Approaching The Eleventh Hour February 16, 2010 By Adam Moeller

With the end of February on the horizon, many golfers are beginning to feel the itch, and cabin fever is setting in.  Soon, golf courses across the region will be in spring cleanup mode in preparation for the 2010 golf season.  For turf managers, however, the transition from winter to spring can be a source of stress and concern.  We are not out of the woods with respect to winter injury.

In some parts of the Northeast Region (primarily New Jersey), record snowfall has left turf managers curious about the efficacy of snow mold applications.  Mild gray snow mold outbreaks generally occur after 40-60 days of snow cover, while more severe outbreaks are likely after 60 days.  If snow cover hasn’t approached these thresholds, damage still is possible from pink snow mold, which doesn’t require snow cover -- just cool, wet conditions.  Excessively wet conditions in the spring from the melting snow could lead to more pink snow mold outbreaks.  If gray or pink snow mold outbreaks occur, the pathogen injures the leaves, but it is not reported to affect regionalUpdateContents and crowns.  The damage is primarily cosmetic, and the turf will grow out from the damage in time.

Melting snow and ice from greens, fairways, or tees is a greater concern.  If a rapid drop in temperature occurs during the melt process, freeze injury may occur.  This injury, commonly referred to as crown hydration, is the most common form of winter injury in the Northeast Region, and occurs most often in late February to early March.  Most of the controllable factors for preventing crown hydration (i.e. maximizing carbohydrate storage) should already have been in place, but a few things can still be done to help prevent injury:

  • Do not remove snow or ice unless you are concerned with a lack of oxygen (anoxia) or a good warming trend is predicted.  Encouraging melt can result in more freeze-thaw cycles, so do not remove the snow cover unless the weather cooperates.  
  • Create drainage channels within snow-covered greens to ease water movement off the area.  Completely removing all the snow will help the greens be free of water from melting snow, but the snow’s insulating benefits can be advantageous, especially if significant temperature drops occurs.  If snow has been removed, be sure it is not piled at the low side of greens where it would create a dam and cause water to flow back onto the green.  Also, do not pile snow on the high side of greens, where melting snow would run onto the surface.  
  • Address tree shade issues.  More sunlight improves turf health leading into winter and during the growing season, hastens snow/ice melting, and provides a growing environment more conducive to seedling germination and establishment in the event that damage does occur.  
  • When in doubt, bring some turf plugs inside and incubate them so you can examine turf health.  Communicate the results (good or bad) to course officials as soon as possible.

Educational conferences are a great way to learn more about winter injury and numerous other topics for golf course maintenance.   The Canadian International Turfgrass Conference and Trade Show is scheduled for February 26th through March 2nd.  USGA Agronomists Bob Vavrek, Larry Gilhuly and I will take part in a panel discussion addressing current issues, problem areas, and new opportunities for turf managers and golf course management on February 28th.  Later that day, I will present grass options for greens, tees, and fairways.  The New England Regional Turfgrass Conference and Show is scheduled for early March and is another great educational opportunity for turf mangers and course officials.  A USGA educational session is scheduled for Tuesday, March 2nd, covering many diverse topics, including winter injury.  

USGA agronomists can provide insightful and invaluable information involving all areas of golf course maintenance to help maximize turf health, playability, and efficiency.  Contact Dave Oatis, director ; Adam Moeller, agronomist ; or Jim Skorulski, senior agronomist  for a Turf Advisory Service visit this season.