How To: Use Cultural Practices to Prevent Disease
Turfgrass diseases are tough to control. Fungicides can be expensive and, in some cases, you can't entirely control the disease unless some other cultural practice alters the environment. In general, for a disease to develop, the right plant, the right organism and the right environment must all be present. Eliminating just one of these items through a change in cultural practice can reduce or eliminate the disease.
- Select appropriate species of cultivar
If you are planning a new installation or renovating, select species suited to the sun exposure, soil conditions, level of maintenance and intended usage to avoid problems later on. You might even consider incorporating a blend of disease-resistant cultivars.
- Use pest-free seed, sod, plugs or sprigs
The disease-causing organisms may or may not be present already — don't take the chance of importing the problem.
- Promote a healthy root system through proper preparation of the soil
Plants with healthy root systems are able to better withstand disease pressure because they can bring in adequate water and nutrients. Correct any compaction and poor drainage problems to allow for oxygen to move into the soil. Test the soil for nutrients and pH for the species you are growing.
- Mow at the proper height
No matter where turf is growing or how it is used, the higher the mowing height, the deeper the root system, the more disease-resistant the plants. Golf greens that are mowed very short are constantly bombarded with disease problems, in part due to the low mowing height. If your turfgrass is not a golf green, mow at the highest recommended level, depending on the species.
- Irrigate to the needs of your turfgrass
Underwatering and overwatering lead to stress and death of roots, resulting not only in reduced water uptake, but also reduced nutrient uptake. As odd as it may seem, overwatering also results in drought stress because the roots will drown or become infected with water-loving pathogens.
- Fertilize to the needs of your plants
Pay attention to research that can guide you in your fertilization practices. Some turfgrasses may respond only to small amounts of nitrogen, whereas others respond and grow luxuriously when given excessive amounts of nitrogen. Potassium plays a larger role in fertilization practices, especially when promoting disease-resistant, drought- and heat-tolerant plants. Phosphorus is the power station of the plant — without adequate amounts, all plant processes, including disease resistance, are affected. Take regular soil tests to monitor these levels. Depending on the maintenance level, you may want to test yearly or every two to three years once nutrient levels are adequate. If you are building up levels of phosphorus or potassium, you may want to test every six months to determine how your fertilizations are affecting soil levels. Many of these principles can be applied to annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs.
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