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Bare Spots and other Soul Stains

One could say that the lawn is the canvas for the homeowner’s yard. Trimmed and treated to perfection, the golf-course green turf is what every suburban homeowner dreams of. Achieving and maintaining this flawlessness though, is no easy task.

Enter: the bare spot. Whether by a pet’s predilection to frequent a favorite spot, heavy foot traffic or the uncooperation of sun or shade – there are extenuating circumstances that can confound the best of us.

And it’s not for lack of money. On average, Americans spend $500 a year on their lawns. According to Ted Steinberg in his funny treatise American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn more than 40 billion dollars are spent on lawns in North American each year – that’s more than we gave to foreign aid in 2005, he points out. The only thing we spend more money on is our pets… but I digress.

The solution to bare spots is relatively simple: rake, seed and water – best done in spring or fall.

Before you take on this endeavor, though, it would be wise to assess what is causing the problem. A few years ago, we took down the kid’s trampoline and laid down beautiful strips of sod over that entire big, bare spot. I called the new grass “bowling green” as it beckoned afternoons of croquet, but was quickly disappointed when the grass turned spotty over the next growing season.

What a waste of money! You see, our backyard is shady due to a big sycamore. But we adore that tree and there are not many grass varieties that do well in the shade. There are some labeled ‘shade-tolerant’, but that just means they eak out an existence, while the clover and other weeds have a party.

Grass - like our souls – can wither quickly.

And like that intangible song inside us, fixing the problem is not simply accomplished in an afternoon. So…

Step 1: Figure out the problem. Is the grass around it doing okay? Then it might be a pet’s waste that is high in nitrogen causing your grass to turn yellow. You can spot treat this area and try to train your dog to go in a mulch or gravel area of your yard. If it’s a whole back yard, like we experienced, you may need to change your expectations for that area. Before proceeding with any type of action, make sure the grass is not just going into dormancy. Turf grasses go dormant and will be wheat-colored seasonally. Cool-season grasses go dormant in the heat of summer, warm-season grasses in winter.

Step 2: Practice good maintainance. Grass that is allowed to dry out will show signs of stress. Keeping your grass watered and trimmed properly will allow the roots to support it. Very often homeowners try to save time and money by cutting the grass short, but end up killing the tops. Grass should not be cut too short in dry periods or at the end of the season. Let it develop properly.

Step 3: Check for infestations. Grubs and other insects and fungi can take up residence in your lawn. If you suspect this, get down at grass level and looks for signs. If you find holes or slime, you may need to hire a professional to help you out.

Step 4: See grass for what it is. I have written before about the problem with growing a non-native plant like grass. It requires a lot of time and money to maintain. On a recent trip to San Diego, I noticed that some homeowners had turned to astro-turf because the high cost of water and lawn care made it a more viable solution than growing grass. (That’s astroturf in the driveway picture.)

And I got to thinking, do we do that with our souls sometime?

Do we decide that rather than put the effort in to understanding the needs of our inner man, would we rather just ‘fix’ it? Do we fall for the idea that something green and grass-looking is better than the native solution, I wonder. Sometimes it’s bare. Sometimes it’s off-colored. Sometimes it defies fixing.

But maybe that’s when we realize we’re not growing the right seeds.


“The grass withers, the flower fades,

but the word of the Lord endures forever.” Isaiah 40:31

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