Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Winter is coming

It is October 20th and we are getting to the point where winter is just around the corner. Winters in Central Oregon can be pretty unpredictable. There is the chance of snow, rain, sleet, 70 degree days, below zero nights, sunny and windy. All of these can actually occur in the same day, so protecting the turfgrass from the elements is key to a successful spring and following season. Here are three items that help us going into the winter: eliminating cart traffic, fungicide applications and topdressing with sand.

Why cartpaths only?

The fine fescue needs a break after a long golfing season of traffic both from golf carts and walking. Since the fine fescue has a moderate to low wear tolerance and low recuperative capacity, it is beneficial to remove excess traffic at some point in the season to encourage the fescue to rebound before inclimate weather arrives. This season carts were moved to cart path only in the middle of September. I agree 100% that this is a major inconvenience to our members and guests but it is necessary. Since the recuperative capacity is low, it takes a prolonged amount of time for the fine fescue to get back to a stage of quality so that it can take on the rigors of winter. Since the carts have been on cart paths only, I have noticed a significant improvement in the fine fescue. This fall, we have started to aerify and incorporate crumb rubber and diatomaceous earth in order decrease the affects of traffic, namely in reducing compaction.

"Surface compaction of turf soils occurs primarily in response to traffic. Particles of soil are pressed together with resultant increases in bulk density, soil strength, and water-holding capacity and decreases in aeration porosity, water infiltration and percolation.....Physiological responses of plants to soil compaction include not only reduced root growth, but reduced shoot growth, reduced water and nutrient uptake, reduced tolerance to heat and drought stresses, and increased susceptibility to scald and direct low-temperature injury." (Turgeon, 1996)

As you can see, such a simple process of driving a golf cart over turfgrass, especially fine fescue, can have a major impact on quality and survivability. Our practices are based on the best interest of the turfgrass environment and not to inconvenience anyone.

Why fungicide applications?

The application of fungicides going into the winter is to prevent or decrease the amount of infection from the Microdocium nivale fungus otherwise know as Pink Snow Mold and to a lesser degree from the Typhula incarnata fungus or Grey Snow Mold. These diseases can be devastating to turfgrass especially the fine fescues if not treated with a fungicide prior to the first snow fall. Pink Snow Mold is active during prolonged cool, wet weather and in climates where snow is common intermittently. Grey Snow Mold develops under deep and prolonged snow cover. Pink Snow Mold and Grey Snow Mold are common in Central Oregon but like the weather, disease infection can vary from location to location. Golf Courses in Sunriver suffer worse outbreaks than in Bend and Bend suffers worse outbreaks than in Redmond. More specifically Tetherow will see less disease outbreaks than Broken Top Club and Widgi Creek Golf Course and we are only separated by approximately three miles.

As we near our usual dates of applying our preventative fungicides a very important change has occured this year that affects each and every golf course. The EPA put a stop sale on the popular fungicide PCNB this year. This means that our suppliers are not able to purchase and sell PCNB to their customers whom normally use PCNB as their preventative fungicide application. Those suppliers and golf course that have PCNB from prior applications can apply it this season. PCNB has proven to be a cost effective product in Pink Snow Mold and Grey Snow Mold protection for the period of time, 90+ days, that we normally want to see the protection last. So this year we are going to use different fungicides that have been tested by many universities throughout the country with great success for our preventative applications. I believe that the products available to us now have better chemistry's which will provide better protection from the snow molds but the only question is will they have the longevity comparable to PCNB. A repeat application may be required mid season if we have a break in snow cover. I am crossing my fingers.

Why the heavy sand topdressing?

I have learned many things from all of the golf courses in different areas of the country that I have worked at but one of the most important lessens I learned was topdressing. While in Casper, Wyoming, topdressing at a heavy rate was the difference between having grass or not having grass in the spring. The winters in Casper are brutal. The dominate weather during the winter are extreme cold temperatures, very low humidity and very high consistent wind speeds. A typical day includes, high temperatures 25-35, 10% humidity and sustained winds of 30 mph. Not the best environment to be living or working outside.

Our winters in Central Oregon are similar to those in Casper but not as extreme which makes our topdressing practices very important. A heavy layer of sand benefits our golf course in these ways:
  • The sand layer protects the crown of the plant (growing point) from wind desiccation during the winter. So as the temperatures and humidity decrease and the wind speeds increase, the sand will protect the delicate crowns from dehydration. Just because the sand is applied does not always mean that the turfgrass is protected. Many high spots can still be damaged due to the lack of moisture.
  • The application of sand in either light or heavy amounts dilute the organic material produced during the growth of any turfgrass environment.
  • Heavy or light topdressing will smooth and firm the playing surfaces.
  • With the sand being a dark color it absorbs the sunlight thus heating up the surface and subsurface or soil temperature to encourage plant growth during the spring. I like this aspect of the practice because we are getting a jump start every spring instead of waiting for the ambient temperatures to increase soil temperatures. As we all know, our springs can be very cold in Central Oregon.
"Topdressing is the practice by which a thin layer of soil (sand) is applied to an established turf or a new turfgrass planting. When used in conjunction with turfgrass establishment, its purposes are to partially cover and stabilize the planting material and to retard desiccation. On established turfs, topdressing is performed for several purposes, including controlling thatch, smoothing a playing surface, promoting recovery from injury or disease, protecting greens in winter, and changing the characteristics of the turfgrass growth medium." (Turgeon 1996)

The topdressing program is vital to the success of our turfgrass environment. As you can see, applications of sand on a regular basis provide multiple benefits. And these benefits will always outweigh the cost of the sand and labor needed to continue the program. Many course have been doing a similar program for the past 10 to 15 years and have been very successful. The next time you travel to Portland or Seattle and play the premier clubs, notice how firm and smooth the fairways are and envision that at Tetherow in the future.

Well that was a lot of information and I hope that it answers any questions that you may have. I will post some pictures of these topics in the near future.