Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Winter Update

The record breaking winter of 2014 produced widespread turf loss throughout the Northeast and Canada.  Here at Huntsville we suffered significant damage to three of our greens; # 4, # 5 and # 6.  So far, the winter of 2015 is proving to be just as cold and brutal as last years.  February was particularly bad as we did not go more than 2 consecutive days without at least a trace amount of snow and broke several low temperature records.  One morning we had a temperature of -13 degrees on our weather station.  Needless to say we are quite concerned about the health of our greens and are looking for ways to avoid a repeat of last spring.  

With that in mind, we have been closely monitoring the conditions of the greens.  Around the middle of January we discovered an ice layer under the snow on several of our greens. Once the ice layer formed, we knew that the clock was ticking.  Our greens are a mixture of Bentgrass and Poa annua.  Bentgrass is very cold hardy and can easily survive 120 days under continuous ice cover.  Poa annua, on the other hand, is very susceptible to ice damage.  The rule of thumb is that Poa annua can only survive under ice for 30 to 45 days.  

In mid February we pulled samples of turf from the greens that had the ice layer.  The samples were then brought inside and placed in a window sill for observation.  Within a few days the plugs greened up and began to grow.  This was an encouraging sign but we were still concerned. 

Using a cordless drill to remove a plug from the green.

Plugs inside for observation.
The plugs a week later.

On Monday March 2, with warmer temperatures forecasted for the weekend, we made the decision to remove the snow from greens # 4, # 5, # 6, and # 9. Using a snow blower, we removed snow that in many places was over 2 feet deep.  It took some work but in the end we prevailed. What we found was that while some areas of the greens had ice a few inches thick many areas had little to no ice.  By removing the snow and exposing the ice to the warmer temperatures and sunlight I feel that we will see most of the ice disappear.  

Beginning to remove snow from #5 green.

The snow was deep.

The finished product.

If the ice layer persists, our next step will be to apply a black dyed sand to the greens.  The black sand absorbs sunlight, heats up and speeds up the melting process.  

Although it is far too early to determine if we suffered any turf loss, I am optimistic based on what I have observed so far.  Going forward we will continue to closely monitor the greens and take whatever action necessary to avoid turf loss.  Keep your fingers crossed and pray for an early spring.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Preparing for Winter

Last year's winter proved to be one of the longest coldest winters that we have experience in this area in quite some time.  As a result we lost some turf, primarily on greens 4, 5, and 6.  I wanted to share with you some changes that we have made heading into this winter that will hopefully reduce the likelihood of this type of damage from occurring again.

First you need to understand what leads to turf loss in the winter.  The main causes of turf loss in the winter include; crown hydration, low temperature kill, desiccation, fungal diseases and ice sheets.  Let's examine each of these and find out what we have done to help prevent them from causing damage this winter.

Crown Hydration.

In the fall grass plants prepare themselves for winter by moving water out of their cells (de-hydrate).  This process commonly referred to as hardening off.  If plants did not go through this process, the water in their cells would freeze, expand and rupture the cell walls causing the plant to die.  Some grasses, particularly Poa annua, when exposed to warm temperatures are quick to re-hydrate their cells.  If the warm temperatures that caused the plant to re-hydrate are then followed by a period of cold temperatures the cells could rupture.  This typically occurs in the late winter or early spring.

If you allow grass plants to set in above freezing water during the day as the snow melts and then expose the plants to cold night time temperatures you greatly increase your chances of turf loss through crown hydration.  Anything that can be done to prevent water from running onto the green and then getting it off the green as quickly as possible will help reduce the chance of this type of damage from occurring.

First we looked at how we might help the water get off the greens quickly.  When inspecting #4 and #5 greens we could see that the collar in front of the green was at a slightly higher height than the green surface.  Caused by years of applying sand topdressing to the greens, this sand build up in the collar was essentially creating a dam.To fix this we stripped the sod in front of the greens, re-graded the soil and then replaced the sod.

Lowering the front of #4 green

We also performed a deep tine aeration on greens 4, 5 and 6.  We used a special aerifier that used solid 1/2" diameter tines that went down 10" deep into the green.  Our plan is to leave these holes open so that as the snow melts the water will run down into these holes and keep the crowns of the plants from sitting in a pool of water.

Deep tine aerifying #4 green

Next we looked at preventing water from flowing onto the greens.  The 5th green and the 6th green both had areas that could be improved so that less water would run onto the greens.

On the 5th hole we installed a drain line and catch basin to the left of the green.  Our hope is that this new drainage will catch water coming off the hillside and direct it away from the green

Installing drainage on the hillside above #5 green

Likewise on the 6th green we identified an area where water from the cart path was moving down onto the green.  To correct this we added some mounding along the cart path which will divert water away from the green.

Preparing to add mounding along #6 cart path

Low Temperature Kill and Desiccation

Just as the name suggest low temperature kill is caused by exposing the turf to extremely low temperatures particularly when the weather changes rapidly and you get a drastic drop in the temperature.  Bentgrass can tolerate temperatures down to -30 degrees while poa annua can only tolerate temperatures down to -10 degrees.

Desiccation can also lead to turf loss and is caused by cold winter winds blowing across exposed turf leading to the plants to drying out.  The best insurance against both these types of damage is a good layer of snow.  Snow is a great insulator and the temperature at the surface under the snow will typically be right around 32 degrees even on the coldest days.

Unfortunately snow is not always present in the winter so to help protect the turf from these two forms of damage, late in the year, we apply a heavy layer of sand to the greens.  This layer of sand covers the crowns of the grass plants and acts to insulate the plants.

Topdressing greens with sand

Fungal Diseases

Fungal diseases that occur in the winter are generally called snow mold.  There are two types of snow mold, gray snow mold and pink snow mold.  Gray snow mold requires extended periods of snow cover while pink snow mold can occur with or without snow cover.  Both types of snow mold can cause extensive damage over the winter.  To prevent this we apply a protective fungicide late in the year to the greens, tees and fairways.

Spraying for snow mold

Ice Sheets

While snow is beneficial to the turf in the winter, ice is bad.  One of the hardest decisions to make in the winter is when and if to remove ice from the greens.  The rule of thumb is that Poa annua can survive 60 days under continuous ice cover, while bentgrass can tolerate 120 days.  We will closely monitor the formation of ice on the greens this winter so that we know how long the ice layer has been on the greens.  Even after knowing how long the ice has been on the green, the decision to remove the ice or not remove the ice is not an easy one.  Sometimes the process of removing the ice can do more harm than good.  Also once the ice is off the greens you then expose the turf to low temperatures which could also lead to turf loss.  Never the less, we will keep a close eye on things and cross that bridge when we need to.

One way to help prevent ice from remaining on the greens for long periods of time in the first place is to allow more sunlight to reach the greens.  If you look at the greens that were damaged last year you will notice that they all share the same characteristic of being surrounded by dense trees.  Without sunlight reaching these greens during the day the ice tends to last much longer on these greens than it does on other greens.  To help correct this we have removed several trees around these greens but more will likely need to be removed in the future.

Tree removal to allow more sunlight to reach #6 green

As you can see we have taken several steps to help prevent loosing turf again this winter.  However there are no guarantees. Ultimately we are still at the mercy of Mother Nature.  Hopefully with some good preparation, some close monitoring and a little luck we will make it though the winter unscathed and be ready to go next spring.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Getting ready for winter

We just finished winterizing our irrigation system.  It is an important to procedure.  If we did not winterize the system the water in the plastic pipes would freeze and crack the pipes.

To remove the water we rent a large air compressor.  The compressor gets hooked up to the irrigation line outside the pump house near #7 fairway.

Air compressor at pump house

Once we have enough air pressure built up in the lines, we turn on each irrigation head until the water stops flowing out and it is just blowing compressed air.  At times it looks like Yellowstone Park out there.

Removing water from the irrigation heads

We also have a transfer line that runs from #12 to #7 that needs to be blown out.  The whole process generally takes about 10 to 15 hours to complete.  This year we managed to finish winterizing the irrigation system on Tuesday November 25th, one day before we received 8 inches of snow!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

When It Rains It Pours

After experiencing heavy thunderstorms the evening before, we came in on the morning of July 3rd to find this. 

An irrigation pipe leading to a quick coupler valve had broken next to the 13th green.  The water ran through the night and eventually washed away a section of the collar and part of the green.

Thanks to the efforts of my irrigation tech Chris Wargo along with some other members of our greens staff, the repairs were quickly made and the next day the green looked like this.

Maintaining a golf course is a big job.  It takes the dedication and hard work of a team working together to pull it off.  I just want to take this opportunity to thank my staff for all their hard work and to say keep up the good work.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Root Pruning

Last summer we began experiencing severe drought symptoms on a few of our tees  No matter how much water we applied, these tees would constantly dry out.  After probing around in the soil we realized that the roots from nearby trees had grown into the tee mix and were causing our problem.  After seeing the impact tree roots can have, I realized that certain areas of the rough that consistently burn out during the summer were similarly being negatively effected by tree roots.

To help solve this problem we rented a machine to prune back the tree roots.  Pruning tree roots is a common practice on golf courses.  Traditionally root pruning is performed every 4 or 5 years and is done using a ditch witch trenching attachment.  This method involves first the removing the sod, then digging a trench with a ditch witch.  The open trench is then back-filled with soil, compacted and the sod replaced.  It is a time consuming and labor intensive process.  The machine we rented cuts through tree roots in very little time with minimal labor.  Two large rotating blades slice through the soil and through any tree roots.  All that is left behind are two thin lines in the turf. 

Later this summer as things dry out we will see the benefit of this process.  Without the competition from the tree roots we will have a better chance of maintaining quality turf throughout the summer.

Pruning tree roots

The imants root pruner

Blades of root pruner

No clean up necessary

Easily cuts through large tree roots

Thursday, May 22, 2014

#5 Green on May 20, 2014

Although progress has been made, recovery of the winter damaged greens continues to be slow.  A cool spring has slowed the growth of the grass and delayed seed from germinating.  However as the weather continues to warm up I am confident we will see faster recovery.  To speed the process along, we decided to sod the most heavily damaged areas of the collars on the 4th and 5th green.

Re-sodding #5 collar

We also have been taking plugs of bentgrass from our nursery green and plugging out the worst spots on the greens.

Removing bentgrass plugs from nursery green

Repairing #4 green with bentgrass plugs

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Course Update

Beginning Sunday afternoon and ending Monday evening we aerified and topdressed all 18 of our greens.  The greens were aerified using 3/8" hollow coring tines on 1 inch centers.  After the plugs were cleared off the greens, sand was applied and worked into the open holes. Today fertilizer will be applied to get the grass growing. We will roll the greens daily to smooth and firm the surface and in a few days after the sand has settled into the canopy we will start mowing the greens.  Because the growth of the grass tends to be a little slower in the spring, we like to use the smaller 3/8" tines to shorten the recovery time.  The greens should be completely healed in about 2 weeks.  Although aerification is despised by golfers and maintenance staff alike aerification remains an important cultural practice.  Aerification removes unwanted thatch and allows good air exchange to the root system helping the turf to survive the stresses of summer.

The fifth green continues to recover nicely although it never seems to happen as fast as we would like.  The cover definitely helped speed up the recovery process and allowed us to get the bentgrass seed to germinate.  As temperatures continue to rise and the green recovers, the green will be available for limited play and eventually be open all the time.  Looking at the green every day, it is sometimes hard to see the progress we have made.  Here are some before and after photos that show how far the green has come in one month.

#5 Green on April 16, 2014

#5 Green on May 10, 2014

#5 Green on April 7, 2014

#5 Green on May 10, 2014

Bentgrass creeping over damaged areas

New Bentgrass seedlings