Less Water = Color Reduction But Not Quality Reduction

By Bud White, director, Mid-Continent Region
July 22, 2013

Many superintendents are seeing earlier browning out this summer than last because of the lack of water in the soil profile.

Fortunately, some areas of the Mid-Continent Region have received relief from the drought that has been ongoing since 2011. However, many areas have not and superintendents – particularly in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas – are experiencing drought stress even more severe than last year. Soils are so dry that rain showers have little effect on turf health and color. Currently, 87 percent of Texas is listed as being in drought conditions. 

Soil profiles reveal extremely dry soil to a significant depth as we have not had enough moisture to wet soils deeper than just the top few inches. There is no capillary water movement in such dry soils so turf goes off-color as soon as hot weather begins. 

The rains that have been received have had virtually no effect on lake levels in many locations because the soil is retaining much of the rainfall. A slow, steady rain is almost completely soaked up in the upper few inches of the soil, with moisture never reaching deep into the soil profiles where severe drought continues. 

Superintendents must focus on drought management for the balance of summer. Raising cutting heights and extra potash applications are two steps that can help maximize drought tolerance. Color will not be as golfers expect or prefer, but this is the future of golf course aesthetics. Reduced water availability is more critical than ever but reductions in playing quality are not necessarily a product of reduced water and turf color. Superintendents are tasked with maintaining turf health and cannot necessarily worry about turf color and aesthetics. Golfer education becomes even more of a focus now so that players better understand necessary turf management practices and the future of golf course playability with limited water availability. 

Source: Bud White (budwhite@usga.org

Information on the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service

Contact the Green Section Staff

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