Time To Turn Off The Spigots

By Todd Lowe, senior agronomist, Florida Region
December 8, 2013

Soil moisture meters are valuable tools to monitor soil saturation and promote healthy turf growth, especially through the winter play season.

USGA agronomists are tasked with identifying turfgrass problems when visiting golf facilities. We see a host of different stresses on Course Consultation Service visits, including biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) stresses that cause decline in turf quality. Biotic stresses include pests like insects, weeds, nematodes and plant pathogens. Abiotic stresses include shade problems, tree root competition, nutrient deficiencies, chemical toxicities, traffic wear injury, soil compaction and soil aeration issues. While turfgrass pests are generally easily recognizable, abiotic stresses are more difficult to identify and often lead to other secondary problems. 

Soil aeration issues can be especially difficult to pinpoint, but generally occur when there is too much water in the rootzone. This can be a chronic problem as a result of inadequate cultivation practices that leads to excessive, undiluted thatch and organic matter in the soil. However, a lack of oxygen in the soil can also occur when there is simply too much water in the soil from rainfall or irrigation. 

Turf growth decreases considerably during the winter months. Also, evapotranspiration, or ET (the rate at which water is lost into the atmosphere from both evaporation and plant transpiration), decreases in winter. Turfgrass uptakes oxygen through roots and saturated soils make it difficult for plants to breathe. As a result, turf decline can occur as temperature drops, if soils remain saturated. It is not uncommon to receive calls from golf facilities struggling with greens in early winter. Upon further inspection, the primary culprit has simply been too much water in the rootzone. In other words, the plants are slowly and steadily suffocating. 

It is recommended to monitor soil moisture on putting greens throughout the year to provide optimum playability and turf quality. However, it is especially important to check moisture as soil temperatures and ET decreases. Portable soil moisture meters, like the one pictured, have become essential tools for golf course superintendents. They provide instantaneous moisture data for any area of the golf course and should be used on a regular basis throughout the winter play season. 

Source:  Todd Lowe, (tlowe@usga.org)

Information on the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service

Contact the Green Section Staff

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