Mark Gleason, ISU Extension Plant Pathologist
Erika Saalau, ISU Plant Diagnostic Clinic
For the second year in a row Ascochyta has hit lawns, athletic fields, and golf course turf. Ascochyta leaf blight is a grass fungus that causes a rapid straw to bleached appearance of the leaves primarily on Kentucky bluegrass and to a lesser extent on perennial ryegrass and tall fescue. The damaged lawns started showing up around the first of June and out breaks have been occurring all summer long. Some of the more severely damaged areas may require 3 or 4 weeks of good growing conditions to fully recover.
The damaged areas seem to occur very quickly; one day the grass appears fine and the next there is bleached tan grass everywhere and most noticeably where the mower tires track. In fact, to those unfamiliar with this problem they think that someone has damaged the lawn with a pesticide or fertilizer application. The Ascochyta related problems I am seeing have nothing to do with product applications. The fungus likes to grow during wet conditions favored by lots of rain or over irrigation. Infectious spores are everywhere throughout the lawn and with a sudden increase in hot temperatures they rapidly infect the stressed grass.
Tire tracks show up because the tires spread the spores and also cause just enough abrasion stress for the fungus to enter the plan tissue. Look for bleached leaf tips that are collapsed. It looks devastating because the top part of the plant is severely damaged but the crowns and lower stems are seldom killed. The attacks are so haphazard that it is impossible to give a good recommendation as to when to avoid mowing but in general raising the mowing height and mowing less frequently will reduce your chance of experiencing a mowing track incidence. It is interesting to note that Ascochyta blight in home lawns only occurs in full sun areas and it stops where the shaded lawn has less heat stress.
The damage at first appears very dramatic but the good news is to simply be patient because most of the damage is on the leaves while the crowns and roots of the plant are not damaged. As the plants continue to grow and after about a month of normal mowing the damaged leaf tips will be removed and the lawn will return to normal.
Normally we don’t recommend a preventative fungicide because it occurs too haphazardly and a curative fungicide doesn’t help after the leaf tissue is blighted. However, if you have experienced this in the same lawns and athletic fields for two years in a row you may want to consider a single preventative application of a fungicide next year from mid May to mid June.
Much of the turf I have sampled this summer has been confirmed to be Ascochyta by laboratory identification of spores. Like most of you old timers over the years I have observed tire tracking that we have assumed to be related to hot or dry conditions. Laboratory identification of the pathogen is the best way to determine if it was related to Ascochyta. Next year we will be conducting research with fungicides, moisture conditions, and wheel pressure to determine what is causing the tire tracking; is it Ascochyta or is it simply high temperature or low moisture stress. I think most of the blighting and wheel tracking we observed in June and July were associated with Ascochyta. To a lesser degree we may have also observed some wheel tracking from high temperature/drought stress.
Areas that have been severely injured can be recovered by dethatching, hollow tine aerification, and reseeding in September.
Here are some of the Ascochyta injured lawns that we have observed in Iowa during the summer of 2011.
Ascochyta in mower streaks on athletic field in Iowa City, IA. Picture taken 7/15/11.
Close up of Ascochyta symptoms on Kentucky bluegrass. Note the bleached leaf tips and banding of leaf blades. These symptoms are different from dollar spot that has leaf lesions with bleached centers and brown boarders.
Obvious tire tracks from mower associated with Ascochyta in Ankeny, IA. Picture taken 5/20/11.
Picture in Ames, IA showing wheel and deck tracks associated with Ascochyta. Picture taken 6/16/11.
Ascochyta can also injure lawns without leaving the mowing tracks. Picture taken in Ames, IA 6/16/11.
More Ascochyta mower tracks from Parkersburg, IA.
Darker green lawn (bottom) with higher nitrogen fertility shows more Ascochyta injury than lower fertility lawn (top). Nitrogen applied at 2 to 4 lbs N/1000sqft/yr is suggested to maintain healthy lawn growth.