Frosty Mornings and Chilly Days

By Darin Bevard, director, Mid-Atlantic Region
November 13, 2013

An unusual turfgrass pattern was noted in bermudagrass rough on a recent visit to a golf facility. No, this is not some new, exotic strain of “camouflage” bermudagrass; rather, some refer to this as “tiger striping” and it is a product of frost injury to the grass. The pattern is largely caused by inconsistencies in the temperature gradient between warm soils and cold air.

The first blast of cold temperatures for much of the region is predicted to occur this week. It is mid-November and golf course maintenance staff around the region are preparing for the “offseason.” Turfgrass growth rates are very slow, if growing at all. Bermudagrass populations in the southern portion of the region are entering dormancy. Frost delays will be a common, but necessary, occurrence for the golfers. Frosted grass is susceptible to damage from maintenance and foot traffic, which is why delaying play and maintenance practices until ice crystals on leaf blades have melted is important.

A quick look back at the 2013 growing season is in order. Overall, mild weather made for a good growing season, but there were challenges. The most difficult period for turfgrass managers occurred around July 4 through July 25. Basically, this was three weeks of high temperatures that also included moderate to heavy rainfall in many areas. This was the primary period of problems for cool-season grasses in the region. For the most part, if the turfgrass declined, it was during this three-week period. Some other observations from the year include:

•  For the most part, cooler than normal temperatures dominated. The three-month period of March, April and May were the coldest on record for most of the Mid-Atlantic region. Recovery from spring aeration was slow, but it was a great weather pattern to prepare golf courses with cool, dry weather for much of the early season.

•  June and July were wet in much of the region. However, there were dramatic differences in rainfall totals from one area to the other. Golfers were often unaware that certain areas received far more rainfall than others. This generated complaints of soft, wet conditions and accusations of overwatering when, in fact, Mother Nature was to blame. Need proof? On July 28, 8.02 inches of rain was recorded at Philadelphia International Airport. This represents the single highest daily rainfall total in history at the airport. That same day at Merion Golf Club, which is a little more than 10 miles away, rainfall was less than half an inch.

The take-home message is that dramatic weather differences occurred over very small distances which affected daily golf course preparation and playability. Golfers are often unaware of these dramatic differences when comparing day-to-day playing conditions on their golf course with neighboring facilities.

•  August and September were cooler than normal, but also dry for much of the region. The weather was great for preparing golf courses for daily play, but those that suffered turf damage in July were slow to recover because of the lack of rainfall. In all, golf course superintendents welcomed the cooler weather.

•  Bermudagrass use continues to expand in our region. In southern portions of Virginia, ultradwarf bermudagrass putting greens are increasing in number. The Virginia Tidewater is seeing an expansion of bermudagrass greens, and there is a new National Turfgrass Evaluation Program warm-season putting green trial established in Richmond to evaluate the performance of various varieties of bermudagrass, zoysiagrass and seashore paspalum for putting green use. This test green will be in place for five years and should provide some answers on warm-season putting green grass options. Whether or not ultradwarf bermudagrass use expands in Virginia will hinge on the success of some of these early projects.

Farther north, ‘Latitude 36’ bermudagrass use for fairways and tees is increasing. During the heat of the summer, this grass performed superbly. Are ultradwarf greens and increased establishment of bermudagrass fairways in the Mid-Atlantic region a short-term fad or long-term trend? Time will tell.

Cold temperatures indicate that the 2013 growing season is drawing to a close. Overall, it was a good year for turfgrass with some notable exceptions mentioned above. Hopefully, maintenance staffs and golfers will take some time to relax this winter even as preparations are already underway for the 2014 growing season.

Source:Darin Bevard (dbevard@usga.org)

Information on the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service

Contact the Green Section Staff

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