CO-Horts Blog

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Is that your Ascochyta or mine?

Posted by: Tony Koski, Extension Turfgrass Specialist

Wait...lemme guess…you’ve got brown spots in your lawn.  Well, the good news is you’re not alone, nor do you need to panic. You’ve probably got Ascochyta (ass-co-kite-a) leaf blight.  And it’s caused by drought stress or an inefficient irrigation system.  Whoa Nelly!  You think we’ve had lots of rain?  Unfortunately, that was weeks ago and our soils were so dry that the moisture was used or lost to the atmosphere almost immediately.
Ascochyta everywhere!
What is Ascochyta?  Technically, it’s a fungus.  But before you go reaching for those fungicides, first take a look at the cultural conditions in your lawn.  No, the fungus was not brought to your lawn by the mowing company…or moved in your lawn by your mower. The straw-colored wheel track patterns occur when drought-stressed turf is mowed – essentially bruising the turf leaf blades. Unfortunately, this bruising kills the leaf blade – often all the way to the ground. Fortunately, the actual grass plants aren’t dead—with a little time and patience (and regular water) the lawn will recover in a few weeks.

But I’m confusing disease versus stress. Let’s go back:

Classic Ascochyta symptom--withered leaf tip
Ascochyta is a fungus that lives on the leaf blade.  The fungus enters the leaf blade through the cut end (when you mow).  It causes the blade to turn a straw-color and wither to a point.  Why the fungus happens or how it works is not well understood by researchers.  It does seem to coincide with periods of cool weather followed by hot, dry weather….in other words, your normal, typical Colorado spring.
Looks like the mower did it...
but really, it's because of drought-stressed turf.
Stress in the lawn (from poor or lack-of irrigation coverage, mowing equipment or heavy foot traffic) encourages the fungi. Wilty, bruised leaves are tasty hosts for the fungi.   And then you have a hot mess on your hands…your lawn looks dead, BUT the crowns and roots of your grass plants are still alive. We are seeing this mostly on bluegrass lawns, but any turf variety (tall fescue, fine fescue) can get Ascochyta.

Don’t go to the store and reach for the “lawn disease control” products.  They will not cure the problem or hasten the recovery.  You’ll spend a lot of money for nothing (and you won’t get your chicks for free).
Instead, focus efforts on your irrigation system. Look for broken or tilted heads and fix them. Adjust the spray/arc of your sprinkler stream to get more uniform coverage between heads. And water appropriately—your goal is to water as deeply but infrequently as possible. Under current conditions, for a bluegrass lawn, this will be about 1.5” water/week. But make sure you have an idea of how much water you’re putting on by collecting water in cups during an irrigation cycle.

Mow as normal, but time mowing a day or two after irrigation and do the deed during cool parts of the day—early morning or late evening. Keep your mower height at 2-3” tall and keep the blades nice and sharp.  Leave the grass clippings on the lawn (to recycle your fertilizer) or if you collect them, it’s ok to use them in compost or in your vegetable bed.  Remember, this is a lawn disease and will not spread to veggies or flowers. 
While patience may not be your virtue, keep in mind that this disease usually disappears by mid-summer. And if your entire lawn has this, with regular irrigation and hopefully some natural precipitation, the lawn will recover to its former glory.

For more information on Ascochyta, read CSU Extension FactSheet #2.901.
It looks worse than it is. After a little irrigation
and a little time, the turf will recover nicely.


  1. I started following this blog a couple weeks ago after Alison and Tony came to my house for a LawnCheck. There is great information here!


  2. Thanks for following, Pat! Hope we can continue to provide you with good information...let us know if there's a topic of interest or that you have questions about.

  3. Very timely, Tony! It's coming on strong here now - I always see a lot of it when we have hot windy conditions (and we never have that, right?) The hardest thing is getting people to stop overwatering it!

    Susan in GJ

  4. Very timely article Tony! Definitely our most common problem this time of year.

    Also seeing a fair amount of Dollar Spot, often right along side the Ascochyta. The Dollar Spot will usually have the same recovery once good cultural practices are restored.

    I will be sending a lot of blighted lawn owners to your blog. Thanks for posting!

    Mike Verde
    Lawn Doctor

    1. Appreciate it Mike! Thanks for reading our blog!