blade @Stormy brought up is important. I'll add that if you plan to change the blades yourself, make sure that you disconnect the spark plug on the mower before doing so. Even better, loosen the spark plug to prevent any compression from forming or releasing while you're in there. – That Idiot Sep 12 '17 at 11:23
  • I will research the Dr. Earth's Lawn Fertilizer. Procuring it should not be a problem. – user4979733 Sep 13 '17 at 0:06

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