The Silver Lining

By Adam Moeller, agronomist, Northeast Region
April 29, 2014

A piece of Penn A-4 creeping bentgrass sod was added to this putting green prior to winter. The dead annual bluegrass turf surrounding the healthy creeping bentgrass strip of sod is a clear indication of differences in winter tolerance between these species.

The number of golf facilities reporting winter injury on putting greens is overwhelming. Damage ranges from a few putting greens having dead turf areas the size of a pool table to courses where all 18 putting greens are greater than 75 percent dead. Winter injury is a highly complex subject. Many variables are involved which explains why some courses were more affected than others. This being said, there has been one constant attributed to the winter injury observed this year: annual bluegrass (i.e., Poa annua). Annual bluegrass is much more susceptible to winter injury than creeping bentgrass, and the severity of damage experienced this year has many facilities contemplating long-term conversion strategies to reduce the risk of a reoccurrence of severe winter injury. A few facilities are using the opportunity to make long-term and significant improvements in the performance and reliability of their putting greens through complete reconstruction or regrassing.

For most golf facilities, overseeding creeping bentgrass into damaged areas is the only realistic option. This will reduce the risk and/or severity of winter injury in the future, assuming a high percentage of creeping bentgrass becomes established in the damaged areas. Many courses are also evaluating the growing environments surrounding putting greens and removing trees that are having detrimental impacts via shade, tree root competition, reduced air movement or any combination thereof. After all, shaded putting greens are more susceptible to winter injury than putting greens with full sun. Winter injury is frustrating, but there is always a silver lining that can be discovered amongst the damage.

To date, recovery at many golf courses has been moderate at best. Inconsistent air temperatures have resulted in soil temperatures below 50°F in many locations. Seedling germination is not likely unless soil temperatures are consistently above 50°F and preferably closer to 60°F. The use of covers or dark topdressing sand can aid in soil warming, but their effects have not overpowered the cool weather Mother Nature has dealt so far.

The month of May will be a turning point for recovery at most facilities. Golfer patience is key! Restricting play will yield the most positive results in recovery. Temporary greens should not be abandoned until the putting greens are fully healed. Playing on temporary greens now is a much better situation than playing on unhealed and damaged putting greens in July. Watch the USGA Green Section webcast Assessing Winter Injury and Promoting Turf Recovery in the Northeast Region for information regarding the best management practices for promoting a rapid and sustainable recovery from winter injury on putting greens. The Green Section Record article Winter Damage is an excellent reference for information on why putting greens experience injury and how to best limit future problems.

Source: Adam Moeller (amoeller@usga.org)

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