Florida’s panhandle has received quite a bit of rain this summer. In the last three months, depending on the location, approximately 15 to 35 inches of rain have come down, with the western panhandle on the higher end of that range. In addition to the rain, we all know how hot it has been with heat index values in the triple digits. And who can forget the humidity?! Well, these weather conditions are just the right environmental factors for many types of fungi, some harmful to landscape plants, most not.
In the classification of living things, fungi are divided into their own Kingdom, separate from plants, animals, and bacteria. They are actually more closely related to animals than plants. They play an important role on the Earth by recycling nutrients through the breakdown of dead or dying organisms. Many are consumed as food by humans, others provide medicines, such as penicillin, while some (yeasts) provide what’s needed for bread and beer. However, there are fungi that also give gardeners and homeowners headaches. Plant diseases caused by various fungi go by the names rusts, smuts, or a variety of leaf, root, and stem rots. Fungal pathogens gardeners may be experiencing during this weather include:
- Gray leaf spot – This fungus can often show up in St. Augustine grass lawns. Signs of this fungus include gray spots on the leaf (very descriptive name!). This disease can cause thin areas of lawn and slow growth of the grass.
- Take-all root rot – This fungus can attack all our warm-season turfgrasses, and may start as yellow leaf blades and develop into small to large areas of thin grass or bare patches. The roots and stolons of affected grasses will be short and black.
Powdery mildew – This fungus can be found on many plants, from roses to cucumbers. It looks like white powder on the leaves and can lead to plant decline.
- Armillaria root rot – This fungus can infect a variety of landscape plants, including oaks, hickories, viburnums, and azaleas. Symptoms can include yellowing of leaves and branch dieback, usually in adjacent plants. Old hardwood stumps can harbor this fungus and lead to the infection of nearby ornamentals.
Because fungi are naturally abundant in the environment, the use of fungicides can temporarily suppress, but not eliminate, most fungal diseases. Therefore, fungicides are best used during favorable conditions for the particular pathogen, as a preventative tool.
Proper management practices – mowing height, fertilization, irrigation, etc. – that reduce plant stress go a long way in preventing fungal diseases. Remember that even the use of broadleaf specific herbicides can stress a lawn and exacerbate disease problems if done incorrectly. Since rain has been abundant, irrigation schedules should be adjusted to reduce leaf and soil moisture. Minimizing injury to the leaves, stems, and roots prevents stress and potential entry points for fungi on the move.
If you think your landscape plants are suffering from a fungal disease, contact your local Extension Office and/or visit the University of Florida’s EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for more information.