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Lawn Disease

Lawn disease is a common problem in turfgrass in the Midwest. You’ve probably seen brown spots on lawns in spring and summer and wondered what was happening to the lawn. You may have seen an orange powder on your shoes after walking through your lawn. In some cases, these brown spots can be caused by lawn diseases. There are many types of lawn diseases that affect turfgrass lawns in Northern Illinois and the Midwest. While you can try to identify and treat the specific disease with chemicals, your money and time will be better spent if focused on a few cultural practices.

Cultural practices for improving a disease stressed lawn

Unfortunately there isn’t just one thing you can do to eliminate diseases in your lawn. Here are 5 cultural practices you can do to help your lawn survive drought stress and help prevent lawn disease from taking over and destroying it.

  • Core aeration
  • Top dress after aeration
  • Overseeding
  • Watering
  • Soil pH
  • Proper mowing techniques

Core aeration

Regular, double-pass core aeration 2 times per year while grass is actively growing (Spring / Fall) is highly recommended. This, along with proper watering will promote deep root growth, which is one of the keys to improving your lawn’s ability to survive stress and stand up to disease.

Top dress after aeration

After one of the core aerations, once per year, top dress the lawn with compost / organic matter to a level of 1/4″ thick, raking it into the grass layer and into the holes left behind by the core aeration. This will increase the percentage of organic matter in your lawn, which has several benefits. It will hold moisture during periods of high heat and will feed nutrients to your lawn in a slow, balanced manner throughout the growing season. These nutrients are not provided by a typical commercial fertilizer.


After each core aeration, 2 times per year, over-seed with 3 to 5 of the best disease resistant varieties of Kentucky Bluegrass, using seed from a local grower. Seed used by a local grower will be best suited to your area. If there are areas of the lawn that are extremely shady, you will want to use a fescue variety of seed in those areas. Water every day for 10 to 14 days to allow seed to germinate. Do not water so much that there is standing water.


Use consistent watering habits. The deeper you water, the deeper the roots will grow, which again, is important to the overall health of your lawn, including the ability to stand up to lawn disease. Water deeply 1-2″, one to two times per week depending on weather conditions. During extreme heat, you may need to additionally water lightly once mid-day to keep the lawn from wilting. For more information, read our Good Lawn Watering Habits and Tips page.

Soil pH

Adjust the soil pH as needed (pending results of a soil test) to get pH within the 6-7 healthy range.

Proper Mowing Techniques

In general, the regular height of your lawn is how deep the roots will grow beneath the surface. Deep roots help your lawn survive drought and withstand lawn disease. Raise your mower height before the weather turns dry and hot. Alternate your mowing patterns every time to help prevent ruts and clipping build-up in the same areas. Read our Should I Raise my Mower Height and Should I Mow during Hot Weather pages for more tips and helpful information.

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