Climate Change Or Just Another Weird Year? February 27, 2015

Climate Change Or Just Another Weird Year?

By David A. Oatis, Director
January 8, 2008

Prior to Christmas, winter storms produced a blanket of ice in some areas of the region and had superintendents worried. In fact, the duration of ice cover prompted some to remove or consider removal techniques in hopes of avoiding turf injury. With current temperatures nearing the 60° F mark in some areas, it is hard to believe winter weather is much of an issue in the Northeast. However, wide fluctuations in temperatures can wreak havoc with the turf. Annual bluegrass that is subjected to 45-50° temperatures, combined with free moisture for 2-3 days, can lose 50% of its winter hardening, and this can leave it vulnerable to direct low temperature kill, desiccation, and crown hydration injury. One sharp drop in temperature (or multiple less-severe drops) can kill it.

Unfortunately, there is little turf managers can do to help the situation at this point. Winter injury can be very frustrating and perplexing for turf managers and golfers alike. Lots of second guessing usually follows the occurrence of winter injury. Some of the most common questions are:

    • Could it have been prevented?
    • Was it something the superintendent did?
    • Why was the course across the street spared?
    • What can we do differently next time?

The truth is, there are times when there just isn't a solution. If the weather is bad enough, damage will occur regardless of what the turf manager does or doesn't do. There are times when removing layers of snow and ice help prevent or promote damage. There also are times when removal can exacerbate the damage. Perhaps the most confusing aspect of winter injury is that it is very difficult to tell when the damage actually occurred. It is not uncommon to have turf that is severely damaged early in the winter appear normal as the thaw occurs (frozen plants don't decompose quickly), only to quickly decline following the spring melt. Removing plugs of turf from the greens on a regular basis throughout the winter and incubating them (bringing them indoors to start growing) can help to identify if and when damage has occurred. It is a fair amount of work to remove plugs from frozen ground, and space is needed to incubate them. More importantly, a nursery is needed to replace them in the spring. However, doing so can help answer some questions in the spring if your greens have sustained damage.

As always, don't hesitate to call our office if you have questions or concerns. We look forward to seeing you at the next conference.