January 31, 2015

Mid Winter Turf Update

While the mid winter warm up we experienced the last week was a nice break from the brutally cold temperatures that one would expect in January in North Dakota, it was about the last thing the turf on the golf course needed.  The situation with the small amount of ice we accumulated on our greens in December was less than ideal, but really not too bad considering how isolated it was.  However, the warm temperatures last week followed by another deep freeze in the forecast has taken the situation from bad to worse, for two reasons.

First off, a mid winter thaw cause turf, especially Poa Annua, to dramatically lose some of its ability to withstand cold temperatures (cold hardiness.)  Having some exposed turf warm up and thaw out in January, and then go right back to subzero temperatures like we are forecasted for this week, leaves turf plants prone to direct low temperature kill.

Secondly, in areas where the snow melted down but did not completely disappear, we are now left with thick sheets of ice.  This however isn't too much of a concern unless we get another long and prolonged winter that drags through March and April again.  At this point in the winter, our bentgrass will be able to tolerate an ice layer just fine until spring.  The Poa Annua can only live about half as long under ice, so if we get into March soon and there is no end to winter in sight, we will be going out to clear snow off of our greens again.  Here is a great article from the U of M about winterkill on golf courses if you would like some additional insight.

Greens like 5 that get a lot of wind and have most of their snow blow
off are now about 30% to 60% snow free and exposed to the elements.

9 green is in a very tough situation where the front of the green is free of snow,
and the entire back half of the green is a sheet of ice.
With the warm up evident on Monday morning, Collin and I were close to going out and clearing all the snow off the greens in order to prevent the ice buildup like you see in the above picture of hole 9.  However, with the forecast showing a large arctic airmass bringing subzero temperatures again, we decided that the risk of low temperature kill on ALL of the greens was greater than the risk of some additional ice on just a few areas of the greens.  A lot of greens still have a consistent blanket of 2" of crusty, junky snow, that will nonetheless provide plenty of protection from the cold temperatures.

With a winter like this, when conditions are less than ideal for the turf, it makes the preparation work we do back in September and October that much more important.  A few timely, additional fertilizer applications and raising the height of cut during those months without a doubt created a stronger, healthier turf plant that is more likely to survive these tough conditions.  Also, the extra heavy layer of topdressing sand that we put down just before the ground froze is providing the turf crown (the living portion of the plant just below the surface) enough protection from the cold temperatures and wind to help it stay alive.

A good illustration of a turf crown.  This is the only part of the plant that needs
to survive winter.  All the rest of the leaf tissue can die, but if the crown (which
is supported by the roots) lives, then the plant will regrow in the spring.

This closeup of the turf from an open area on 5 green this week shows how our fall topdressing thoroughly covers the crowns, leaving just some leaf tips sticking out through the sand.  While some kind of permanent cover (like you see at the other courses in town) are a more ideal protection measure, this works very well also.
At this point in the winter we are just hoping for an early spring.  Regardless, when the first initial signs of spring start to show up, hopefully in early March, we will be going out to clear however much snow is left in order to melt the ice that has been present in some areas for most of the winter.

Lastly, winters like this are why we expanded our bentgrass nursery to 4,000 sq ft last summer.  Without a doubt, we will experience a lot of dead Poa Annua in our collars and greens this spring, which means we will be harvesting all of that nice, healthy bentgrass sod to put out on the course as soon as possible.  Hopefully this coming summer we can expand our nursery even larger.

This picture from early September last year shows the full size of our bentgrass
nursery that will be available to be used as sod on the course immediately this spring.
Trying to end on a positive note.  Winter will end at some point, and summer is going to be great!

No comments:

Post a Comment