Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Stress? BRING IT ON!

As the calendar pages turn to June the toughest part of the turf season looms for Superintendents.  It’s the famous 90 days that turf managers earn their money. Keeping fine turf alive and healthy through heat, disease and traffic stress in the peak of the golf season takes planning, multiple maintenance practices and experienced decision making.  Here are a few key points to keep in mind as the summer stress starts to build.

1.      Excess water can kill just as easily as extreme drought. Proper water management is tied to turf needs of course but also humidity and temperature levels. When dry and low humidity, soak dry spots thoroughly to depth of roots using wetting agent pucks attached to hoses. If humidity levels are high keep the water off, or apply a quick spritz to temporarily cool the area. Use a soil probe to physically check the soil moisture at root depth, or a digital moisture sensor for exact percentage moisture content. Sometimes all that’s needed is some air flow over the turf to create transpiration and thus water uptake. A portable blower works fine. As my old boss Gordon used to say “more grass is lost on Sunday afternoons than any other time”, be diligent.

2.      Roots need oxygen and a way to dissipate harmful CO2, methane, and other gasses. Plan to regularly needle tine greens to allow proper gas exchange and enhance water movement into the root zone. Today’s tine manufacturers offer many sizes and styles that are golfer friendly and accomplish this much needed process. On heavy soils in high temperatures a weekly venting will go a long way to saving your turf.

3.      Proper fertilization practices that match the turf needs and growing conditions are critical. Most fertilizer burning, striping and specking occur during the summer stress periods. Consider doing only liquid or foliar applications to reduce this risk. Put the emphasis on nutrients other than nitrogen. Low N with higher potassium, also including magnesium, zinc and calcium help the plant keep up with the biochemical processes that build plant tissue and keep it healthy.  Enhance these applications with elicitor products like phosphites, carboxylic acids, sugars, amino acids and biostimulants. Roots struggle to stay active this time of year so a good quality foliar product ensures plant uptake and utilization of nutrients. Many granular products do not give a good return on their cost during the high stress months.  

4.      Topdressing and/or verticutting programs can cause severe damage during high temperature days. Dragging top dressing over fine turf strips the protective coating from leaf tissue and can enhance moisture loss and drought stress symptoms later in the day. Verticutting opens wounds that also cause moisture loss and can be entry points for summer diseases. Discontinue both practices until temperatures drop below 27C and even then pay special attention to changing water needs after these maintenance practices. Another alternative is to follow light topdressing with a vibratory roller and syringe with some water.

5.      Mower blades that are not set up precisely, or are dull, will cause tearing of the leaf blades and more damaged surface area that the plant needs to repair. Moisture loss increases and plant energy is wasted on healing rather than growth and resisting disease. Be extra diligent in grinding and sharpening if necessary; and setting up greens mowers on a daily basis. Consider raising mowing heights, (better slow than dead), and skipping mowing at least once a week and roll instead to reduce stress.

6.      Keep your staff and turf healthy. A burned out staff makes mistakes, misses visual cues, and is hard to manage. Encourage extra sunscreen, hats and brief cool down breaks in the afternoon. Remind them to drink lots of water from coolers while working and find shade when waiting on golfers. A ten minute break in the A/C every hour will pay dividends to you in better quality work during the summer stress period. Discuss a proper preventative fungicide program with your local technical representative. Be aware of potential disease and the best products to apply in advance of the outbreaks. It’s much cheaper and easier to protect turf at this time, than to try to get it recovering from damage.

When these practices are implemented and adhered to, the chance of lost turf drops dramatically as does the stress level on the superintendent.  Summer stress??? Bring it on!!!

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