Cabin Fever

By Jim Skorulski, senior agronomist, Northeast Region
February 19, 2014

Dig through snow and ice layers to detect for a fermentation smell and to check the status of ice-encased turf. An indication of sweet sickly odor is a sign that an anoxic condition exists below the ice and that annual bluegrass tolerance to colder temperatures has been compromised. 

With snowpack of nearly three feet over much of New England, thoughts are turning to the opening of spring training camps in Florida and seeing fresh green (hopefully living) grass again. This is a difficult time for snowbound turf managers and especially those contemplating the need to take action to remove snow and ice cover from putting greens. 

We continue to receive numerous calls and voices of concern on the issue, so the purpose of this update is to recount what we know at this point and to help those dealing with ice-covered turf.


  • Although many are concerned about turf survival, to date there are few reports of actual damage following the multiple flash freeze weather events. Several courses in New England, New Jersey and southern Canada have pulled turf plugs from their annual bluegrass putting greens, and damage thus far has been isolated and fortunately not widespread or uniform.
  • The deep snowpack alone is a good thing. Leave it intact to take advantage of its insulation abilities.
  • Ice cover at some locations is pushing 40 days so it is prudent to continuing sampling and check for the faint fermentation, or anaerobic smell that indicates an anoxic condition is developing below the ice. Annual bluegrass can usually tolerate 45 to 60 days of ice cover before damage but recent studies and field observations show that an even shorter duration of ice cover can trigger an anoxic condition which will begin the de-hardening process in plants.   
  • If an odor is present or ice has been in place for greater than 40 to 45 days, consideration should be given to exposing and removing ice. That is not to say that action needs to be taken immediately, but at least begin to prepare for that extensive operation and to pull plugs from greens to check the status of the turf.  
  • Some golf facilities have already removed some snow cover from greens to speed up the clearing process once warmer temperatures arrive. Removal of snow and ice layers is a very difficult task, and it entails risk, so it is not something to undertake without careful consideration. Some smaller golf facilities are simply not equipped to do it.
  • Annual bluegrass that has been exposed to anoxic conditions has probably lost some of its ability to tolerate very cold temperatures. For this reason, snow and ice removal should be timed to coincide with a period of more moderate, above freezing temperatures if possible.
  • It is a good idea to clear paths to allow water from melting snow to exit putting surfaces. Snow should be cleared far enough from green surfaces to prevent snowmelt from flowing back onto the surfaces where it can refreeze.  
  • Ice covered fairways currently run the greatest risk for injury. Ice cover in low-lying pockets has long exceeded the duration for damage at many locations so some damage to annual bluegrass in these areas should be expected. Take the time to extract a plug or two from an ice-covered fairway in the next week or so to determine if any injury has occurred and keep your fingers crossed going forward. 

Be sure to call our offices to report what conditions are observed and the status of the turf or if you would like to discuss the management options further.

The local conference season begins March 3-6 with the New England Regional Turfgrass Foundation Conference in Providence, R.I. Next, a USGA Regional Meeting will be held March 13 at the Country Club of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y. The Adirondack Regional Conference takes place March 19 at High Peaks Resort in Lake Placid, N.Y. The MGA/USGA Green Chairman Seminar will be held March 20 at North Hills Country Club in Manhasset, N.Y., followed by the New England Green Section Seminar March 25 at the Andover Country Club in Andover, Mass. The conferences offer a great way to fight the winter doldrums and reenergize for the season ahead. We hope to see you there!

The USGA is conducting a regional seminar on Thursday, March 13th at The Country Club of Rochester. Many golf and turfgrass management topics will be discussed. To learn more about the conference and to register, click here. The event code is 0311.

Source: Jim Skorulski (

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