Spring Dead Spot

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Gail Griffin is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.

Just when our warm season grasses wake from their winter sleep and begin their transformation into summer mode, diseases like spring dead spot show up to remind us that our rest is over and we have work to do.

Spring dead spot is a soil dwelling fungus that attacks roots, rhizomes and stolons in bermudagrass and in some varieties of zoysia. It is most destructive in the northern range of transition zones of warm season grasses. Transition zones are areas where species of both warm season and cool season grasses can be grown, Spring Dead Spotwhich includes our state. Circular patches of bleached out areas in turf ranging from 6 inches to several feet appear during green-up in spring. These areas eventually die and collapse leaving rotted dark roots and stolons and may expand year after year. Symptoms are usually worse following cold, wet winters. The fungus does not kill the grass, but reduces its hardiness and makes it more susceptible to winter injury. Weeds will tend to colonize bare spaces. Affected areas may recover somewhat by spreading of adjacent healthy turf, but the disease will become more severe if left unmanaged.

Factors that contribute to the spread of spring dead spot include excessive amounts of nitrogen, poor drainage, over irrigation, thatch buildup and soil compaction. Results from a soil test can help determine how much nitrogen will need to be applied. Do not exceed more than one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet at any application during the growing season. Potassium levels should also be monitored. Core aeration will help break up mats of dead turf and reduce soil compaction, especially in clay soils. It will also help with thatch buildup and aid in root growth. Water infrequently as needed, usually one inch per week including rainfall, is recommended. Poorly drained areas are likely to enhance the spread of this disease.

The pathogen of spring dead spot is most active during moist fall conditions. If fungicides are used as a preventative, they should be applied in fall with soil temperatures between 60° F and 80°F. Choose products for use in home lawns and follow label directions. Alternating fungicides with different active ingredients will prove more successful. The first application should begin about a month before the grass becomes dormant, usually around the first of October. For more information, go to content.ces.ncsu.edu/spring-dead-spot-in-turf or hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/spring-dead-spot/

Don’t be discouraged if your bermudagrass doesn’t green up exactly as you expected. Try to keep the turf healthy by not over watering or over fertilizing. Address the smaller dead spots as soon as possible to prevent them from becoming bigger dead spots next spring.

Gail Griffin is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.