DISEASE ALERT!! Widespread black and dark brown areas reported!

What a crazy season we are experiencing across the board. Given the drought period we have just been through, we have received an excessive amount of calls, emails, and text messages. Everyone want’s to know what’s wrong with my lawn?!!! The number 1 comment we hear this time of year is… “I think you burnt my grass!” That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Complaints across our industry have been occurring from Maine into Massachusetts! Universities have been flooded with calls and tissue samples for diagnosis. Leaf smut is the cause.

Leaf smut spores growing on leaf tissue giving the appearance of darker sections of grass.

Before we dig into what is going on, please know that proper care and maintenance are essential to all plants. That includes your lawn.   

MICROCLIMATES

Every lawn and the environment it grows in varies considerably from property to property. Some have full shade and some full sun (shade weakens turf). Some have more organic matter in the soil (holds water and nutrients better than sandy soil). Some have ledge underneath the topsoil (limits potential, among other issues). Some have irrigation systems (correctly set can dramatically help turf & save water, improperly set promotes disease). It goes on and on. Microclimates play a considerable role in the health of vegetation. Dictating what grows there and what doesn’t. When Mother Nature decides to change things up, these microclimates are affected. Sometimes in harmful ways. 

PROPER CARE & MAINTENANCE

We try to educate our customers on proper mowing and watering practices. Some adhere to our recommendations, and some do not. We provide fertility, premium products, expertise, and guidance. It’s up to you to understand, and if you don’t, we always welcome your questions! Service calls are still free for those enrolled in one of our many programs. Please ensure you understand our recommendations. Teamwork is EVERYTHING! Please read Your responsibility vs. ours.  On to the issue at hand. 

WIDESPREAD DISEASE OUTBREAK!

Who wants to hear about another widespread problem?! We’ve got enough going on right now. Trust us, we understand and relate! However, with the sudden change in weather patterns in the last month, there have been many issues that have cropped up. It has been an unusually dry late spring this year. When we were experiencing temperatures in the ’50s and ’60s, we were all waiting for the warmer weather to get here. What you may not know is our cool-season turfgrass LOVES 55 – 65-degree weather. Lawns were already in a happy place. Everything was green and growing nicely, recovering from winter stress. Then it happened! We had a dramatic spike in temperatures 80 – 90-degree weather hit. Knowing our lawns love the cooler temperatures, this certainly was a shock! After the crazy spike in temperatures, we began going through a prolonged drought period. Hot days and cool evenings are a recipe for disaster for living plants in our climate. It was the perfect growing conditions for disease! With the recent rain, we desperately needed, we all began to relax, thinking that our lawns and landscapes would return to their green color, and everything would be ok. Right?!  

WRONG!!! The prolonged drought, coupled with warmer temperatures, has given birth to trillions and trillions of disease spreading spores. In the past few weeks, we’ve had Leaf blight, Anthracnose, Dollar Spot, Necrotic Ring Spot, and other diseases that began cropping up everywhere. Many lawns areas regressed into dormancy. It’s not a bad thing. Its Mother Natures way of shutting systems down when the proper conditions are not present. However, as you may know in nature, the weak become prey. After the rain over the past few days, landscapes received the water they desperately needed. It was a welcome event for many. Today, July 1st, the rain continued in the morning and then the sun came out. Many of us started to go back outside to see what may have changed. What many folks began to realize was their lawns went from bad to worse OVERNIGHT! Dark brown, almost black patches started to show up.  

Drought-stressed photos illustrate areas with poor subsoil. The disease enters leaf tissue when conditions are favorable.

LEAF SMUT DISEASE EXPLODES

Lawns that were either in or entering dormancy were susceptible to infection. Of the diseases listed above, in our travels, we’ve witnessed most all from site to site. In some cases, several can appear in one area. Leaf smut is what is most apparent right now. If your lawn has “dry” or stressed spots due to lack of irrigation, you may have noticed these areas went from a light color brown to a dark brown or even black color. The reason for this is the explosive growth of the smut spores on the leaf tissue. Areas that were under extreme stress from the drought may not recover. It’s too early to tell at the moment. Yes, there are treatments available. However, we firmly believe, and industry experts agree that proper cultural practices are what is most important in preventing and reducing the spread and future infection.  We strongly suggest the article on responsibility.  

Treating diseases is best managed on a 14-day cycle. What this means is multiple treatments and a dramatic increase in expenses for you. In the end, we’re not managing a golf course or athletic field. However, your investment is extremely important to us. The common-sense approach here is to understand that whatever stress your lawn has received, the damage is done. If you do not have an automated irrigation system or water your yard, you cannot expect it to sustain itself under stressful conditions. If you don’t sharpen your mower blades and cut continuously at the recommended heights, it’s simply not practical to consider treatments. The best approach going forward is to focus on your lawn and landscape areas as an investment that does need your attention when weather conditions become unfavorable for healthy growth. This means trying to maintain hydration when we are not experiencing it, especially when there are windy conditions and high temperatures. FOCUS ON KEEPING THE LEAF TISSUE DRY AND THE SOIL MOIST. That means watering (if you decide to do it) thoroughly BUT infrequently. DO NOT water for 15-30 minutes once per day or even multiple times per day. You are just asking for more diseases. Water once or twice per week, when signs of stress are visible. DO IT FOR AT LEAST 1 – 2 hours in each spot. Every situation is different, and not all can water. We fully understand this. If you can, then we suggest that you do it correctly. Don’t promote more disease by watering a little bit each day. Profound soaking events are crucial.  

Many lawn diseases are present year-round. Most go unnoticed and do not pose a threat. Under extreme situations like we’ve recently experienced, outbreaks can occur in certain climates and microclimates. Most lawns will recover from this rare smut outbreak. Know that we are here to help. However, visiting your property to diagnose what we already know is going around doesn’t usually make the most sense. Knowledge is power. Proper care and maintenance is the first step in preventing problems from occurring. 

6 Comments

  1. Albert Small

    I should have someones opinions what my lawn needs at this point. If you could check it out it would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • Jeremy Legasse

      We will visit your property and assess it soon. Thanks for reaching out Albert.

      Reply
  2. Nancy Gerald

    I would like someone to come and tell me what I need to do for my lawn.
    Thanks
    Nancy

    Reply
    • Jeremy Legasse

      We’ll schedule a service call Nancy and give you some suggestions. Regarding the disease, we recommend letting things take their course. Treating every 14 days is typically the approach when managing disease outbreaks. It’s not an economical choice and should be part of a broader “PREVENTATIVE” fungus management program. That is for high maintenance turf such as golf course greens. It’s beyond the scope of a home lawn management program and outside most folks’ budgets. Proper cultural practices such as sharpening mower blades, mowing consistently, not removing more than 1/3rd of the leaf blade per cut, and irrigating when conditions warrant it are what we recommend. Regarding mowing, we suggest if you need to go ahead. However, we recommend staying away from diseased areas and only cutting the green, unaffected areas.

      Reply
  3. Nila and Michael Ray

    Dark spots have appeared on our lawn and we would like someone to come out and see what we need to do to correct it. It appears to be spreading as it rains more frequently. Like most customers, I thought our lawn was burnt after our last treatment as the weather has been crazy.

    Reply
    • Jeremy Legasse

      As leaf tissue goes dormant fungi will move in to decompose it. However, with the rains we’ve received new growth will occur and things will turn green again. Patients, and we will get the treen back soon.

      Reply

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