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John Fulton


John Fulton
Former County Extension Director



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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis

Lawn Rust

Posted by John Fulton -

This week, I noticed the first patch of rust in the lawn. This happened to be on an area with some sand underneath, but the problem is at hand. Rust appears as an orange or yellowish-orange powder (spores) on grass leaf blades, especially in late summer to early fall when the weather is dry. Rust typically develops on lawns growing very slowly. Overall, the turf may assume a yellow, red, or brown appearance. Close examination will reveal the pustules, which easily rub off on your hand. Rust spores can easily be tracked into homes.

Low fertility (in particular nitrogen) and low water availability slow down turf growth, allowing rust to develop. Seasons with excess rain may have rust outbreaks due to loss of available nitrogen. Cool nights with heavy dew and light, frequent rainfall add to the ideal conditions for rust to develop. Warm, cloudy, humid weather followed by hot, sunny weather also favors rust development on lawns. Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and tall fescue are all affected, depending on cultivars. Rust spreads through air, water, shoes, equipment, and sod. Rust may weaken turfgrasses and make them more susceptible to other problems.

Control rust through sound turf management. Begin by choosing a quality blend of turfgrass seed. Resistance to rust can vary according to the race of the disease present. Maintain lawns through sound watering, mowing, and fertilizing. If you are watering, water early in the day so the grass dries quickly. Manage problem thatch. Increase vigor with an early fall nitrogen application, but don't overdo it. Check soil phosphorus and potassium levels through soil testing. Also assure good airflow over the site and light penetration by pruning trees and shrubs in the area near the lawn.

When rust occurs at this time, improved growth conditions of early fall often get lawns growing more vigorously and the rust fades away. Early September is a key time for fertilization. If conditions are dry, irrigation is also needed to increase the growth rate of the lawn.

Fungicides are rarely suggested on home lawns for rust control. Focus on the listed cultural practices described above.



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