Let ‘Er Rip

By Bob Vavrek, senior agronomist
March 16, 2012

A light/medium vertical mowing operation during early spring can benefit the turf in several ways.  This operation removes plant debris and organic matter from the surface and upper root zone of the playing surfaces to manage thatch accumulation and discourage excessive lateral growth.  In addition, the process of slicing through patches of matted, diseased turf will open up the turf canopy, expose the crowns of the plants to sunlight and accelerate the rate of recovery.   


It’s not often that turf is “wearin o the green” before St. Patrick’s Day at courses across the north-central tier of states.  However, little snow cover or deep frost along with recent rainfall and unseasonably warm temperatures during early March have definitely jump-started turf growth and the golf season.

No doubt, both private and public courses welcome the bonus of unanticipated cash flow from early spring green fees and cart revenue in light of the sluggish golf economy during the past several years. Golfers benefit from extra-early opportunities to play their home courses, but let’s hope they keep their expectations reasonable with respect to turf quality.  Only an April Fool would demand 4th of July playing conditions on Easter Sunday in Minnesota. 

Irrigation systems throughout the Region are not likely to be up and running during early March and the average maintenance crew will be operating well below full strength until Memorial Day. As a result, an early opening can be quite disruptive to the turf maintenance program. For example, mild weather during late winter always makes it very difficult to predict when to apply growth regulators for Poa annua seedhead suppression. 

On the other hand, snow plows saw little winter action; so many superintendents have been chomping at the bit to do something…anything on the course now that spring has sprung. A light to moderate vertical mowing operation can be well worth the effort during early spring, especially at courses where the playing surfaces are dominated by grasses that have a strong lateral growth habit. 

Early season verticutting encourages upright growth and the cultivation helps remove or break up mats of dead or diseased plant tissue that can smother turf by spring. Slicing through the turf canopy exposes crown tissue to sunlight, which accelerates the recovery of injury caused by snow mold that may have broken through the fungicide barrier. Furthermore, removing excess organic debris from the upper root zone will always be one of the more effective ways to manage thatch accumulation of the playing surfaces. In particular, creeping bentgrass tees that accommodate the least amount of play and tend to accumulate the most thatch will benefit the most from aggressive vertical mowing operations. 

Oscar Wilde said “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess”, but I wouldn’t follow his advice when it comes to early spring verticutting. Moderation is exactly what you want when thinning out greens or fairways at a time when grass is just beginning to grow. Remember it will only take a few cold nights and hard frosts to check the growth of turf during spring, especially creeping bentgrass, which doesn’t really start to sustain vigorous topgrowth until a few consecutive days in the 80’s are accompanied by mild night temperatures. Save the aggressive vertical mowing for late spring and early summer when the above ground growth of turf hits high gear, yet don’t shy away from letting ‘er rip a bit during spring to help prevent minor concerns, such as stemmy lateral growth or excessive organic matter accumulation, from becoming major concerns when summer arrives.

Source:  Bob Vavrek, rvavrek@usga.org or 262-797-8743 



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