Dead Is Dead

By Bob Vavrek, senior agronomist, North-Central Region
August 16, 2012

Collars were particularly hard hit by the record heat and drought stress this summer. However, losses of turf also occurred across sites affected by morning shade and golf cart traffic.


Perhaps the golfers who actually believe that dead areas of turf will magically recover overnight in response to recent rain and cooler temperatures were children told by parents that a squished possum or kitty cat was just napping on the side of the road because the pavement is warm and comfy. Isn’t it curious how a sense of altered reality can manifest itself on the golf course?

Make no mistake, dead is dead and courses across the upper Midwest are just now starting to deal with the aftermath of an extremely stressful summer that may still have a surprise or two left for us before the mowers begin mulching leaves instead of grass clippings. The most severe injury has been seen across collars, turf just adjacent to either side of the collars and areas of the course affected by morning shade. Sites stressed by concentrated foot traffic or cart traffic were usually the first places where turf decided to “take a nap” when temperatures eclipsed triple digits. However, shorter days and cooler nights finally provide hope for turf recovery.

The good news is that soil temperatures are still so high that seed germination will occur very quickly as long as you ensure adequate seed-to-soil contact. Bentgrass seed will transform into green fuzz within a week and there is a decent chance that you can increase the population of bentgrass in the greens or fairways if you take time to baby the seedlings after germination. Don’t put the hand watering hoses away just yet and keep seeded sites lightly watered throughout dry days to accelerate recovery. It only took day without adequate water to kill weak shallow rooted Poa and it only takes one dry afternoon without water for seedlings to wilt. Dry, cool days can lull you to sleep.

Do whatever is necessary to keep play off newly seeded areas. These sites are going to be watered frequently anyway. The only grass that will become established in dead areas that are beat up by play will be the Poa that eventually germinates from seed already in the soil. Guess what areas will die again next summer if the heat returns or this winter if we experience an ice storm or two?

Kentucky bluegrass seed will be very slow to germinate despite warm soils, so sod may be the best option for recovery in the surrounds and intermediate roughs. Don’t waste money on sod if carts are allowed across the turf. Divert traffic to healthy turf.

It felt great to finally see the month of August on the calendar and September cannot arrive too soon. In any event, nothing puts spring back in your step after a brutally hot summer like putting on a jacket before heading out on the course first thing in the morning.

Source:  Bob Vavrek, or 262-797-8743

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