Are you ready for Winter?

We are now coming into the unpredictable winter months of December and January when the weather alone can bring with it some interesting challenges for professional and amateur grounds practitioners, especially when it comes to controlling an outbreak of turf disease.

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Snow on golf course

Cold temperatures, heavy rain, snowfall, and more all create the perfect conditions for turf diseases to flourish. Luckily there are ways to avoid the following common winter turf diseases such as Fusarium patch (microdochium nivale) also called snow mould, and red thread (Laetisaria fuciformis) commonly seen on fine turf playing surfaces/lawns.

However, carrying out a coordinated IPM strategy combining the use of several cultural methods to keep the turf healthy along with a preventative fungicide programme using Envu Exteris Stressgard will effectively keep these turf diseases at bay.

These diseases will exacerbate and prevail while conditions allow the spores to incubate and grow. The whole process of disease limitation is to break the cycle or indeed not allow these ideal conditions to come into play.

The tools available to the grounds professional are dependent upon understanding the conditions that facilitate these disease outbreaks and more importantly having the resources, relevant machinery and equipment to ensure you can maintain a healthy sward.

At some point in time, disease will develop, even on the best maintained turf areas - organisms that have the ability to cause disease are always present in established areas and will naturally, and rapidly, colonise when conditions are right. The severity of disease will depend upon the strength of the plant at the time of infection and its ability to tolerate and overcome it.

Fusarium Patch is one of the most common, damaging and disfiguring diseases that occurs on turf, particularly on fine turf playing surfaces such as bowling and golf greens during the winter months. It is also often seen when cool, wet weather and moist surfaces persist. The pathogen can be active across a broad range of cooler temperatures and can be more prevalent during periods of heavy dews.

Identification of this disease is relatively easy, with the turf grass having irregular tan/orange-coloured spots of damaged and dead grass, varying in size (20-35mm) with a pale pink/white colour mycelium fruiting bodies showing when sporing.

Initial symptoms are seen as small brown spots, which will rapidly enlarge and cause scarring of the turf when conditions are favourable. These scars can be difficult to heal if left untreated.

Red thread (Laetisaria fuciformisthe) is an extremely common turfgrass disease that can develop at any time of the year especially during cool, wet weather, but frequently appears most severely during late spring and autumn. It is easily identified by its pink mycelium fruiting bodies when the disease takes hold. This disease is often referred to as an indicator of low fertility and symptoms will often develop more severely if nitrogen or potassium is limited.

The fungal pathogen has a disease life cycle, which continues when conditions are favourable. Understanding this cycle will enable you to control the pathogen through effective management to break the cycle of disease.

Like most turfgrass disease it is all about controlling the three physical factors of the known disease triangle mode, which shows the interactions between the environment, the host and an infectious (or abiotic) agent. This model can be used to predict epidemiological outcomes in plant health.

Understanding your environment

Controlling the environment is one of the best solutions for the greenkeeper as well as understanding the geological aspects of your facility. A golf green may be situated in a hollow, and the climatic conditions there will be very much different to a green that may be on higher ground and be exposed to more extremes of weather. Understanding these varying environmental conditions will help combat the potential outbreak of certain diseases. 

For example, if you have a green in a hollow it may be susceptible to heavy dews, therefore you may need to brush and aerate more to reduce this surface water. Increasing air flow across your playing surfaces will also help. This may be achieved by thinning out trees from around your green. 

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy

This is why a good IPM strategy is essential to help reduce the incidence of these diseases. The following practices will play a role in keeping the turf healthy and resilient to an outbreak of disease.

Keeping the sward healthy, and reducing the conditions that favour this disease should be the first priority then looking at an application of Envu Exteris Stressgard as a preventative safe guard to prevent a severe outbreak of winter turf diseases.

  • Carry out programmes of regular aeration to help keep the playing surface free draining
  • Prevent moist conditions, that will encompass removing dew in the mornings by regular brushing or dew switching of the playing surface
  • Applying a well-balanced fertiliser low in Nitrogen (less than 3-4%) to keep the sward healthy during the winter months
  • Incorporating a vigorous thatch removal programme during the growing season is usually achieved by regular verticutting
  • Reduce the return of clippings.
  • Maintain Soil pH between 5.8-6.5 - do not allow the soil to become alkaline
  • Keep an eye on the weather and act accordingly
  • Be vigilant and treat the disease early to prevent severe attacks

Fungicides can be applied within a preventative approach to disease but should be used in a targeted manner. Exteris Stressgard offers preventative and early curative disease control through Stressgard Formulated Technology which helps protect the turf grass from stress.

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