Mother Nature Is Talking

By Stanley J. Zontek, director, Mid-Atlantic Region
November 1, 2010

I recently drove a few miles along the Skyline Drive in southwestern Virginia to speak at a golf course superintendents association Year End meeting.  Normally, in late October the Appalachian Mountains are ablaze in fall colors.  If anything, the colors were disappointing.  Is this a reflection on this year’s weather?  The answer is yes. 

This is also a disappointing year for many golf courses.  The weather had an impact on the health and survival of golf course turfgrass, and the extended period of heat, punctuated by times of wet weather and drought, affected most all plants.  In the case of the trees along Skyline Drive (and probably on your golf course and in your neighborhoods), leaves were dropped early and with less color, mostly due to the drought.  Early leaf-drop is a defense mechanism for trees.  In the case of turfgrass, it is summer dormancy; or, depending upon the species, even death to that plant.  Poa annua is, after all, annual bluegrass, and this summer’s weather helped remind us of that fact. 

The summer weather was not good for grass, nor was it good for trees.  Indeed, that is one of the points of this USGA Mid-Atlantic website update.  Grass is affected rapidly because it has a much smaller root system than do trees.  Damage is seen more quickly, but the turf rebounds more quickly, too.  Not so with trees. 

The effect of the heat and drought may take years for the tree to recover.  In some cases, especially if the tree is weak, this summer’s heat and drought could have started or accelerated the decline process.  While we often discuss tree removal as it relates to playability and agronomics, trees are also an asset to the golf course and needs some level of maintenance.

Although the summer’s impact on golf courses was substantial, the effect the weather had on trees and other woody perennials may be profound.  In these USGA website updates, we tend to concentrate our observations on the turfgrass component of a golf course.  This website update is an attempt to point out that all living plants on the golf course may have a long-term problem.  Time will tell.

What should you do?  Fall fertilizer is good for grass, both in terms of recovery, density and preparing the grass for the coming season.  Trees also benefit from fall fertilization, so don’t forget your trees when you fertilize your property this fall.  Make an extra lap around them, punch holes to relieve compaction, and small things like this can make your tree assets stronger and healthier, just as aeration and fertilizer applications benefit the grass.

The Mid-Atlantic Region agronomists are part of your agronomic support team.  If you have a question or concern, give us a call or send an e-mail.  Stan Zontek ( and Darin Bevard ( at 610/ 558-9066 or Keith Happ ( at 412/ 341-5922. 

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