Help for Fertilizer Burn in Lawn Grass

Brown spots on grass from fertilizer burn.

I put fertilizer on my lawn, and a few days later I had patches of dead grass! Will I have to replant, or will the grass come back? –Roger

Over fertilizing is one of the quickest ways to kill your lawn. From general discoloration to those telltale stripes from overlapping spreader rows, excessive or careless fertilizing can cause quite a bit of damage to lawn grasses.

About Fertilizer Burn in Grass

Chemical fertilizers are made up of mineral salts. When you over fertilize, the salts build up in the soil and cause a drying effect, which can result in the grass turning yellow or brown and. This process is called “fertilizer burn.”

Fertilizer burn isn’t always fatal, and it’s hard to predict whether or not your lawn will recover. It depends on the amount and type of fertilizer that was applied, the moisture available, and the overall health of the grass. A slightly yellow lawn is likely to recover, while crispy brown grass may not. Recovery of your lawn also depends on how quickly you intervene.

Lawn sprinkler watering grass.

How To Treat Fertilizer Burn in Grass

If you have applied too much fertilizer to your lawn:

  • Remove Fertilizer: If you’ve spilled granular fertilizer or can see it on the ground, grab a broom or wet/dry vac and get up as much as you can before it dissolves into the lawn.
  • Apply Water: As soon as you notice a problem with fertilizer burn, drag out the sprinklers! Water helps to dilute and flush the mineral salts away from the roots of your lawn. On the first day, water until the ground can’t soak in any more. Then water every day for about the next week. Water in the morning to reduce the risk of fungal diseases.
  • Wait and See: At this point, there’s nothing you can do except wait and see if your lawn will recover from fertilizer burn. Unless it’s early spring with plenty of planting time left, I’d wait until the next planting season rolls around (fall for cool-season grasses, spring for warm-season grasses) before replanting. Then overseed thin spots, and sow seed or sod in large dead areas. In the future, be sure to fertilize your lawn very carefully!

What about gypsum?

Agricultural gypsum binds with soil salts and is often suggested as a remedy for fertilizer burn. However, gypsum changes the chemical makeup of your soil (by replacing other minerals with calcium) and really should only be used if recommended by a laboratory soil test. If your problem is caused by an over application of chemicals, your best bet is to stop, rather than applying yet another chemical! If you’ve burned your lawn with fertilizer, put the spreader away for a while to let it recover.

How To Prevent Fertilizer Burn in Grass

To keep fertilizer burn from being a problem in your lawn, consider:

  • Use Organic Fertilizer: Use organic fertilizers and well composted amendments. Organic fertilizers must be broken down by soil microbes according to nature’s timeline, which significantly reduces the chances of burning your lawn.
  • Follow Fertilizer Instructions: Always apply fertilizer exactly according to package instructions. Different fertilizers come in different strengths, and it’s important not to over apply them to your lawn.
  • Reduce Lawn Stress: If the grass in your lawn is in poor condition, fertilize it very lightly to ease it back to health. Resist the urge to feed heavily, since weak grass is easily burned by chemical fertilizers. Don’t fertilize lawns that are severely stressed by drought, heat, or disease – it won’t be absorbed and can cause further damage.

Fertilizer spreader applying fertilizer to lawn.

Further Information

Julie

35 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this information. Actually, I didn’t spend hours looking for the answer. I used Vigaro Weed and Feed liquid. The area coverage is 7500 sq ft total. My husband said this would cover our front & back three times. However, the bottle is five-sixths EMPTY. That means I used five applications on my Bob Sod. My fault, lack of experience, but the grass needed thatching. Common sense told me to flood the grass, which I have been doing. I feel encouraged. Cherie.

  2. Thanks so much for the information. I used Green Thumb 30-0-30 fertilizer, even when the temperatures were in the 80’s and I still got fertilizer burn over half of my “beautiful backyard grass”. Never used it before and will never use it again–in the trash it goes.
    Bob

  3. I am being asked to recover a patch of brown lawn that has suffered chemical burn. Do I dig the whole patch out and resoil and seed? It has been 3 weeks since she ruined it. This is a well defined area. This is very labor intensive and your instructions give few details.
    Thank you…Henry

  4. I can not water my yard after fertilizing because of the size and cost of water. Can I spread 10-10-10 a couple days before rain and be ok?

  5. We put in irrigation and seeded the lawn this past fall. Grass came up nice but uneven in places. The lawn company put fertilizer on it this spring and again with the weed and feed. Initially was great but the turned brown with frayed leaves. They said it was in a heat from fertilizer. Very upsetting. What are we to do? Please advise

  6. I over fertilized and now have a burned out lawn. I’ am watering but not much is happening. Do I have to dig out the damaged lawn and reseed????

  7. My boy friend sprayed my lawn with vinegar, Epsom salt, and Dawn. He tried to kill weeds but killed my front lawn too. Is there anything I can do to bring my green lawn not look brown and ruined ? Thanks

  8. We overfertilized our small front yard (in front of a single wide mobile home). It now looks very yellow and dry. The reason we fertilized a 2nd time this season was we saw cobwebs and yellow patches on the lawn to begin with. Now I think it had a bit of disease by that description. Could we add MANURE to it right now along with watering, to see if it will come back? Is manure ok – steer manure. We just had the sod put in last summer and feel sick to see it so yellow now. Thanks for your help. Desperate in Oregon.

  9. I fertilized 2weeks ago dark brown spots… If I fluffed dead grass… Spread seed do I have a chance oh ya plenty of water…..

  10. We ended up spreading steer manure on the yellow spots in yard and water each day, to get rid of the yellow spots. A couple of them are from dogs and have died; will need to sprinkle grass seed on those spots. But the MANURE WORKED! Now our grass is so green, that the neighbors are stopping by to see what we have done – and this is the beginning of August. Wow. You know the book by Erma Bombeck, “The Grass is always greener over the septic tank”? Well, it’s true. Thanks.

  11. I over fertilized one area and rather than wait and see (I am the impatient gardener) I cut out the spot and replaced with good sod from another part of the yard which is not very visible and replaced the patch with newly purchased sod…problem solved for a smaller area…for the whole yard I’d suggest moving.

  12. Can I collect the leaves and stem after trimming my plants ,dry them ,burn them and use this ash as a fertilizer?

  13. My friend put some round up weed killer down to kill the crabgrass, it killed my grass too. Now my lawn has yellow burned patches and looks horrible, and the crabgrass is still popping up. How can the roundup be deactivated? What can I do to get my beautiful lawn back?

  14. Our landscaping company burned huge areas of our once beautiful grass. We did not request this treatment. They have not answered our calls. What can we do to regain our green grass?

  15. I Use Scotts Weed killer 4 months after the 1st treatment burnt my grass man oh man and it was looking good, too, from all the rain we had at the beginning of the summer which made it nice and green. Now it’s though. From now on I’m gonna use that stuff only once a year and make sure the grass is very wet before putting Scott on my grass.:'( :'( :'( :-[

  16. I used Scott’s lawn builder lawn food on our new lawn but stupidly spread it unevenly. It came up thick and green and vigorous in patches. Now the lawn looks ridiculous. I bought more and spread it in the ‘ordinary’ areas but it didn’t take. What can I do to remedy this?

  17. I used Scotts Turf Builder and my lawn was beautiful for two weeks. 3rd week,now the lawn is brown and dry. It happened so fast. What happened and what should I do to help fix the problem.

  18. My grass was starting to dry out in certain spots. I believe it was the sun that caused this. I laid down fertilizer and then seed a few hours later. I watered a lot but still got fertilizer burn. I’ve gotten up as much of the left over fertilizer as I can and continue to water a lot. Any help on what to do next would be very helpful as a first time home owner. Thank you very much.

  19. I have to abstain from using spot weed & feed on weeds in my yard because I end up with brown spots everywhere I’ve sprayed it. I am in southwest Florida. The lawn is Floratam.

  20. i used a weed killer that said would not harm grass approx 1&1/2 ago… gradually i saw more brown patches in yard,& after couple days of rain… it has BLACK patches everywhere?!:( please tell me the quickest, most in expensive way to fix this! i dont have alot of $ that i can spend on this. is there someway i could just seed the entire yard so that it will be smooth and uniform when it grows back? please advise… i dont know what to do?! homeowners association is going to fine me or make me pay for whoever they send to fix it and i just cant afford that!:( HELP please need quik , inexpensive fix! thank u

  21. We are having a wedding at our home August 20. I put weed and feed down and didnt realize there was so much moss in the grass. I now have big brown areas in the lawn. What can I do? Time is running out!

  22. what should be used to correct the problem of brown grass.there are t- sv
    several homes on our block that have this that have this problem Approx. twenty to twenty five homes.

  23. Developed serious browning of front lawn after applying Lebanon Pro 21-0-3 fertilizer. Some areas worse than others. Contacted Lebanon advising them that I may have applied the product a little heavier than usual and also made the application during a heat spell of 89-92 degrees. Lebanon advised that applying fertilizer with a nitrogen rating of 21 or more in combination with high temperatures is sure to burn the grass. Said to just keep watering and hope that it comes back.

  24. My entire back yard is dead and a good area of my front yard. The only area where my grass is healthy is where the sun is not directly on it for much more than 3 to 4 hours per day. The areas see the direct sun for most of the day. I live in Ontario Canada and we had a terrible drought this summer. My lawn care company say’s the drought killed it but I think that the fact that they fertilized late July caused it to die. Other lawns in my neighbourhood all came back no problem. That is some of the history. My question, is there a way to prove that it may have been the fertilizer. Thanks Rob

  25. Hey people!

    OK, so I’ve actually READ the original post and most of you’re comments.

    Most of you’re comments are exactly the same and are ALL answered in the article above, if you actually stop and READ the ENTIRE page!,
    But I’ll be nice and throw in some helpful, expert knowledge that should help most of you develop a nice, thick, healthy, great looking lawn!

    #1, If your lawn is browning, or already burnt, than STOP using ANY fert’s for at least 12 weeks!

    Just leave it alone, do NOT feed a stressed lawn, don’t throw down anything, just let it heal, but keep on watering it, apply 1 inch of water to help wash out the fert’s quicker and to help the roots wash out and grow, don’t short water your grass, that actually starves a lawn, put down at least 1 inch of water!

    Water one inch at least once per week in the early Spring, water more frequently if your soil seems dry!

    When your soil starts to dry out?, stick a finger down about a half to one inch, if it’s dry, than it’s time to water your lawn again!

    Keep watering like that until your lawn re-greens back up, than cut back by waiting an extra day between watering and than wait for cooler temps in the fall to overseed.

    If your seeing BLACK, than you are over-watering and killing your lawn and it’s either the rotting roots your seeing or mildew on your soils surface that gives the black appearance!

    #2, DON’T bother seeding when outdoor temps are above 75f, no matter what the packaging states, most grass seeds won’t germinate and grow when it’s too warm, or only a very small percentage of seed you throw down might grow, if your lucky.

    So, always apply seed in early to mid Spring, or in the early to mid Fall!
    But, Autumn IS the best time to reseed or overseed or resod each year!

    Just use an appropriate seed type, or blend, to suit your location/area/yard.
    Not all seed or soils are the same, not all seeds will grow in all soils or locations.
    How much, or how little sun it will get matters, how much traffic?, party often?, how much rain annually?, kids?, pets?, etc.

    Personally, I normally apply Sun & Shade mixes that have a higher % of fescue in the north, or I use a mostly zoysia mix in the south.

    #3, DON’T mow your grass too short during warmer/hotter months to avoid soil and root burn, keep fescue’s/rye’s/kentucky grass around 3″-4″, zoysia/bermuda/bahia/st. augustine lawns around 2″-3″.

    #4, But, mow lawn’s shorter in the cooler early to mid spring weeks/months and mid to late fall months to promote a thicker lawn.
    Keep fescue’s/rye’s/kentucky’s around 1″-2″ and zoysia/bermuda/bahia/st. augustine around 3/4″-1-1/4″ when it’s cool out.

    Frequent mowing may be required on some lawns, I know, it’s work and work sucks, but don’t let a lawn go too long between mowings, you never want to “Tomahawk” a lawn (chop off more than one third of each blade) because you’ll just kill it and when it’s left to grow too long it can become yellow above the soil line and begin to die off.

    #5, Have your soil tested, some nurseries do it, some states have a “state extension” (google search for one near you), or purchase one of those inexpensive soil test kits and learn how to do your own testing, it’s actually very easy and doesn’t require much time.

    #6-Apply pelitized lime at least once in mid Spring, it will help counter any higher levels of acid, or high levels of pH in your soil which are caused by too much acid rain and can turn a nice green lawn yellow, or even brown and may have accumulated dur to snow and rains over the winter months.

    #7, Get rid of low spots in your lawn, water can “pool” in them and than you’ll end up with “root rot” and dead grass.

    Simply throw a handful or two of a good “lawn soil”, a good “top soil” and a handful of “builders sand” all together in a clean pail, mix well and use that mixture to fill low spots and also to help level out your entire lawn.

    Play sand is not suitable to use for lawns, as it’s grains are too rounded and will not “lock” together and hold their place.

    #8, Apply a fertilizer with a crabgrass preventative or pre-emergent right after the last frost in the spring if you live in the northern states or Canada, than reapply it again by late Spring, or at least 12-16 weeks after the first to never have any early or late season crabgrass.

    You can also apply any grub/bug killer-preventer at the same time, or within a few weeks after feeding, by mid Spring, and repeat the grub killer in September.

    #9, You can apply a weed and feed that kills and prevents Dandelions (and/or other weeds) in mid spring before they start coming up in late Spring/early Summer, than repeat that step in early to mid July, but don’t apply fert’s when temps are 85f or above and follow any watering in directions on the label!

    #10, In the fall you should heavily sprinkle “composted manure” around your entire lawn, it will feed it and also add fresh, UN-compacted soil to the surface level.

    #11, Aeration helps! If your soil is very compacted your roots can’t get enough water or air and can’t breath, if the roots can’t drink or breath they can’t grow!
    You can either buy one of those aeration tools, or the cheap shoes with the spikes on the bottoms, or a plain old pitchfork and just poke small holes everywhere in patterned rows to help loosen up your soil, try it once per year once in late fall, or in the early Spring.

    Having a great looking lawn is not as hard, or expensive as you’d think, you just have to have the time, energy, motivation and the right equipment and supplies to get there.

    Good Luck and hope I’ve helped you!

  26. The landscaping company I bought all my supply forgot to inform me
    to not to fertilize when it is over Hot outside, I planted new sod and after 30 days like I was told, I fertilized, now I have burnt and brown spots I am try to fix, it looked like a golf coarse before I fertilized, I am upset considering it was 90 degrees and the guy said nothing about it.
    live and learn, I wish I would have left it alone, It was blooming and had mowed it 3 times already.

  27. Second time I’ve kill a lawn with Scott’s. I used a Scott’s spreader, set recommended distribution setting and made one pass. Killed my St Augustine, Mondo Grass and and Dwarf Mondo grass. I’m going to solve the problem by never, ever, purchasing a Scott’s product again. I think I’ll even toss the spreader as well

  28. Hi I recently over fertilised only a few stripes on my lawn…. I will put it down to spreader malfunction!… I immediately tried to remove excess feed and watered. the grass hasn’t died but it has become a very healthy dark green and grows and something like 3/4 times as fast as the rest of the lawn. This was a few weeks ago and it hasn’t eased off. Any ideas? I guess the dark green colour will eventually blend back into the rest of the grass but any way to accelerate that? I’m hoping with the next feed in a week or 2 it blends a bit better

  29. I inherited a beautiful lawn from the previous owners this past April. By early July, the temperatures were hot and the grass looked stress. I made the mistake of trying to fertilize it, which now I know was a horrible idea. I used Scott’s turf builder triple action product which was an even worse idea. By the next afternoon, I had yellow streaks and huge yellow patches over my once beautiful lawn. Will never use a chemical fert again!

    • Sorry to hear that happened, but thanks for sharing your experience with the TodaysHomeowner.com community, Cliff!

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