Ten years ago, when I first came to Houston to start working on GardenLine, the lawn problem of Take-All Patch was something of a myth.
Did it really exist?
If you were to ask a garden-advice blabbermouth or an alleged lawn expert on how to control or diagnose such a problem, most would dismiss the condition as a misdiagnosis. However, recent studies show that Take-All Patch (Gaeumannomyces graminis var. graminis) is an actual occurence found in both St. Augustine and Bermuda grass throughout Texas. Take-All Patch (TAP) is also known as Take-All Root Rot (TARR).
According to Texas A&M plant pathologists, the main disease is active in the fall and spring when soil temperatures are in the 60-65 degree range. The fungi weakens the plant by attacking the root system as the plant enters winter and summer stress periods. The disease seems to be particularly active in stressed plants. Many feel summer is the time when TAP is most active.
In early stages, TAP causes yellow discoloration in St. Augustine blades. Hence the common misdiagnosis - most perceive the problem as a simple iron deficiency or chinch bug damage, and treat the symptom with iron or insecticide. By doing so, the conditions actually grow worse.
TAP-affected grass roots are short, blackened and rotted. In addition, the stolons (runners) can easily be lifted from the soil because of the poor root system. On GardenLine, I have compared this lack-of-roots to being able to "lift the turf up like a bad toupee." Without roots, the yellow grass eventually browns and thins out.
The exact cause of TAP is still debated, and research has failed to pinpoint one overall cure. Dr. Jim McAffee, a turfgrass expert with the Texas Cooperative Extension Service in Dallas, said TAP is caused by a combination of factors, including environmental stress, disease activity, a lack of acidity in the soil, too much nitrogen and, in some cases, excess levels of phosphorus.
According to McAfee, recent summers have been above average in temperature and below average in rainfall. This combination places a huge amount of stress on all residential turfgrasses, especially St. Augustine, which has suffered the most.
Turfgrass researchers suggest the best time to treat TAP is in the fall and spring, when soil temperatures are in the 60-65 degree range. Chemical treatments such as Heritage, Rubigan and BannerMaxx have shown some ability to control the particular problem, but are very expensive for the average homeowner and sometimes hard to find.
Foster Watts with Fertilome/HiYield has a treatment method that features a granular application of Myclobutanil (Fertilome F-Stop or GreenLight Fung Away) followed by one of the less expensive Banner-based systemic fungicides (anything with propaconazole, like Fertilome Liquid Systemic Fungicide or Bonide Infuse.) Backed by research, the method seems to have credible control abilities and should be done at least twice in a 60-day period. The most serious drawback to this method is that if it doesn't work right away, and chemical fungicides are re-applied to excess, the microbial life of the soil will be destroyed.
Recent research by Dr. Phil Colbaugh at the Dallas-based A&M Turfgrass Facility presented composted cow manure as a TAP treatment with positive effects. Composted peat moss applications have also shown promising results, however, a bona fide and hard-to-find peat spreader is required. Spreading peat by hand is frustrating at best.
If it makes you feel any better, I have suffered from Take-All Patch too. Even the god of all garden advice, Neil Sperry, has been a victim. Sperry is a huge fan of Dr. Colbaugh's peat moss treatment.
Finally, using well-developed compost may be the best treatment option available. Typically used as top-dressing, this high-end compost is basically the best compost you can find. According to soil and compost expert John Ferguson at Nature's Way Resources, well-developed compost, such as Nature's Way Resources' 2-Year-Old Leaf Mold Compost, works even better than Dr. Colbaugh’s peat moss treatment. While compost is not as easily spread as a fertilizer via a broadcast spreader, it is much easier to spread by hand than peat moss. After using the compost treatments for years, Ferguson and other experts have reported total annihilation of TAP and Brownpatch after consistent use of high-end compost. Click HERE for information on Nature's Way Resources and the TAP study.
"Spreadable Composts" will be available very soon. Unlike standard, humus-looking compost, these new products can be distributed via a broadcast spreader and will likely be more expensive. The two products to look for are Nature's Creations Spreadable Compost (a.k.a. Turf & Soil Rescue) and Hu-Max Turf Soil from Soil Menders.
In my lawn, I've had great success by using Nature’s Way 2-Year-Old Leaf Mold Compost on areas that were showing early signs of Take All Patch.