Powdery Mildew-Turfgrass

Image of powdery mildew on turf grass
Powdery mildew on turf grass 

Need to know: 

  • Symptoms include light gray or white dusty coating on leaves, stems, flowers, or fruits. 
  • Pathogen favors moderate temperatures and humid conditions.  
  • Powdery mildew occurs most often in lawns heavily fertilized in nitrogen. 
  • Preventative measures include planting shade tolerant cultivars in shady areas and avoiding excessive use of nitrogen ferlizer.  

Overview of powdery mildew 

As its name suggests, powdery mildew is visible as a light gray or white dusty coating on leaves, stems, flowers, or fruits. Depending on the plant species, affected leaves may be distorted, and tiny dark dots may appear in the white coating. Powdery mildews can occur on nearly all kinds of plants, but each plant is affected by a different powdery mildew fungus. For example, the fungus that causes powdery mildew on turf will not infect roses.

Symptoms of powdery mildew

Powdery mildew is usually favored by moderate temperatures and humid (but not wet) conditions. It tends to be more severe in the shade and in areas with little airflow. Because of this, putting plants in full sun and cultural practices that promote airflow (such as pruning and appropriate spacing) can help to minimize powdery mildew problems. Keeping plants in good vigor helps them to resist infection.

The first symptoms of powdery mildew are light spots on leaves. When the mildew growth becomes denser, infected areas look as though they have been lightly sprayed with white paint or "powdered". The white substance observed on leaves is composed of millions of spores of the powdery mildew fungus. Heavily infected leaves turn yellow and may eventually brown and die. Infected plants are weakened, causing them to be more susceptible to other stresses, such as drought or low-temperature injury.

Severely infected leaves may turn yellow and wither.

Signs of powdery mildew

Thin, wispy like, white strands (mycelium) can be seen on infected blades of grass. As the disease progresses the entire blade can become covered in growth giving the appearance of being dusted in flour. 

Disease Cycle of powdery mildew

Powdery mildew occurs most commonly in shady areas. Slow or non-existent air circulation, shade, high humidity, and temperatures of 60-70° F are the components needed for disease development. In lawns, the disease is often particularly severe under these conditions when the lawn is heavily fertilized with nitrogen.

Type of Sample Needed for Diagnosis and Confirmation

The Iowa State University Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic can help you to investigate and confirm if you plant has this disease. Please see our website for current forms, fees, and instructions on collecting and packing samples. Contact information for each states diagnostic laboratory for U.S. residents.  If your sample is from outside of Iowa please do not submit it to the Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic without contacting us

Management of powdery mildew 

The best strategy for controlling powdery mildew in turf is to plant shade-tolerant cultivars in shady areas. Examples of shade-tolerant bluegrasses with disease resistance include Glade, Eclipse, and Sydsport. For cultural control, avoid excessive nitrogen fertilization and selectively prune trees or shrubs to increase air circulation and sun penetration. Fungicide applications are rarely necessary but may be applied if the disease is severe. 

Fungicide applications may be avoided by following good Integrated Pest Management practices like those listed in this encyclopedia article. Often, the only preventative application is effective to manage plant diseases. If the problem requires a fungicide, state law requires the user to read and follow all labels accordingly. For more information, read Proper fungicide use.

Last reviewed:
April 2022

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Yard and Garden, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on August 23, 2017. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.