Time to Bale Some Hay

By Bob Vavrek, senior agronmost, North Central Region
October 15, 2012

Late October finds many courses scalping down natural areas to prepare the roughs for next season. Don’t skip the important, but challenging, step of removing the excess plant debris from these areas once the mowing is completed.

Most courses throughout the North Central Region battled a bumper crop of weeds all season. A stretch of unseasonably warm weather during March jump started weed growth, then the drought and record-breaking heat did the rest. By August, crabgrass might have been the only green to be seen on crispy, south-facing bunker banks.    

It is encouraging that an increasing number or courses are converting a portion of the mowed rough into unmowed natural areas. These areas provide wildlife habitat and can serve as buffer zones between areas of highly maintained turf and water features. Natural areas require little, if any, mowing or irrigation during the summer. They look great next to mowed areas, well, at least until they morph into a tangled jungle of weeds. 

We learned in Turfgrass 101 that frequent mowing will control many weeds. How true. Just stop mowing the rough and after a season or two the once pure stand of turf will be sharing space with tree saplings, thistle, quackgrass, foxtail and a multitude of crop weeds that you cannot even begin to identify.      

A simple and effective way to keep many of the weeds at bay is to scalp down a natural area at least once each season. This will control much of the woody growth and tall crop weeds. Many of the Region’s courses mow down the natural roughs during October or November as play subsides. This provides an opportunity to operate the boom sprayer in roughs for the application of selective herbicides, such as Fusilade or Segment, to control grassy weeds and a chance to treat these areas with preemergence and broadleaf herbicides during spring before the turf grows too high to accommodate a sprayer.     

Scalping down the rough once a year also helps control the undesirable accumulation of excess plant debris that can occur in unmowed sites. Without mowing, every year’s worth of growth dies and becomes another clump a dense, matted down turf that becomes deeper and denser each season. Ignore the debris and the quality of turf in natural areas will slowly, steadily decline.     

Of course scalping down the turf is only effective when the excess plant debris is removed and this is where many courses fall short of keeping the natural areas as clean as possible. Mowing is relatively easy, but collecting plant debris from acres of tall grass is very labor intensive at a time when staffing is typically short-handed. No doubt, a good burn can eliminate excess plant debris, but not every course can obtain permits to burn and some stands of turf respond to burning much better than others.     

Several courses with vast acreage of natural areas have had success harvesting the scalped turf with farm implements. The grass is cut, windrowed and baled just like a hayfield. For more information on this process see the 2002 Turf Tip entitled Makin’ Hay.     

Specialized heavy duty equipment that can flail tall turf and collect the debris in a single pass is now available from companies such as Wiedenmann (Super 600), Redexim (Turf Tidy) and Greenline (Combi-Trailer). Some units can also be equipped with straight cutting blades to verticut fairways and collect the debris in a single operation. Pricey…yes, but so is the cost of labor.     

As they say, let’s make some hay, while the sun is shining.     

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


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