Recovery From Drought Takes Time And Warm Weather

By Bud White, director, Mid-Continent Region
May 8, 2012

Even bermudagrass turf that is this badly damaged will recover to a surprising extent once warmer weather and better growing conditions return. Before re-sodding these areas, consider moving the traffic elsewhere, aerating to alleviate compaction and giving the turf a little extra time to spread. You might save a little work and a lot of water.

The Mid-Continent Region has been blessed with a mild winter and wonderful spring after enduring the severe drought of 2011. Turfgrass and tree recovery was enhanced by the mild winter and the early, warm spring. Unfortunately, it seems that many golfers have underestimated the long-term impact of the drought and are already impatient for bermudagrass to recover and re-establish a smooth, dense turf.

Even though we have enjoyed an early spring, nights have remained cool enough throughout the region to slow bermudagrass growth. It is important to keep in mind the “150° rule” – until the daytime high and the nighttime low temperatures add up to 150°F, we will not have strong bermudagrass growth. This is a physiological limitation of the grass that cannot be “cheated” with additional water or fertilizer applications. Also, remember that if bermudagrass rhizomes are healthy this is a very good indication that the turf will recover quickly once temperatures rise.

Despite welcomed rains this spring, salts still remain an issue on many courses. The weather last year resulted in a loss of good soil structure, especially in heavily trafficked areas, making it difficult to leach salts from the soil profile. Spiking, venting, slicing and aeration all help move water more rapidly through the root zone. When combined with gypsum and deep irrigation, salts can be most effectively leached away from the plant’s root system.

Another impact of the drought is that many courses across the region suffered what at first glance appears to be a complete loss of turf in localized areas. Almost always, these were the areas in which cart and maintenance vehicle traffic was concentrated. Complete re-sodding of these areas is normally the best repair option. However, given the predictions of another extremely dry summer, many courses are already having to conserve water. Bermudagrass has amazing recuperative ability given time and protection from additional traffic stress. This is a good year to exercise a little extra patience before starting large re-sodding projects and give the turf time to recover on its own.

The early spring has also been good for bentgrass greens. So good in fact that care must be taken to prevent excess organic matter from accumulating near the surface. Be sure to closely monitor the profile of the greens and institute additional vertical mowing and topdressing if necessary.

Don’t forget the May 15 deadline for the Green Section Turf Advisory Service discount. I certainly encourage you to take advantage of this cost savings opportunity. You can download a TAS application at http://www.usga.org/course_care/turf_advisory_service/How-to-Subscribe.

If you would like more information about a Turf Advisory Service visit, please contact me at (972) 662-1138 or (budwhite@usga.org). I look forward to being of service to you and your course.

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