Friday, January 14, 2011

Winter Thaw Provides Relief To NSCC Turf ... This Time.

The near 60 degree temperatures we experienced on New Year's Eve in the Milwaukee area certainly provided the opportunity for relief from the ice which had encapsulated most fairways at NSCC. On December 12, NSCC received over and inch of rain followed by temperatures that quickly dipped below freezing. These falling temperatures, coupled with already frozen ground, did not allow for adequate drainage of the rain water prior to the formulation of ice on nearly all of our fairways. At best, we were looking at another spring such as last year where winter damage related to ice formation was wide spread throughout NSCC. Remember our fairways consist of a combination of creeping bentgrass and annual bluegrass (Poa annua). Poa annua is much less receptive to ice coverage and may experience substantial turf loss after only 60 days of coverage. Since the ice formed early in the season, we were likely to have ice coverage for a period which far exceeded the 60 day window.

The solutions to ice formation on turf during winter in northern climates vary greatly and are widely debated among turfgrass professionals. On smaller areas, such as putting greens, ice may be removed by hand. This tedious process can save turf, however, physical damge may occur during the removal process. The simple act of walking on semi-frozen turf may cause more damage than the ice itself. The act of physically removing pieces of ice may cause root shearing and physical damge due to the frozen state of the turf. Sometimes the act of removal may cause more extensive damage than what would have occured simply due to the ice formation.

Ice removal from fairways is even more difficult, especially at NSCC. Since many of our fairways are low-lying, they are highly susceptible to ice formation. If a thick blanket of snow exists, ice removal is almost impossible. In the process of removing the snow to gain access to the ice, we must either plow or snow blow from the iced-over areas. This process creates mounds of snow, or dams, which makes water evacuation even more difficult.

6" Ice on 7White Fairway, Following Black Sand Application

Fortunately, we had very little snow following the ice formation in December, making the ice very accessible. Within one week of the ice formation, the golf course maintenance staff applied 10 tons of black sand to the iced fairways. The black sand warms quickly due to solar radiation and weakens the ice. Even if the ice is not completely melted, the sand can create channels allowing for air exchange and reduce the potential for turf loss due to suffication. Remember, we need sun for this process to work. Without sun, the black sand will just remain on top of the ice and not penetrate within.

Even though the golf course staff made the sand application, cold temperatures and limited sun had provided only marginal improvement in reducing the ice. Fortunately, mother nature assisted us by providing a thaw on New Year's Eve. While often times a thaw can prove disastrous for turf due to refreezing of water, this winter's thaw was so extreme it allowed for a complete removal of ice from the golf course. So intense was the thaw, that the frost actually lifted from the upper two inches of the soil. The lack of frost allowed both for ample water absorption and moderate drain line function. These two processes accounted for almost complete removal of the water prior to refreeze. Since this time, NSCC has been topped off with a few inches of snow to act as an insulating blanket for the turf. This blanket of snow should provide adequate protection for the turf from freezing conditions. While we are not through with winter yet, we can all sleep a little easier knowing that we no longer have significant ice cover on our golf course

7 White Fairway Following Thaw

6 Blue Fairway Following Thaw--6" Ice Gone!

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