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Management of Abiotic Problems

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Monitor and manage abiotic factors to reduce turfgrass stress and minimize environmental impact.

Determine action levels for abiotic problems at a particular site.

  • Abiotic problems are non-biological (non-living) agents that have the potential to cause turf damage or impart stress.
  • The turf manager should have a general knowledge of turf damaging abiotic factors and their management, as well as sound cultural practices.
  • Abiotic stresses and associated problems, including improper cultural management techniques, can influence turf function and quality as well as pest activity.
  • Action levels should be based on the use of the turf and the desired quality, careful monitoring, and a history of the site.
  • Action levels for abiotic problems may be very subjective and vary greatly based on the management program, and the desired level of quality and function for a lawn. For these reasons, no general action level guidelines for management of abiotic problems are presented.

Establish and conduct a scouting program for abiotic factors that damage turf.

  • Visually monitor turf areas at each site visit, noting conditions which may lead to turf damage or actual symptoms of abiotic problems.
  • Conduct an inclusive, in-depth scouting event annually, during late summer or early fall.
  • Regularly monitor weather conditions at a weather station representative of site conditions or through reputable online sources.
  • Record observations on a site map or to a list with the location identified.
  • Note and record particular hot spots or symptomatic areas that might act as indicator spots in future seasons.
  • Since many abiotic problems arise as a result of specific cultural problems, determining and using corrective action may be critical to minimizing future problems. 
Table 25. Recognition of abiotic problems.
Winter desiccation Large areas of straw-colored grass especially where exposed to wind with little snow cover.
Spring frost damage New growth killed back.
Water and ice damage Straw-colored or rotted grass, especially where water collects on frozen soil.
Salt damage Dead or yellowed grass along sidewalks, driveways, or roads where salt has been applied.
Compaction Soil is hard. Turf is thin. Rooting is poor.
Acid or alkaline soil Overall poor growth. Soil test indicates inappropriate pH for grass growth.
Nutrient deficiency Yellowing or other discoloration; generally poor growth.
Over-fertilization Exaggerated turf color, along with rapid growth rate; tissues succulent.
Fertilizer misapplication Browned streaks lined with extra green growth can occur in areas of application overlap. Yellowed, nutrient deficient streaks may occur in missed areas.
Wilt, drought or moisture stress Turf loses its luster, appears slightly off-color and foot printing occurs.
Overwatering Soil is saturated; grass is overly lush and may mat down easily.
Poor drainage Waterlogged soil, puddling.
Scalping Mowing height excessively low, especially on uneven terrain.
Dull mower injury Turf develops grayish or brownish cast, close inspection reveals shredded leaf tips.
Shade Turf is thin; leaves may appear elongated and succulent.
Poor air circulation Increased leaf wetness duration, increased disease incidence.
Excess thatch Spongy turf surface, water infiltration problems, thick layer of matter at soil interface.
Excess traffic and wear Bruising and crushing injury to turf, compacted areas, loss of stand density.
Animal urine damage Spots of browned or yellowed turf, perhaps with extra green growth around them.
Foreign chemical (gas, oil, hydraulic fluid) damage Sudden scorched areas of turf.

Use cultural practices that help to prevent or mitigate problems caused by abiotic factors.

  • Use proper species and cultivar selection, sound fertility, judicious irrigation, proper mowing and cultivation, integrated pest management strategies, and other appropriate cultural practices to avoid or mitigate abiotic problems.
  • Take steps to remediate conditions conducive to damage from abiotic factors.
  • Refer to other pertinent sections of this document regarding BMPs related to specific cultural practices.

Also refer to Appendix B: Calendar for Cultural Practices and Related Activities in UMass Extension's Professional Guide for IPM in Turf.