Preparation For Winter Is Well Underway

By Keith Happ, senior agronomist, Mid-Atlantic Region
December 12, 2011

(L) During the winter and early spring, the sun is much lower in the southern sky.  Take the time during the winter months to evaluate sun angles in essential areas of the course.  (R)Topdressing to protect the turf prior to winter weather can provide a level of insulation and a degree of additional free drainage for the crowns (the growing points) of the turf. 

How long is your winter work check list?    Most golf course superintendents have almost completed their preparation for the upcoming winter months.  Preparing the turf for dormancy and freeze/thaw cycles takes time and should not be taken lightly.  There are several strategies that can be employed to maximize turf health and minimize the potential for problems next spring.  The following are some key examples.

Aeration should be conducted on greens, tees and fairways.  These are the most important areas for play, and as such should be prepared in a proactive manner.  Not having the opportunity to do so can compromise the turf’s ability to tolerate winter conditions.    

Topdress heavily where possible!  Topdressing applications provide a degree of insulation near the crowns of the turf, while providing a level of free drainage.  The degree to which topdressing is applied does vary, and you can always contact us to discuss your particular issue.  However, targeting at least 100 to 200 lbs of topdressing per 1,000 square feet is a great start.  There are returns of scale that have to be considered, and the priorities should begin with the greens, tees, approaches and then, if funds are available, the fairway turf. 

Disease Control procedures should be conducted.  Most courses in the Mid-Atlantic Region treat to control snow molds (pink and gray).  The application is made as late in the year as possible to receive season-long control.  When these procedures are implemented, other strategies, such as mowing, need to stop.  Superintendents don’t want to mow off the protection just to appease a small group of golfers who think the greens should be prepared more aggressively during the winter months.  If absolutely necessary, roll the surfaces rather than mow dormant grass!  At some operations, anti-desiccant sprays are used to protect the turf from drying winter winds.  Again, mowing should not be conducted until such time that the turf begins to grow consistently, i.e. next spring!

Spot Maintenance – areas that need extra workLate fall is an excellent time to catch up on some of the isolated maintenance needs throughout the course.  For example, aggressively aerate all high traffic areas to address compaction damage.  While the aeration holes are present, introduce ryegrass seed to improve turf density and offer a level of improved traffic tolerance.  In most instances the soils are still warm enough for ryegrass seed to germinate.  Leaf clean-up should be completed prior to introducing seed to these areas. 

Tree Work.  Don’t forget to evaluate sun angles in all critical areas of the course.  Where possible, prune or harvest unnecessary trees and undergrowth.  Provide every opportunity to start the year off with the best possible growing conditions.  Progress can be made even if only one or two areas of need are addressed -- anything will help!

Winter Play Policy.  Has your course determined what its winter play policy will be?  Will the greens be closed to play when the grass goes dormant (which is happening now)?  Will there be winter/alternate greens and tees?  Will the course be open for play, recognizing (and budgeting for) the traffic damage that can occur when greens and tees are played during the winter?  There are no easy answers to this issue; each course must determine what is best for them.  Nonetheless, it is good to discuss that policy now.

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


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