All around the country and right here at home, golf course superintendents and grounds crews are dealing with one of the hottest and toughest summers in quite a long time. Courses in all different parts of the country are struggling to keep their turf alive and maintained. Because of the incredibly long period of high temperatures across the country as well as severe drought conditions for us in the northeast and too much rain elsewhere, courses are being put through the ringer as far as how the weather has effected the turf. Superintendents are doing all they can to keep the turf living through these conditions and now as we creep our way into September we’re keeping our fingers crossed that mother nature will finally cut us some slack and that we’ll make it into the fall with minimal damage.
In other areas of the country such as the Mid-Atlantic courses have experienced a wide range of severe weather conditions. From severe drought, to torrential rains, scorching temperatures, and inconsistent humidity, they’ve seen it all. Turf, especially bentgrass greens are struggling big time. Because there is no good grass to withstand the variation in weather in the Mid-Atlantic region most courses prefer to use bentgrass since it has a tolerance for the cooler temperatures experienced in the winter months. The drawback to this of course is its lack of tolerance for high heat. Bentgrass can survive a few 90+ degree days scattered throughout the summer but this year the region has experienced a prolonged period of high temperatures and as a result the bentgrass greens are fighting an uphill battle in their search for cooler temperatures.
The high heat in the region has been coupled with periods of heavy rain also. While many might think this would be beneficial for the grass it is in fact creating a set of circumstances that all but guarantees big problems. Since root growth has halted for cool season turfgrasses the grass now begins trying to get its water from above instead of below. This means that the best possible way to water greens would be by performing multiple rounds of syringing with hoses, this way you can keep them cooled off without saturating the soil unnecessarily. When there is too much moisture sitting in upper profile of the green it causes the grass to literally cook. The water heats up in the ground and since it isn’t being pulled into the grass from the roots it just sits there and gets hotter and hotter eventually killing the turf. The increased moisture levels and high heat also stress the turf out and make it much more susceptible to a disease outbreak. Weak turf and a wet profile create a playground for pathogens in the soil setting them up to wreak havoc on greens and elsewhere.
Here in the Northeast we have had a set of circumstances more on the other side of the spectrum. Weeks and weeks went by this summer without any real accumulation of rain. As a result the profile of the greens became extremely dry and created a wide array of problems throughout the summer. The lack of moisture in the profile and extreme heat caused the greens to become hydrophobic, which meant that water was struggling to get past the upper root zone and was causing harm to the grass instead of benefitting it. When parts of the green became overly hydrophobic it would create localized dry spots on the greens where not only is the surface of the turf hydrophobic and water-repellent but the organic matter in the soil is hydrophobic as well makin it especially difficult to irrigate.
Throughout the country courses are experiencing the effects of mother nature’s wrath. Many superintendents have had to change their plans as far as maintaining turf goes. Whether it be spiking greens and setting up fans to allow for improved air circulation or an increase in fungicide protection and a drastic increase in wetting agent applications, calendars are still being re-written to best adapt to the current conditions. Even when we thought the weather was letting up, we got a wonderful little wake up call in the form of 4 or 5 straight days of 90 degree temperatures reminding us that were not out of the woods yet. So instead of getting in our last days at the beach or planning our labor day BBQ we are instead sitting on the edge of our seats, doing all we can to keep grass alive and keeping our fingers crossed that cooler temperatures get here soon and stay for good.
~Andrew P. Lanigan-Turf Intern~