Winter in the Northeast is seldom easy and never predictable. This winter started early with record snowfall and cold temperatures. December brought moderate temperatures and rainfall that removed snow and ground frost from most of the region. Mother Nature decided to make things interesting by generating a weather system that, in about the time it takes to drive from New England to a warm Florida beach, produced snow, sleet, rain, and warm temperatures followed by some of the coldest temperatures of the season. Surface water and slush left by the weather system quickly transformed into ice. A 30- to 40-degree decrease in temperature over a 24-hour period is not a favorable weather scenario for any golf course and it is similar to what occurred in many areas last season.
The most recent weather raises some concern for facilities that rely heavily on annual bluegrass playing surfaces. Fortunately, the period of warmer temperatures was probably too short to initiate significant de-hardening of the plants, which should improve their ability to tolerate the cold temperatures that followed. The biggest concern now is for golf courses that had standing water or slush as the temperatures dropped below freezing. Fully hydrated annual bluegrass plants are more susceptible to cold-temperature injury compared to plants that are not fully hydrated. The areas that received a fresh layer of insulating snow before the onset of extremely cold temperatures were fortunate. Those who did not receive a layer of snow must hope that the grass tolerated the low temperatures. However, facilities using covering systems should have fared well through this first winter challenge.
Facilities with a solidice layer in place should not have to take immediate action. In fact, the processes to remove snow and ice layers can be more damaging to the plants then letting the snow and ice remain in place. It is important to keep track of how long ice persists and to occasionally check beneath ice-encased surfaces for signs of anaerobic conditions. Anaerobic conditions are an indication that the turf is probably beginning to lose its ability to tolerate cold temperatures, or that damage may have already occurred. Begin monitoring ice-covered surfaces when ice has been in place for about 40 days. Also, it is a good idea to begin removing plugs from greens that were hydrated before being encased in ice to determine the turf status. Sampling greens under winter conditions is not an easy process, but identifying damage early can be very helpful both politically and for planning future management programs.
Golf courses farther south in the mid-Atlantic did not have to deal with the hydration and rapid freeze events produced by the latest weather system. However, Elliot Dowling expressed some concern for the impact that cold temperatures and wind may have on turfgrass in the mid-Atlantic. A fairly warm November and December was great for completing work on golf courses in the southern portion of the region but not ideal for preparing exposed grass for the cold and wind that occurred this week.
We hope to see you all at one of the upcoming education conferences where we will be happy to discuss winter topics and what to expect in the summer ahead. The following are a list of educational opportunities occurring in January:
2015 Connecticut Association of Golf Course Superintendents Winter Seminar – Jan. 15, 2015 – Mystic Marriott, Mystic, Conn.
2015 Maine Turf Conference – Jan. 14-15 – DoubleTree by Hilton, South Portland, Maine
2015 OTVA Winter Conference – Jan. 13-14 – Centurion Conference and Event Center, Ottawa, Canada
2015 New England Regional Turfgrass Foundation Conference and Show – Jan. 26-29 – Rhode Island Convention Center, Providence, R.I.
2015 Northeast Pennsylvania Turf Conference – Jan. 29 – Woodland Resort, Wilkes Barre, Pa.