Covering Up For The Cold. “Can Heavy Topdressing Help My Greens?”
Loveland Ski area, located high on the Continental Divide in Colorado, opened early this week, and more alpine areas have since followed. It is beginning to snow at the higher elevations of the region, and as the old saying goes, ‘look out below’. Temperatures for the most part have still been mild, allowing time to complete fall projects. I get many questions at visits and emails about the practice of heavy topdressing of greens for the winter. All maintenance practices have advantages at different locations for different reasons. Utilizing a heavier than normal sand topdressing late in the year can help in the protection of greens, but it is not a one size fits all approach.
Areas of the region that are assured of adequate snow cover already have one of the best protection products going, snow. These greens should be topdressed according to regular programs already in place for core aeration and light, frequent sand applications.
Golf courses that are in areas that are exposed and prone to long periods of sun and or wind might be good candidates for a little heavier topdressing than the other greens. Protecting the crown area and some extra leaf tissue of each turf plant from direct exposure will help decrease the injury potential. This practice should be in addition to, not in place of, other good fall cultural practices. Increasing the height of cut (HOC) of the turf before it begins to harden off for the winter will increase the length of leaf tissue and allow more sand topdressing material to be worked into the turf canopy. This is a far better way to prepare for a heavier topdress versus just burying a green with sand.
Another part of the decision process is whether or not the greens are open for play in the winter. If so, thought should be given to the daily foot traffic and the influence it will have on the turf. Dormant turf will not be able to defend itself against foot traffic and the grinding action of the coarse sand particles against the dormant leaf blades. Damage caused to the turf during the winter likely won’t become noticeable until the following growing season.
For more severe and exposed climates in the region, covers may become part of the solution. There are many types of available manufactured covers that can fit more specific problem areas. While they do have their benefits, costs of covers will be a consideration, as will labor costs associated to install, maintain, and remove covers. A good evaluation of each green should be completed before deciding if some type of cover is the right fit for your golf course.
Turf covers can basically be split into two main groups that differ in permeability (the rate at which air, sun and water passes through the cover). Permeable covers are used for general green protection from wind and sun exposure. They allow the turf to “breath” through the material. Often times, they are a tremendous tool to use in the spring in areas that have been damaged and need help with recovery.
Non-permeable covers are used in areas of extreme cold and long term exposure. They do not allow any air flow or water infiltration. They can be beneficial in keeping ice from forming directly on turfgrass. They are often used in addition to some type of insulation layer, to even further protect putting green turf from excessive conditions.
All types of covers can be another tool for the turf managers in their constant battle to protect golf courses through the cold winter period. A Turf Advisory Service (TAS) visit can help you to evaluate the potential use of covers on your golf course.
The USGA Northwest Region staff is available to make course visits to help review your maintenance programs, including winter preparations. We enjoy educating players and course officials about the challenges of golf course maintenance thru our TAS program. Contact Larry Gilhuly firstname.lastname@example.org or Derf Soller email@example.com for more information or to schedule a visit. Wendy Schwertfeger, Administrative Assistant also may be reached for information at: 208.732.0280 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.