Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Potential Impact From 60 Degrees and Rain In Late January

The best possible scenario for healthy turfgrass in spring is a "normal" winter that includes ample snow cover to insulate the underlying turf.  In recent years it seems as though our "normal" winter no longer includes extended periods of snow cover and cold temperatures.  In its place we have experienced a wide range of temperature fluctuations and a variety of precipiation, both in terms of type and quantity.  What does this new "normal" winter mean for turfgrass at North Shore Country Club.

Any turfgrass manager's greatest fear during the winter months is prolonged ice coverage.  While some ice formation is normal, even during our old "normal" winters, heavy rain events followed by extremely cold temperatures provide the greatest opportunity for winter damage.  Gas exchange is severely limited underneath thick ice coverage that persists for months on end.  Even during the winter months, gas exchange is critical for turfgrass survival.  Without proper gas exchange, the turfgrass may suffocate and die.  In 2010 this type of ice formation led to severe damage across many fairways at NSCC.  Much debate exists within the industry as to whether physically removing ice is beneficial to the turf or if it actually promotes more damage.  Since annual bluegrass is more susceptible to damaged from prolonged ice cover, NSCC's golf course maintenance staff takes a very proactive approach to removing ice from the putting surface during the winter.

Fortunately we have endured our current winter without any periods of prolonged ice coverage.  Instead we have had extended periods of little or no snow coverage and varying temperatures.  Recently we received nearly once inch of rain followed by a rapid decline in temperature.  This scenario can often be problematic.  When temperatures reach unseasonable highs, the grass plants, annual bluegrass in particular, begin to break their dormancy.  Upon breaking dormancy, the turf takes in the available water around it.  As temperatures plummet to the single digits, the water may freeze causing damage or death to the turfgrass plants.  In order to prevent such damage from occurring, the golf course maintenance staff made every effort to remove as much water as possible from the putting surface and low-lying fairway areas.  This practice became more difficult as the rain eventually turned to snow.  Five dedicated maintenance staff employees spent the day in the rain, sleet, and snow removing as much water as possible from NSCC's playing surfaces.

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