Introduction to Disease Management

Disease management covers very wide variety of topics and in this article, we only aim to give you a brief overview of disease management practices, integrated pest management techniques and a basic understanding of these general concepts. Please refer to the rest of The Shed for more detailed articles on soil preparation, disease identification, disease prevention, and specific disease management techniques.

Set Your Pest Threshold

Before discussing disease management practices, the turfgrass manager must set their pest threshold, or action threshold. This threshold determines the amount of disease symptoms or acceptance level of the pest that will be allowed by the manager. While the action threshold is the hands of the turfgrass manager, it is often decided by those who mainly use the turfgrass system, whether that be on a golf course, sports field, or home lawn.

 

Action thresholds vary from very little to no pests allowed on one spectrum, like that of a major golf tournament or professional sports field, down to an eco-friendly home lawn which may let nature take its course. Disease management practices vary depending on the intensity level of the action threshold, which may range from preventative control, to curative control, or even no control whatsoever.

Understanding General IPM Principles

Understanding some general integrated pest management (IPM) principles is critical when prevention or control of diseases in turfgrass is desired. A turfgrass manager must know the interactions that play a part disease occurrence. The primary factors that are required to produce a disease are susceptible plants, favorable environments, and the pathogen. This is often referred to as the pest triangle.

 

With the pathogen for any given disease is present alongside a susceptible plant host in favorable environmental conditions, you will notice disease signs that lead to symptoms in the turfgrass shoots and/or roots. Pathogens may be made up of bacteria, fungi, viruses, nematodes, and a few others.

Pest Prevention

Pest prevention mostly revolves around manipulating or catering to the environment and susceptible plant hosts, or desired turfgrass. Preventing or manipulating the local environment in ways to be counterproductive to the potentially present pathogens can be done through various cultural practices, and some are more easily controlled than others. The most common environmental factors that favor diseases in turfgrass are temperature, moisture, light, and wind. An example of manipulating one of these factors would be improving soil structure through turfgrass cultural practices to better drain water, thus preventing excessive moisture, which is often a condition that is required or accelerates disease progression. Combining cultural practices to alter environmental conditions can effectively deter known regional pathogens for the turfgrass species present and is the backbone behind IPM strategies.

The other key part in reducing and preventing diseases involves selecting turfgrass species, and furthermore, cultivars bred to be tolerant or even resistant to major diseases that pose a risk.

As a seed company that invests heavily into research and development, it is one of our goals to provide our customers with products that can better withstand diseases, which often leads to turf managers saving time and money, fewer pesticide applications, and a more long-term turfgrass surface. By managing older varieties of turfgrass that aren’t as suited for today’s increased environmental stresses and disease pressures, turf managers will often have to invest more in pesticides or cultural practices to achieve the same level of turf quality. For those managers that already cover all their bases in the other parts of the pest triangle, these advanced genetics often push their turf quality to new levels. Having a strong and competitive turfgrass will better stand up to disease, and greatly reduce stress levels of a turfgrass manager.

 

Finally, manipulation of the pathogen itself rounds out the parts of the pest triangle. In terms of actual manipulation of the pathogens, there is very little to be done in most cases. Depending on the region and pathogen in question, it very well might be likely that the pathogen is readily present in the soil either active or dormant. But what can be done might you ask? For pathogens that aren’t uniformly widespread, turfgrass managers can take precautionary measures to prevent or at least limit the spread of pathogens. Some practices may involve irrigating practices to prevent flooding or runoff, regularly cleaning off equipment after use, and collecting or bagging clippings when signals of disease are present.

Pest Identification and Scouting

Knowing the disease at hand, or to come, is vital for pest prevention and control. It would be reckless to blatantly apply pesticides without knowing the disease, not only for the environment, but for your wallet as well. Disease identification can be accomplished by collecting plant material itself to be analyzed, as well as combined with information on environmental conditions present alongside the turfgrass host. Typically, expert turfgrass managers can narrow down the disease with environmental factors alone during the growing season, and finally confirm with visual identification of pathogen parts.

 

With the skill of identifying disease in the field, as well as knowing which pests are common in your area specific to the time of year, scouting should become much easier. Scouting can be done whenever, by simply going out and walking around turfgrass areas, but time can be saved by really knowing and understanding the pest triangle for each individual disease. Expert turf managers generally know when a pest outbreak can be expected, and plan for prevention or further scouting, depending on the type of action threshold. As the pest triangle has a lot to do with pest pressure, indicators such as temperature fluctuations, moisture variances, and reduction in light frequency and intensity can all be forecasted and used in an effective disease scouting program.

Pest Control

To approach the actual control of a disease, one must think back to their action threshold. We can assume that if you’re still reading by this point, you might have some interest in controlling diseases to some degree. While it is completely acceptable to let diseases unfold onto a turfgrass surface, some situations warrant the control of diseases. Regardless, using pesticides in a preventative or curative manner is to be decided by the turfgrass manager, and ultimately dependent on their action threshold.

 

Most diseases concerning turfgrass health tend to be fungal based. In the world of fungicides, there are a few things to consider before making applications. Fungicides can be split into contact and systemic types, with a few types within the systemic category as well. Contact fungicides tend to be used in a preventative manner, protecting, or shielding the turfgrass plant parts they come into contact with. Systemic fungicides are absorbed by the turfgrass plant by varying degrees, and by different plant parts depending on the type. There are also other products that carry fungicidal properties like phosphonates, that may also provide fertility benefits.

 

Traditional fungicides can also be separated by groups, or modes of action, in a numerical system. This grouping of fungicides is done to help prevent fungicide resistance in pathogen populations, which is an increasing problem in certain areas of the turfgrass industry. Not only should turfgrass managers be accurate in disease identification, but fungicide selection as well. Fungicides are often not the long-term solution, but a short-term fix to other underlying environmental or turf host issues. It is when fungicides or other pesticides are used as the primary solution for any given problem where resistance begins to be a problem.

 

These topics only scratch the surface in the realm of disease management. Expert turf managers are knowledgeable in many areas within the discipline of turfgrass management. We at Barenbrug hope that this outline of topics surrounding disease management helps guide or excite further learning in the world of turfgrass and join us in our quest to enhance the green spaces around us in a sustainable way.

 

Resources: 

McCarty, L. B. (2011). Best golf course management practices construction, watering, fertilizing, cultural practices and pest management strategies to maintain golf course turf with minimal environmental impact. Boston, MA: Prentice Hall.

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