Low-Maintenance Areas Aren’t Meant To Be Perfect

By Darin S. Bevard, director, Mid-Atlantic Region
July 9, 2014

Weed emergence and areas of thin grass in naturalized areas should be expected. One of the goals of establishing these areas is to reduce maintenance inputs so that resources can be used on other parts of the golf course. Unreasonable expectations for appearance and playability reduce the benefit of low-maintenance areas.

The expansion of low-maintenance areas has been positive with respect to labor required for mowing and other inputs. Also known as naturalized areas, tall-grass areas or fescue areas, the purpose of these areas is to provide contrast to more manicured turf and reduce water and maintenance inputs. In recent weeks, weed emergence in naturalized areas has been a topic of conversation, causing some course officials to complain about the appearance of these areas. Expectations for the appearance of naturalized areas need to be realistic; otherwise, some of the maintenance savings that should be realized will be lost.

Naturalized areas are low maintenance rather than no-maintenance areas, but there needs to be an understanding that they will have some weeds and thin areas throughout the year. In the mid-Atlantic, golfers expect to find and advance their golf ball in most instances. If the proper grasses are planted – normally hard, sheep’s or other fine fescues – this is possible. However, playability can be difficult to maintain when existing rough grasses are simply allowed to grow without mowing. Furthermore, periodic inputs of herbicides and even insecticides are necessary to manage weed and insect problems in naturalized areas, but perfection is not the goal. Educating golfers about the maintenance of naturalized areas and establishing reasonable expectations for their appearance and playability is critical for their success and acceptance.

On another note, annual bluegrass weevil activity has subsided since our last update, or at least additional damage has been minimal. Unfortunately, recovery of areas that were damaged by weevils has been very slow. Slow recovery has been a point of frustration for golf course superintendents, especially considering that cool-season grasses are naturally slow-to-recover during the summer. Spiking, slicing or aeration with small, solid tines can aid in recovery. Also, light, liquid fertilizer applications of no more than 0.10 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet can be made on a seven-to-10 day interval to promote recovery of damaged areas, but patience is still the most important ingredient. For those who experienced damage on greens, light sand topdressing can help improve playability as areas recover.

The toughest stretch of the summer for turfgrass management in the mid-Atlantic is upon us. Maintenance strategies on cool-season grass cannot be as aggressive in the next six weeks without risking damage, especially on putting greens. A few weeks of slower green speeds is better than a couple months of trying to recover from damage.

Source Darin Bevard dbevard@usga.org

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