Rain, Rain, Please Come Today

By John H. Foy, director, Florida Region
June 16, 2011

Along with increased fairy ring and localized dry spot problems on putting greens (L), cart and equipment traffic damage is much more of a problem on Florida courses because of the severe drought (R).   

 

June 1 marks the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season, and typically by this date afternoon thunderstorms occur on a regular basis throughout Florida. However, a record-setting drought continues to plague the state. Palm Beach County, the Treasure Coast region, and the southeast coast have been especially hard-hit and are experiencing rainfall deficits of 30 inches or more for the past 12 months.  A Phase 1 water use restriction (15 percent reduction) was mandated for all golf courses in the South Florida Water Management District; and on June 1 monthly allocation reductions also took effect, further reducing the water available for irrigation. The result is a marked increase in drought stress and off-color turf on golf courses. 

During recent Turf Advisory Service visits, a greater incidence and more severe outbreaks of fairy rings are occurring on putting greens due to the drought and heat stress. Adjustments in course management programs are essential to minimize turf damage and loss until rainfall occurs on a regular basis.

Bermudagrasses and seashore paspalum have good to excellent drought tolerance, although continuing to maintain very low heights of cut on bermudagrass putting greens results in reduced root system development and depth, further reducing the turf’s drought stress tolerance. It is extremely important to continually and closely monitor putting greens for signs of drought stress, and to hand-water or syringe the putting greens as needed. Turf and drought stress do not take the weekends off so this is a seven-day-a-week job.  Slightly increase heights of cut and exercise care with verticutting and other cultural practices to minimize the amount of mechanical stress exerted on the turf. 

At least one, and in some cases two, core aerations have taken place on putting greens at courses throughout the state. However, fairway and rough aeration, verticutting, and/or scalping typically are just getting started. Reducing and controlling thatch accumulation and surface compaction is very important for increased and more uniform moisture infiltration. However, these cultural management practices also can result in accelerated moisture loss from the root zone, thereby increasing the turf’s moisture needs. If there are limitations in the amount of water available for course irrigation, delay large acreage aeration and verticutting programs until the drought is over. Another option is conducting these practices on only one or two holes at a time so that it is possible to keep up with irrigation needs. Other helpful measures or adjustments until the drought breaks are raising heights of cut, reducing the mowing frequency, and continuing to routinely inject or make broadcast applications of wetting agents.

Last, but certainly not least, is keeping cart and equipment traffic off areas that are exhibiting severe drought stress. Otherwise, additional turf damage, and possibly even loss, will occur. Keep all golfers aware that their activities have a direct impact on conditioning and ultimately course quality. 

The severe drought that has plagued Florida will come to an end at some point, but be careful what you ask for. Multiple tropical storms or hurricanes will quickly erase a rainfall deficit, but this is not the most desirable way for a drought to end. 

Source:  John Foy, jfoy@usga.org or 772-546-2620 

 

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