Grass Root Rot

Grass root rot is a term referring to a group of fungal problems affecting grass plant roots.  Because the roots perform so many functions for plants, if something affects the health of the roots, the overall plant will be affected.  If something affects the roots, you will see the symptoms show up in the tops of the plants, but root rot symptoms can look deceptively like symptoms of other plant problems.  To prevent, diagnose and treat this plant problem if it occurs, it is essential to learn how to care for the lawn to avoid root rot, recognize the symptoms and alleviate the symptoms if it occurs.

The Difference Between Root Rot Problems of Grass and Other Plants

There are many different fungal diseases that attack plants.  Some attack the roots, and others attack the leaves.  Many of these diseases are called "root rot," but they are not all the same problems that affect lawn grass species and cultivars.  Most people have heard of the Pythium fungus.  That fungus primarily affects greenhouse crops, but causes many of the same symptoms that "take all root rot," which affects turf grasses, causes.  Another commonly known plant root fungus is Phytophthora. That fungus also primarily affects trees, shrubs and perennials.  The "take all root rot" fungus is actually: Gaeumannomyces graminis var. graminis.  It primarily affects warm season grasses such as St. Augustine Grass and Bermudagrass.

Root Rot Symptoms

Because the roots of the plant are affected first, it is difficult to recognize the symptoms in time to save the grass plants that are severely affected.  It is possible to learn how to identify this problem before it kills an entire lawn.  In terms of identifying the symptoms of root rot from the top down, you will have your work cut out for you.  The grass blades will generally look yellowish.  However, unlike grass plagued by other diseases, when you pull on the leaves of grasses affected by this fungus, the leaves will stay attached to the stolons, or stems, of the grass. When you dig down a bit into the root zone, you will see that the roots have turned brown, and that there are not many hair-like roots.  The larger roots turn black, and are short and stunted.  In advanced cases of this fungus, you will see the hyphae, or hair-like fungal structures around the top junction of the grass stem and the grass roots.

Controlling Root Rot Fungus

The first step to preventing this problem from getting out of control is by taking proper care of the turf.  Mowing to the right height for your grass species, watering at the right time and the right amount, and not applying excess nitrogen fertilizer are all lawn care techniques that will help keep this problem at bay.  Once you have positively identified this fungus as a problem in the lawn, you need to immediately look at your lawn care methods and adjust them if necessary.  Fungal problems are extremely difficult to control with methods other than cultural control.  There are some fungicides that, when applied properly, can make a difference. If there is an extremely bad problem, soil and lawn replacement is the only way to completely eradicate the fungus, but that is a drastic measure.  As with all pest populations, grass root rot will eventually burn itself out, but can kill your entire lawn in the process. It depends upon your tolerance for brown grass, what your eventual treatment course of action is.  The best way to prevent, and then treat grass root rot is to take proper care of the lawn, and be observant to catch problems early.
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