Spring Is Busting Out All Over…One Of These Days

By David A. Oatis, director, Northeast Region
April 2, 2014

Extended ice cover, desiccation, crown hydration and direct low-temperature injury may have all contributed to damaging turf this winter.

Temperatures are warming and bulbs are beginning to pop up in the central and southern part of the region. Forsythia won’t be far behind. The season is just around the corner and golfers are chomping at the bit. All seems well with the world right? Not so fast.

Unfortunately, a number of golf courses in the region will likely be facing the prospect of recovering from winter injury – i.e., crown hydration, ice encasement, desiccation, etc. – before much golf can be played this spring. The article Winter Damage is an excellent reference article for more information. Currently, damage appears to be most likely in the northern portion of the region, but there may also be some sporadic damage farther south. Let’s be perfectly clear: Some damagehas been confirmed, but the extent of damage remains a very large question at this point. Nonetheless, there are a number of things to be aware of, and prepare for, in the event your turf has been adversely affected. Here is a brief checklist:

  • Annual bluegrass is the most likely turf species to sustain damage. The glass-half-full view is that winter injury provides an opportunity to increase bentgrass populations and to get new and improved varieties established. When recovery is handled properly, the foundation of turf can be improved, and that can translate to better playability and reliability in the future.
  • How does one handle winter injury properly?
    • Keep damaged areas closed until recover is complete.
    • Weakened or damaged turf that is subjected to golfer traffic will sustain additional injury.
    • Recovery time for damaged putting greens is usually doubled by subjecting damaged greens to play too quickly.
    • Play and foot traffic on tender, new, bentgrass seedlings often proves lethal to the turf. Keeping greens closed until they recover increases chances of boosting bentgrass populations. Open them too soon and be prepared for more annual bluegrass.
  • Turf that looks dead may be. On the other hand, severely damaged annual bluegrass plants will sometimes produce a root and a shoot and survive. In many areas, it still is too soon to tell how much injury has occurred, and the winter isn’t over yet. Sharp temperature drops can still be experienced. At best, this will only slow turf growth and recovery. At worst, weakened turf may be killed.
  • Be cautious maintaining potentially winter-injured turf:
    • If damaged or weakened turf dries out or is subjected to mechanical or traffic injury (e.g., heavy play, aggressive cultivation and topdressing. etc.) some turf plants will fail. Be sure you know the extent of the injury before you get the aerators out.
    • Weakened turf that is subjected to drying winds can fail from desiccation. It will take longer than normal to charge irrigation systems this year, and many courses may have sustained damage from frost heaving. Be prepared to water injured turf with sprayers if necessary.
    • Avoid forcing rapid growth with excessive nitrogen fertility this spring, which can produce succulent growth and weaken root systems.

Even if your course has not sustained turf injury, cleanup efforts are likely being hampered by saturated soils. Soils are still frozen and waterlogged in many locations, and the harsh winter brought down lots of tree debris on many courses. Keep in mind that frost is still likely in many areas, and it will delay cleanup efforts as well as golfers. No one likes to delay the start of the season, but Mother Nature has presented some challenges this spring.

The Course Consulting Service prepayment discount deadline of May 15 is approaching, so be sure to take advantage of it. Pay for your visit before May 15 and take advantage of the $500 savings.

Best of luck for a successful 2014 season and, as always, give us a call if we can help you and your facility.

Source:  Dave Oatis (doatis@usga.org)

Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service  

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