Thursday, March 13, 2014

Winter Update

As winter continues to linger there is a growing concern among many superintendents in the northeast as to what effect this winter will have on the turf. 

Snow cover is good for the golf course.  Snow acts as an insulating blanket that protects the grass from the extreme low temperatures and harsh winter winds.  Ice on the other hand is not good.  Ice covering the turf prevents CO2 gas from escaping into the atmosphere.  Prolonged exposure to high levels of CO2 can lead to turf loss.  As a rule of thumb bentgrasses can tolerate up to 120 days under ice cover while Poa annua can only survive about 45 days.  Because our greens at Huntsville are a mixture of bentgrass/ Poa annua and we are approaching 45 days under snow and ice coverage, my assistant Casey Sheehan and I went for a walk around the course to inspect the greens for possible injury.

Our first stop was the 8th green.  This green was covered with about 3 inches of snow and a 1/2” thick layer of ice.  We removed the ice and looked at the turf underneath.  Everything looked good.  Most importantly, when we uncovered the turf, we were not meet with “the smell of death”.  “The smell of death” is a term superintendents like to use to describe the odor that dead turf gives off under ice.

Next we proceeded down to the 4th and 5th greens.  These greens had about 5 inches of snow covering a 2 inch thick layer of ice.  The thick ice and melting snow made it a little harder to see the turf but from what we observed the grass still looks good.

We also took a small sample of the green and brought it back the maintenance building for observation.  If the grass greens up and starts to grow, we will know that the turf is still healthy.

There is much debate about the best way to deal with ice on a green.  Some superintendents choose to remove the ice.  However there are two problems with removing the ice.  First, the process of removing the ice itself can cause significant damage to the green.  Secondly, if you remove the ice and expose the turf to warm temperatures and then get a period of low temperatures you can lose turf through what is known as crown hydration.

Based on what we have observed so far, we have decided to leave the snow and ice in place and continue to monitor the health of the greens.  If it is determined that the ice is causing problems then at that point we will take the necessary steps to prevent further turf loss.

Some parts of the golf course have already lost its snow cover.  All of these exposed areas look good.  We have not seen any ice damage and there is no sign of snow mold.  Snow mold is a fungus that can attack the turf in the winter.  We treat for this disease preventativly in the fall and I am happy to say that those applications seem to have been effective.

With warmer temperatures in the forecast, we hope to loose a lot of the remaining snow cover and prevent any ice damage from occurring.