Alert Issued for Hillsborough Residents: Grass Virus that Kills Lawns is Spreading Rapidly

The mosaic virus, a grass disease, has spread to Hillsborough County.

It’s critical that folks understand how to identify it.

“Once you’ve eliminated chinch bugs, root rot, and other possibilities, your telltale signs will be yellow splotches running through the blades,” said Chris Schmidt, Brothers Pest Control’s service manager.

Schmidt discovered the first confirmed case of mosaic virus in Hillsborough County at a home in Carrollwood.

The sickness is not new in the state. The University of Florida has been monitoring it.

“Mosaic virus was first discovered in the 1960s in South Florida’s sugarcane fields,” said Susan Haddock of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Hillsborough County extension.

For the past decade, the mosaic virus has been confined to some areas of Pinellas County. But now it has spread to Hillsborough County.

The disease is most likely to affect St. Augustine grass of the cultivar “Floratam.”

“The majority of lawns in Florida are St. Augustine grass, and about 70% of those are the cultivar ‘Floratam,'” Haddock added.

Experts expressed concern about seeing this in a new place. That’s because the virus has the potential to entirely destroy grass.

“This disease progresses into what’s called lethal viral necrosis,” he explained.

It is harmless to humans and animals, but there is yet no cure for lawns.

“Unfortunately, there is no pharmaceutical treatment for it. “There is no mechanical control to prevent it from spreading,” Schmidt explained.

According to experts, the only way to effectively handle the virus if it appears in your yard is to replace it with a more resistant species of grass to restrict its spread.

“The only option would be to plant a resistant cultivar of St. Augustine in certain regions. That can go as far as chopping out the entire grass, you know, the whole region or your entire lawn, which is obviously costly.Alternatively, you could simply insert plugs of the resistant cultivar into those areas,” Schmidt explained.

It can spread in a variety of ways, including via lawn equipment such as mowers, the root system from one lawn to another, or insects.

“What we need to understand is that it is in the sap of the grass. It is not on the outside. “So, once that sap dries, the virus is no longer viable,” Haddock explained.

Experts feel that detecting it early is critical to save lawns, as researchers strive to find a solution.

“This could really take off in the future,” Schmidt stated.

“I’d like to make people aware that if you have trouble spots in your ‘Floratam’ St. Augustine, you should take a good look at them. “Be familiar with the systems,” Haddock said.

She feels that lawn care experts should be aware of this as well as how to limit spread.

“It’s critical for lawn care providers to understand that once that sap dries, it’s no longer a live virus, so we want to either blow those clippings off of the lawn that they’re currently maintaining. Haddock suggested allowing the clippings to dry before moving on to the next grass.

Some people will use disinfectants out of caution. So things like Pine-Sol and bleach. You also have to be very cautious about that. Bleach is extremely corrosive to equipment, and Pine-Sol could harm the landscaping, so we can’t let such things wash into our storm drains,” she noted.

If you suspect you may have this virus in your yard, call UF IFAS.

“If you suspect deadly viral necrosis, obtain a sample and send it to one of our testing labs. You can always call your local extension agent for advice on how to conduct the sampling and send it to a lab,” Haddock added.

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