When it comes to snow mold, fine fescue is the choice

By Paul Koch, University of Wisconsin – Madison

As the Midwest and Northeast U.S. emerged from their winter snow covers in mid-March, it was clear that snow mold across the region was more damaging than normal. This was especially true in areas that don’t normally experience lots of snow mold such as southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, New Jersey, and Connecticut. It wasn’t just golf courses that were hit, either. Home lawns across much of both regions were hammered with both pink snow mold (Microdochium nivale) and gray snow mold (Typhula incarnata). My own lawn wasn’t immune from the carnage (Figure 1).

a disease-ridden patch of turf
Figure 1. Snow mold damage was a common site this spring on lawns that included tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass…like mine.

Walking around my neighborhood and over our research plots, however, it quickly became clear that not ALL lawns were hammered with snow mold. Those that were predominantly tall fescue or perennial ryegrass were the worst hit and had the most damage. Those lawns that were predominantly Kentucky bluegrass seemed to be in better shape than those that were tall fescue or perennial ryegrass. My own battered lawn is a mixture of tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. However, the lawns that clearly had the least amount of snow mold were those predominantly made up of fine fescues.

This isn’t a great surprise to those of us who work with fine fescues and snow mold. Our past work has clearly shown that fine fescues can provide strong natural resistance to snow mold (Figure 2). However, it’s also important to note that not all fine fescues are equally resistant to snow mold. The most resistant fine fescues to snow mold are the hard fescues, while Chewings fescue is highly susceptible. Other species such as creeping red fescue and sheep fescue tend to be moderately resistant to snow mold. If you don’t want to be that lawn that gets hammered by snow mold year in and year out (like mine), then planting a fine fescue mixture that includes hard fescue is an excellent option.

turfgrass plots with ones on the left greener than the ones on the right
Figure 2. Various fine fescue cultivars on the left are showing great resistance to gray snow mold compared to the perennial ryegrass on the right.