St. Augustine grass Lawn infected by Sugarcane Mosaic Virus, in Pinellas County, Florida. Source: University of Florida

St. Augustine grass Lawn infected by Sugarcane Mosaic Virus, in Pinellas County, Florida. Source: University of Florida

A potent new virus has taken property owners and scientists alike by surprise, and is threatening lawns across South Florida. Known as Sugarcane Mosaic Virus, it first appeared in the 1960s, targeting mostly sugarcane and turf, and was quickly put under control with the planting of more resistant sugarcane.

But after almost completely vanishing in the decades since – besides only a few isolated and erratic incidents – Sugarcane Mosaic is back, becoming the first virus in the state to be harming South Florida lawns. Experts are at a loss to explain why the disease has suddenly emerged, and how it is morphing to attack far more plants than its namesake.

Thus far, the infection has begun spreading in Palm Beach and Pinellas counties, attacking a variety of grasses, including corn and sorghum. Floratam St. Augustine grass, the most popular turf varieties in lawns, is among the hardest hit. Even previously resilient strains have fallen victim.

So far, over 150 lawns have been hit, with plants dying quickly no matter the treatment; while some infected grasses do grow back, they almost always still carry the virus.

Many details are unknown, but specialists have determined that the virus mostly spreads through lawn equipment, namely mowers and weed-whackers that end up carrying infected sap.

Most distressingly, experts have also found that there is no effective chemical treatment yet available. The most lawn owners can do is keep their equipment clean with Lysol or some sort of commercial ammonia, which will be most effective.

An alternative but more drastic solution is to plant another kind of grass, namely Zoysia, Palmetto, and Bitterblue, which are all immune. However, each brings with them their own problems – Zoysia is often invasive towards other plants, Palmetto fares poorly in shad, and Bitterblue is weak against chinch bugs.

According to some experts, the best approach for property owners is to be vigilant and make sure their equipment is kept clean. Look for signs of any unusual disease and report it to local agricultural authorities.

As a leader in South Florida Lawn Care, PowerX is committed to helping customers address this issue as best as we can. We can provide a free analysis and estimate of your lawns issues to determine the best course of action. For the best in South Florida Pest Control and lawn care, contact us at 1-800-555-0170, or click here for a free estimate.