What Is Lawn Rust?

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Most people have experienced some damage to their personal property from common rust. The type of rust that affects iron-containing metal objects is not the same as that which appears on plants and lawns, but their effects are very similar in both appearance and growth. If you have previously been confused as to why rust spots are on your lawn and what you should do about them, Heartland Turf & Landscape is here to help!

Rust Lawn Disease

Lawns infected with the fungal disease known as Rust show symptoms that look like the damaging effects of rust on iron, and the spread of both types of rust can happen when they come into contact with new material, such as surrounding grass blades. Though treatments to control and contain the Rust fungi are relatively easy to apply, if left untreated, Rust will quickly spread across an entire lawn and make turf weak and vulnerable to many other issues.

How Do I Identify Rust?

Rust is a fungal lawn disease that is caused by different fungi that belong to the Puccinia genus. As is the case with most lawn diseases, the effects of Rust on your turf begin by damaging individual grass blades. Infected blades of grass develop yellow or brown spots, and the patches of damaged grass easily spread and expand into larger infected areas that contain weakened and thinning turf.

An easy way to differentiate Rust from other lawn diseases is by examining the color of the infected area; instead of the usual patches of dead-looking turf, lawns affected by Rust will develop patches of orange-to-yellow discoloration, similar to the appearance of rust on metal. While Rust can go away on its own, the harmful effects it could have on your turf will make your lawn much more vulnerable to other diseases, pests, drought, and other negative factors.

How Do Rust Fungi Spread?

The fungi that create the Rust lawn disease can vary between thousands of species that belong to the Puccinia genus, most of which create roughly the same type of damage to their host plants. The spores of the Rust fungi spread rapidly and effortlessly, as they are transferred via many different avenues that include radial expansion, mechanical transfer (lawn mower, trimmers, etc.), the wind, and more.

Leaf Rust Lawn Disease

After the fungal spores find a suitable host, such as turfgrass, they will start spreading and multiplying over the plant. The yellow and orange flecks of color will turn into raised pustules that will eventually burst and leave behind an orangey dust covering the grass blades. The dust that coats the plant is what creates the rust-like appearance, and it is also the means by which the Rust fungi can spread so easily. This dust comes off the plant surface by a simple touch or gust of wind, and the spores of the Rust fungi can then spread to the rest of the grass in a lawn or any other nearby plant.

What Conditions Cause A Rust Infection?

Rust attacks lawns that are struggling to grow, even if that lack of growth is simply due to the changing season. Late summer through the fall months is the ideal time for Rust fungi to attack, but infections can occur at any time of the year if conditions lead to weak grass growth. In fact, spores from the various Rust fungi can develop in spring, summer, or fall, and the fungi will even overwinter in the tissue of healthy plants.

Rust attacks both warm and cool grass types, with some of the most common victims being tall fescue, ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and zoysiagrass. When these types of grasses are out of their native season/temperature zone, growth is drastically slowed down, and that turf becomes susceptible to a Rust infection. Turf that is struggling with growth and health for any reason is more vulnerable to Rust, and below are just a few more situations that cause Rust to develop and spread:

  • Unpredictable Temperatures
  • Drought Stress
  • Heavily Shaded Areas
  • Damp Turf
  • Improper Fertilization
  • Infrequent Mowing
  • Poor Drainage
  • Single/Inappropriate Seed Type

Does Rust Damage Turfgrass?

The damage from Rust is easily noticeable and identifiable, and you may even find it on your shoes or personal belongings. The dust-like spores of the Rust fungi come off the plant surface easily and can result in the substance covering anything it contacts. While this dust from the fungi is harmless to humans and pets, it can lead to damage to lawns or whatever plants it covers.

The Effects Leaf Rust can have on your lawn

The Rust lawn disease seeks our damaged lawns, but it also creates damage to the turf it infects. By covering grass blades in the dust-like substance, the Rust fungi are actually weakening the turf and affecting its ability to photosynthesize. If plants are suffocated and unable to absorb the nutrients they require, those plants will continue to grow weaker and more vulnerable to diseases. The damage directly caused by Rust is not typically thought of as permanent, but grass can eventually start to die after being weakened by Rust, even if the fungi themselves do not kill plants.

How Can I Prevent Rust?

Chemical fungicides are not commonly used to handle a Rust infection in a lawn. Rust can lead to very damaging effects if it is ignored, but that damage can be greatly minimized by following just a few simple steps. If your lawn is showing signs of Rust, call Heartland Turf & Landscape to assist you with services that will take care of your Rust problem. If the infection is more severe, we can also discuss fungicide treatment, but the following tasks will go a long way in the fight against lawn disease.

Fertilization And Weed Control - Your lawn must be well fed and strong at all times to combat lawn diseases like Rust. Our fertilization and weed control program will give your turf healthy levels of nitrogen to promote strong grass blades and roots, and we will remove those harmful weeds to make sure your lawn gets the nutrition it needs to defend itself!

Proper Sunshine - Grass needs sunlight to grow, which means the shadier an area of your lawn is, the weaker and more vulnerable it will be when Rust is looking for a new host. Make sure any heavily shaded areas of your lawn are given access to as much sunlight as possible. This can be accomplished by some simple trimming and pruning of trees and shrubbery that may be blocking light from reaching your lawn.

Mow High And Bag Clippings - Turf that is mowed a bit higher will be able to withstand more damage from Rust. Larger grass blades allow the plant to absorb more nutrients, which can help turf grow stronger and more resilient to lawn diseases. It is also very important to bag any diseased grass clippings after mowing. If infected clippings are strewn across your lawn, the spores on those clippings will spread the disease to everything they touch; this is also why lawn mower blades need to be cleaned after every usage.

Water In The Morning - Rust thrives in environments with moderate temperatures and ample moisture. To make sure your lawn is not wet when temperatures cool down at night, watering your lawn at dawn is the best option. Watering early in the morning gives your turf the entire day to dry and avoids damp and cool turf that would be conducive to fungal growth.

Core Aeration - Fungi can attach itself to excess thatch in the soil of your turf, and that thatch can often lead to compaction and drainage issues. Our core aeration service can help break up thatch, allow your lawn to drain water, and provide several other benefits that deter Rust and lawn diseases. With this one service alone, many of the factors that lead to a fungal infection can be diminished or prevented.

Overseeding - Some grass types are more resilient to lawn diseases than other types, but blending seeds is always a great way to prevent the spread of an infection. Rust fungi will attack specific grass types, which is why using a blend of seeds in your lawn can help slow the spread of infection. Our overseeding service, like most of our services, will improve struggling areas of your turf and let Rust know that it will have to find a home elsewhere!