A Wetember To Remember

By Larry Gilhuly, director, Northwest Region
October 1, 2013

Heavy and extended rainfall is the fastest way to shut down aeration operations. Golf facilities need to have a Plan B in place when Mother Nature interferes with scheduled maintenance.

In late summer 2012, Seattle experienced a near record 49 days without rain. When rain finally came on Sept. 10, most golf facilities had already completed fall aeration. This much needed rainfall arrived at the perfect time to aid in recovery of putting surfaces. Ah, the good ol’ days.

The month of September historically averages 1.6 inches of rainfall in this portion of the Pacific Northwest. While rain amounts last year ended up being below the average, the local weather forecaster proudly announced (with a smile on his face) that this year an all-time record had just been set for the month of September with just over 6.5 inches of rainfall. This may be great for those selling umbrellas and rain gear, but it wreaked havoc for golf facilities that did not complete fall aeration in time or were forced to wait and reschedule aeration until after the typical “beautiful fall golf weather” passes. Let’s take a short look at the importance of fall aeration and ways to avoid this type of situation at your facility.

The “A” word (aeration) is one of the least liked operations for players and golf course maintenance personnel alike. The problem is some form of aeration is needed to minimize the ongoing accumulation of organic material, relieve soil compaction in heavy traffic areas (including areas on greens where hole locations are frequently placed) and to provide avenues for water and oxygen to penetrate into the rootzone. Trying to outguess the weather is always a gamble but as a general rule it usually is a safe bet to time fall aeration in the Pacific Northwest just after Labor Day or by the middle of September. Evening temperatures are beginning to drop, while soil temperatures remain high enough to encourage fast turf recovery. But what happens when rain interferes with scheduled aeration? Worse yet, what if there is a big tournament scheduled two weeks after your selected aeration date and you delay until the rain is gone?  Regardless of the tournament, the answer from an agronomic perspective is simple: you aerate.

While aeration of greens close to important tournaments may seem to be a sure way to be drummed out of town, it may not be a big issue if you have followed basic topdressing and venting programs through the entire growing season. The regular application of sand and the use of small solid tines (usually ¼-inch diameter) monthly can allow for the use of smaller open tines for the fall aeration with at least one additional venting and light topdressing prior to the onset of cooler temperatures that arrive in late October to early November. Also, many in this mild portion of the country have taken to light applications of sand every four to eight weeks to counter organic material accumulation in Poa annua greens. These routine applications of sand make sense because grass does not go dormant on the west side of the “Evergreen State.” If your greens are firm enough, give these programs a try and “Wetembers” like the one we just experienced may prove a little less trying. 

Source: Larry Gilhuly (lgilhuly@usga.org

Information on the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service  

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