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Those Annoying Brown Patches  August 07, 2006

Turf diseases and the use of fungicides is a broad topic, so let’s focus on one common problem—brown patch—and one common cool season turfgrass—tall fescue. Brown patch is a turf disease that tends to become active when a dry spell of weather is followed by a period of warm and wet weather.

Cultural Practices

Before getting out the fungicides, let’s talk cultural practices that can keep brown patch from developing and spreading. Summer management includes reducing the amount of time the fescue is wet and keeping the soil from being excessively damp.


Irrigate tall fescue deeply, but infrequently. Apply enough water to wet the root zone, then reapply when the turf begins to wilt. 1 With this in mind, when you water is important. Early morning irrigation, between midnight and 6 a.m., is recommended, as it washes the large droplets of dew and guttation from the foliage. This allows the turf to dry quicker after sunrise. (Note: guttation water, the second component of dew, is exuded out the plant through the hydathodes—the small opening normally at the tip of the leaf. This moisture is high in organic compounds (amino acids) that are food for fungi.)

Irrigation before or after sunrise will extend leaf wetness and speed brown patch development.


Tall fescue should be mowed to a height of 3 to 3.5 inches during summer, which helps keep the canopy open and dry and slow the spread of brown patch.


In shady areas, pruning the shrubs and trees to let more sun on the turf. Again, this will help reduce brown patch growth, while improving the overall health of the turf. Note: If the turf still gets too much shade, a shade-tolerant turfgrass (hard fescue or strong creeping red fescue) is a better choice than tall fescue.


Poor soil drainage will only encourage brown patch, so install drainage tile, reduce soil compaction, and/or modify the soil profile to increase drainage. If drainage is still poor, forget the turf and install other landscape features.


Excessive nitrogen levels of nitrogen fertilizer enhance the severity of brown patch. High nitrogen levels produce soft, lush leaf tissue that is easily invaded by the brown patch fungus. To help slow the spread of brown patch, nitrogen fertilizer should not be applied to tall fescue after May 1. If small amounts of nitrogen (>0.25 lb N/1000ft.2) are applied during the summer to maintain color, then a preventative fungicide program is recommended.

Brown Patch Fungicides

A preventative fungicide program should be undertaken where brown patch has been a problem in the past. Products containing the active ingredient thiophanate-methyl will provide good control, but must be reapplied every 14 days when the disease is active.

Note: A fungicide like Armada is a full-spectrum fungicide that combines the active ingredients in Compass (Trifloxystrobin) and Bayleton (Triadimefon) to prevent and control not only brown patch, but these other cool-season turf diseases: dollar spot, leaf spot, anthracnose, summer patch gray leaf spot, rapid blight, red thread, pink patch rust, southern blight, stripe smut, fusarium patch and pink snow mold.


1. Brown Patch in Tall Fescue. Dr. Lane Tredway and Lee Butler, Depart. of Plant Pathology, North Carolina State University.
2. A Tip for Stretching That Fungicide Dollar in Autumn. Karl Danneberger, Ohio State University.
3. Armada, released by Bayer Environmental Science, April 2005.

Turf Facts

30 to 50: Percent, the reduction in summer patch resulting from using a fungicide for general maintenance and remedial treatments of turf diseases, according to a Rutgers University study. Source: ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

12: Percent, the increase seen in sales of fungicides to the U.S. turf and ornamental market segments in 2003 and 2004. This growth was fueled largely by rising consumption by golf courses, which collectively spent more than $130 million to keep the nation’s links fungus-free. Source: Kline and Company

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