Ensley: Fighting brown patch disease in lawns

July 24, 2018

The beauty of a lawn can be quickly destroyed by brown patch (Rhizoctonia species), a serious fungal disease that can affect all Polk County lawn grasses. It can develop rapidly when temperatures are warm (75 to 90 degrees F) and humid, especially on cool-season grasses; (Fescue and Ryegrass). It can also occur on these grasses during warmer periods of the winter months. Warm-season grasses (St. Augustine, Zoysia, Bermuda, and Centipede) most commonly are affected by brown patch during the early spring and late fall.


Symptoms of brown patch may vary greatly with the type of grass and soil conditions. The disease usually causes thinned patches of light brown grass that are roughly circular in shape. These areas range in diameter from a few inches to several feet. Often the center of the patch will recover, resulting in a doughnut-shaped pattern.

When disease conditions are favorable, large areas of the lawn may be uniformly thinned and eventually killed with no circular patch being evident. Close inspection of cool-season grass blades reveals small, irregular, tan leaf spots with dark brown borders. Infected warm-season grasses rarely have leaf spots but instead have rotted leaf sheaths near the soil surface.

Grasses commonly affected

All types of lawn grasses grown in Polk County can be affected by brown patch. There are no turf grass species entirely resistant to brown patch currently available. Brown patch is the most common and important disease of tall fescue in the Southeast.

Prevention and treatment

The best way to prevent brown patch in the home lawn is by following good lawn care practices. This is much easier and less expensive than the use of fungicides and can be very effective.

♦ Avoid high rates of nitrogen fertilizer on cool season grasses in the late spring and summer. Avoid high nitrogen rates on warm season grasses in mid to late fall. The brown patch fungus readily attacks the lush growth of grass which nitrogen promotes.

♦ Irrigate grass only when needed and to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Water early in the morning. This disease can spread fast when free moisture is present.

♦ Avoid spreading the disease to other areas. Remove clippings if the weather is warm and moist to prevent spread to other areas during mowing.

♦ Keep lawns mowed on a regular basis to the proper height for the grass species you are growing. Prevent excessive thatch buildup.

♦ Provide good drainage for both surface and subsurface areas.

Fungicides can be difficult to rely upon for controlling brown patch in the home lawn but regular applications can vastly improve appearance. A good “rule of thumb” to follow on either cool or warm season grasses is to initiate fungicide sprays when night time low temperatures reach 70 degrees F.

Stop applications when night time lows are forecast to be below 70 degrees F for five consecutive days. Typically, applications are made at seven to 14 day intervals.

Call Polk County Extension office at 770-749-2142 for recommended fungicides.

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