Hot Weather and Water…Good For The Beach, Not Plants

By Elliott L. Dowling, agronomist, Mid-Atlantic Region
July 24, 2013

It is clear to see on this putting green where water sat on the surface and the soil profile was saturated for too long during periods of excessive heat. Poor drainage is an obvious area of concern, but core aeration and regular sand topdressing will go a long way in reducing these potential problems near the surface.

Many golf facilities in the Mid-Atlantic region have experienced some turf decline over the last two weeks. This is largely due to saturated soils combined with extremely high temperatures. The month of June brought record-setting rainfall totals to much of the region which continued into July. For many, the rain experienced on July 3rd was the last straw. 

The majority of turf decline this summer was due to turf growing in anaerobic soils. Simply put, turfgrass roots cannot breathe. Once anaerobic conditions are experienced, roots will suffocate and die. Wet wilt becomes common. Wet wilt acts like dry wilt except that the soil has too much water, not too little. Dry wilt occurs when there is not enough available water. Wet wilt occurs when there is no available oxygen and plants, due to impaired root function, cannot take up soil moisture fast enough to keep pace with transpiration cooling needs of the turf. At this point, water management is paramount. Lightly mist the areas rather than soak them when wet wilt occurs. Applying too much water via hose or overhead irrigation is like putting gas on a fire. 

Managing your thatch/organic layer will go a long way in improving the reliability of your putting greens during stressful periods. Twice annual core removal on greens followed by sand topdressing dilutes organic matter and reduces water retention in the upper portion of the soil profile which is critical to avoid wet wilt. The goal with core aeration should be 15 to 20 percent surface disruption annually. 

Additionally, other means to improve internal drainage may be necessary. Drill-and-Fill or other deep-tine aeration techniques are good methods to break through organic layers and soil texture differences within the rootzone. 

Lastly, improve the overall growing environment by encouraging sunlight penetration and air movement. On too many Turf Advisory Service visits this summer, greens have been lost because they are located in poor growing environments. Turfgrass requires sunlight, airflow and drainage to grow. If any one of these is lacking, problems will occur, especially come heat of the summer. 

Source: Elliott L. Dowling (

Information on the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service

Contact the Green Section Staff

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