Fusarium patch and Snow mould

Fusarium patch, also called snow mould, is a common cause of brown patches on lawns, particularly in autumn or during mild spells in winter.

Fusarium patch and snow mould

Quick facts

Common name Fusarium patch or snow mould
Scientific name Microdochium nivale
Plants affected Turf grasses
Caused by Fungus
Timing Most commonly seen from autumn to spring

What is Fusarium patch?

This disease is caused by the fungus Microdochium nivale (formally Fusarium nivale). It is one of the most damaging diseases of turf grasses and can be difficult to control. It is found most frequently during autumn, winter and early spring, but attacks can occur at any time of the year.

The disease is sometimes very noticeable after thaws of snow, when it is given the common name of snow mould.

Fusarium patch is particularly troublesome on annual meadow grass (Poa annua), but can also affect bents (Agrostis species), fescues (Festuca species) and perennial rye-grass (Lolium perenne).

Symptoms

What to look out for;

  • The disease is first noticed as small patches of yellowish, dying grass that later turn brown
  • Patches increase in size and may reach 30cm (12in) or more in diameter, often merging together so that large areas can be affected
  • During wet conditions a white or pinkish, cottony fungal growth may be noticed, particularly at the margins of the patch. This is not to be confused with another fungal disease called red thread, or with slime moulds in turf

Control

Non-chemical control

  • Ensure that the lawn dries rapidly after dews or rainfall by improving the aeration and drainage. This can be done by a combination of scarifying, spiking and hollow- or solid tining
  • Improve general airflow over the lawn by pruning back overhanging trees or shrubs
  • Remove heavy dews in the morning with a switch (a long, pliable rod) or bamboo cane
  • Avoid high doses of nitrogen fertiliser in late summer or autumn – use a proprietary autumn lawn feed instead

Chemical control

The only fungicide available to amateur gardeners for control of this disease is trifloxystrobin (Bayer Garden Lawn Disease Control). The fungicide can be used all year round except during drought conditions or when the lawn is frozen. There is a risk of resistance occurring in the fungal population, therefore, the product should not be applied more than twice a year and is best used in conjunction with other control methods.

Inclusion of a fungicide product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.

The Sports Turf Research Institute recommends using iron sulphate, a mosskiller, to reduce the severity of the disease. This compound toughens the grass and has an acidifying effect on the turf, which in turn discourages snow mould.

Download

Fungicides for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining fungicides available to gardeners)

Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining weedkillers and mosskillers available to gardeners)

Biology

The fungus can survive temperatures as low as -20°C (-4°F), although the optimum temperature for growth is 12-19°C (54-66°F). Infection can, therefore, occur in summer but is usually masked by rapid grass growth. The disease becomes more apparent as the weather cools and grass growth slows. The fungus requires surface moisture to infect leaves, and grass that is particularly lush due to high nitrogen levels is more prone to attack. Alkaline soil conditions also favour the disease.

Snow mould develops under prolonged snow cover. The combination under snow of a fairly constant temperature of about 0°C (32°F) and increased levels of carbon dioxide are particularly favourable for Microdochium nivale. Another fungal disease called grey snow mould, caused by Typhula incarnata, can also develop under these conditions. The patch symptoms are similar but any fungal growth seen is greyish-white rather than pink. Typhula also produces tiny, brown, hard resting bodies, often looking like small seeds, scattered over the affected grass.

Fusarium patch is spread across the lawn by the transfer of spores of the fungus or infected grass debris on equipment or shoes.

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