Come on September!

By David A. Oatis, Director, USGA Northeast Region
August 11, 2010

I’m probably like a lot of turf managers right now.  Every year at about this time, our friends and families are going to the pool or the beach, or returning from vacations and regaling me with the stories.  Sometimes I have to look at the pictures, and it’s a little like rubbing salt into a wound. 

At this time of year, we go to work and don’t take summer vacations.  We hope and pray the turf will make it to September. 

I used to lie to myself and say I was hoping to get to August 15.  That’s the magic date when days seem to become noticeably shorter and nights (theoretically) get cooler.  But if you remember last year, it didn’t get hot until about August 15, and most of the grass that died did so after August 15.  I used to hear older superintendents say that “grass doesn’t die in September”, but they are wrong.  Grass can die in just about every month of the year.  It just dies more quickly, and perhaps more spectacularly, when we want it most to live:  July and August.  Older and  a little wiser now, I admit that we need to get the turf to September, and I mean September 15.  Maybe in another year or two when I’m even older and more wise, I’ll admit that the season really doesn’t end until November. 

This has been a heckuva  year already, and as much as I hate to admit it, it is far from being over.  Clearly, it is one of the worst years in the Northeast Region since my arrival on staff, and it has the potential to be one of the worst ever.  Turf is extremely weak at many courses, and really hanging on by a thread in many locations.

Summer patch disease is vigorous, and typical spray intervals need to be cut in half to keep it in control at many courses.  Pythium (root and foliar) pressure has been off the charts, too, and preventive sprays are breaking down more rapidly than ever.  We’re even seeing bacterial wilt at a number of courses.  In some cases, the high temperatures and rain-saturated soils are causing the physical death of turf without the aid of a pathogen. 

Most of the courses I’m visiting have lost some grass.  The lucky ones have lost just a little, but there are a number of very unlucky courses around the region.   

  • This is not a time to be aggressive with any maintenance practice.  Venting (gentle aeration) may be helpful, and many greens are at a point where they need to be healthier before normal cultivation practices can be implemented.
  • We are at a time of year when seeding has a higher probability of success, but be careful not to kill more grass by trying to get seed into the ground.  Cultivation practices may stimulate summer patch, and the turf may not tolerate the extra stress and abrasion.  Look for a window of favorable weather before you aerate.  Punching holes at night is an old trick worth revisiting, as it can be less stressful (for the turf, anyway).
  • Manage water applications as carefully as you can. 
  • While everyone is concerned about high humidity and disease pressure, the turf is set-up for wilt because root systems are severely impaired.  A high sky, low humidity day with moderate temperatures and some wind will feel good for us, but at this point in the year, it will kill a heckuva lot of grass. 
  • The two worst weather patterns right now are high sky/low humidity or heavy/prolonged/soaking rain with continued high humidity levels.  If either or both are experienced, 2010 will be more challenging than ever.

Please call us if we can be of assistance, but if we don’t answer the phone right away, it is because we’re talking to someone else about their dying grass.  We’ll call you back.  By the way, if you had a summer vacation, I hope it was a good one.  But please, don’t show me (or your golf course superintendent) the pictures.

Source:  Northeast Region Green Section- Dave Oatis, director; Adam Moeller, agronomist Jim Skorulski, senior agronomist
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