Cutting edge: Clinics at Penn State help citizens, industry solve lawn problems

Amy Duke
May 26, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When the grass is not greener on your side of the fence, plant pathologists in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences may be able to provide the information needed to bring your lawn back to life.

Healthy turf not only provides aesthetic value, but it also supports soil stabilization and can hinder weeds from taking root, according to Wakar Uddin, turfgrass disease specialist, who oversees the Turfgrass Disease Clinic. He works with Sara May, coordinator of the Plant Disease Clinic, to diagnose the cause of damage, injury or death of grass and other plants.

The duo — who have more than 30 years of combined experience in plant disease diagnostics — have processed thousands of samples from Pennsylvania homeowners and the turfgrass industry in their several years of working together.

“Accurate diagnosis is the key to effective management of plant diseases and of noninfectious disorders caused by improper turfgrass cultural practices,” said Uddin, a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology. “Helping to identify the problem quickly, so timely and proper management practices can commence, is a tremendous benefit to our clients.”

May is charged with processing home lawn samples, while Uddin takes care of commercial turfgrass specimens from golf courses, commercial landscapes, sod farms, recreation facilities, athletic fields and such. Both services accept samples, free-of-charge, from citizens and businesses in Pennsylvania.

Brown patch disease

Rapid brown patch disease development in a susceptible grass species.

IMAGE: Penn State/Wakar Uddin

While there are many turfgrass diseases that impact home lawns, landscapes and golf courses, some diseases are more common and can thrive under the right circumstances. For example, diseases such as Rhizoctonia brown patch, Pythium foliar blight and snow molds are common in both home lawns and golf turf, while anthracnose basal rot, gray leaf spot, take-all patch and dollar spot are more prevalent in golf turf. Symptoms can include circular to irregular brown patches, yellowing, diffused blights, leaf spots, general decline, wilting and root and crown rots, to name several.

May and Uddin begin by reviewing the information on a submission form that accompanies the turfgrass sample. This process includes identifying the species of grass, cultural practices and symptom assessment. Using state-of-the-art equipment, they perform diagnostic tests, which can consist of viewing the samples under a microscope or culturing the possible causal agent from symptomatic plant tissue. Their goal is to have a diagnosis and treatment recommendations back to the client as soon as possible.

May added that lawn and turfgrass diseases can be challenging to diagnose without a good sample and thorough information. To that end, she recommends following sample submission instructions, which can be found online here. Photos that show the affected landscape are helpful, too.

“The turfgrass sample processing in the past decade has been steady due to the greater coordination of both plant disease and turfgrass clinics,” Uddin said. “We are proud of our highly experienced staff and their work.”

More information is available online. Questions can be directed to May at srm183@psu.edu or Uddin at wxu2@psu.edu.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 28, 2021