It is hard to believe it is mid November with the Thanksgiving holiday right around the corner. This year provided heavy snow, spring flooding, 100 plus degree temperatures, a tornado, an earthquake, a tropical storm and hurricane, and a freak winter storm has many of us wondering: what’s next?
To say the extreme weather has taken its toll on the Northeast states is an understatement. The physical, emotional and financial strains have been difficult. The landscape in many areas has changed forever, and repairs and clean-up will continue for a long time. But life goes on and so too the preparations for the inevitable winter weather that is ahead.
Late fall is a time when the grass is supposed to gradually acclimate to cold temperature. During this time we hope the plants are exposed more consistently to temperatures at or just below freezing temperatures during the day. Turf growth rates will continue to decline in the next few weeks, and there should be a gradual transition towards the purpling and khaki colors associated with winter dormancy. Maximum cold temperature acclimation is achieved in early winter when the plants are exposed to colder (below freezing) temperatures. Some areas have experienced colder temperatures already, but temperatures have not been consistently cold enough yet to make managers comfortable that the turf is ready for what lies ahead.
Those who utilize cover systems to protect annual bluegrass from cold temperature injury are being challenged by the warmer-than-usual temperatures. Installing the covers too early will prevent the plants from fully acclimating to the cold; waiting too long risks headaches associated with a significant frost layer or a flash snow storm. Managers utilizing covering systems are encouraged to wait until a colder and more consistent weather pattern sets up in the region. That may not be until December in central and southern parts of the region, but courses further north are probably closing in on the time when covers need to be installed. Waiting an extra week in my opinion is worth the risk.
Now is the time to develop temporary greens that will be used for winter play. Temporary greens are never popular with most golfers, but are the best means to protect the primary greens after the turf is dormant and there is frost in the ground. Take advantage of the warmer weather to topdress and roll the temporary greens, the winter golfers will appreciate it!
Most, if not all, aeration practices have been completed by this time. Late fall topdressing also has gained popularity as a means to apply more sand to playing surfaces without disrupting play or damaging mowing equipment. The late season topdressings may also protect the plants from wind desiccation and warm the surface more quickly in spring. You are fooling yourself, however, if you try to use the late fall application to compensate for limited or no topdressing in season. Sporadic topdressing with heavier rates of sand creates distinct layers in the root zone and does not produce the homogonous soil mix provided with more frequent and light topdressings. Avoid dragging or aggressive brushing once the turf is dormant. Finally, consider dimple seeding the greens prior to the final dressing. The extra step will not require much additional labor or cost, and can provide new bentgrass seedlings in spring.
Late fall also is a good time to evaluate your tree plantings. The October snow storm probably culled most of your weak trees or severely damaged those with susceptible branching. Use this time to evaluate the condition of the trees and look for poor branch structure and external signs of internal decay. Trees shading playing areas or encroaching into sight lines or play corridors should also be noted so that action to remove or prune the trees can be taken in the next few weeks or over winter.
The Green Section Northeast Region thanks you for your interaction and support this season, and we hope that we have been helpful to you in this year of extremes. We wish you all a relaxing Thanksgiving holiday and let us hope that the winter ahead is a little more kind and gentle.
Northeast Region Green Section- Dave Oatis, Director firstname.lastname@example.org; Adam Moeller, Agronomist email@example.com Jim Skorulski, Senior Agronomist firstname.lastname@example.org.