BIG:Thoughts on Life and Turfgrass
My Lawn is Brown and Crunchy… Is it Dead? What do I do now?

The first day of summer/longest day of the year for 2012 has come and gone and just this past week a new National Drought Monitor Map was published (see below).  The city of West Lafayette in Tippecanoe County has now fallen into the “Severe Drought” category. In fact 36% of Indiana is now in severe drought, while > 5% (the southwestern counties) are now in “extreme drought”.

Frankly, if you have been paying attention to landscape conditions, it doesn’t take an expert to declare it a severe drought out there. The overall appearance of unirrigated lawns and most turf areas is straw brown and dormant with a “crunchy” leaf canopy. Many of these areas have been that way for several weeks now.

 This newer lawn is very “dormant”, the small green areas are patches of tall fescue that are still surviving and green.

 The dry conditions combined with typical “above average” summer temperatures, > 90 F, have led to a number of people contacting us and asking… “Is my lawn dead?” The answer to this question is complicated, and honestly, it is difficult to truly tell until many of these areas fully rehydrate.  Regardless, we are clearly pushing the edge of the envelope on what many turfgrass species can tolerate. Some of our weaker cool-season lawn grasses like the ryegrasses, annual bluegrass and roughstalk bluegrass (See Images) are most likely not to recover. Other common turfgrasses like Kentucky bluegrass or the fescues are more likely to survive.  If you are fortunate to have a warm-season lawn (e.g. zoysiagrass or bermudagrass) these lawns are likely not dead.

This finer textured patch of turf above is most likely roughstalk bluegrass it will look “dead” but may actually recover, there are still some green shoots.

Relative drought tolerance and irrigation requirement rankings of turfgrass lawn species commonly grown in Indiana.

1. Relative Drought Tolerance

2. Relative Irrigation Requirement

(to look their best)

Turfgrass Lawn Species

Zoysiagrass

Excellent

Low

Bermudagrass

Excellent

Low

Turf-type tall fescue

Very good

Low-Medium

Kentucky bluegrass

Good – Very good

Medium – High

Fineleaf fescue

Good

Low

Perennial ryegrass

Poor - Good

High

Annual bluegrass

Poor

Very high

Roughstalk bluegrass

Poor

Very high

Annual ryegrass

Poor

Very high

The other issue to consider is the maturity of the turf and growing environment. Well maintained, mature lawns with a deep root system will be faring much better than recent plantings. Furthermore, turf growing in severely compacted soils or very coarse textured sandy soils may really struggle and not recover. The driving factors for survival during severe drought have to do with rooting depth and the “reservoir” of available water. Sandy soils have less reserve water than fine textured soils and will need more supplemental irrigation.

Now what???

A friend recently asked me recently what to do about their lawn during these very dry conditions. I told them, honestly we will really just need to wait and see. I told him if he has not been irrigating and the lawn is brown then the plant is likely doing it’s best to conserve moisture during this “survival mode”, protecting the crown or growing point. He said, “So I should just accept “a little bit of brown?”, I responded “accept a whole lot of brown!”

Should I water my lawn?

If you have been regularly watering your lawn you should continue, the turf has been conditioned to this practice and shutting off the water may be damaging to survival. Remember the rule of thumb for lawn irrigation is to “water deeply and infrequently”. In other words, you should not be watering lawn grasses every day but every 3 days or so.

On the other extreme, if you have not been watering your lawn it is probably not worth starting at this point. Allow the turfgrass to remain dormant. There is no guarantee that your lawn will survive these conditions of 2012, but… heavily watering at this time may actually shift the competitive edge toward some of the warm-season grassy (e.g. crabgrass, etc.) and broadleaf weeds that thrive during the summer months. Furthermore, the amount of water to help the turf recover and then continue to sustain healthy growth may be cost prohibitive. Allow the turf to remain dormant, some grasses like Kentucky bluegrass have a dormancy mechanism and regrowth may occur from underground stems/rhizomes when more favorable weather returns. If you feel like you need to do something… applying about ½ inch of water every few weeks to keep the crown alive and hydrated. This will help down the road. The turf leaves will not turn green, but this practice will increase the chance for future survival.  

Light irrigation may help this dormant Kentucky bluegrass survive


Will my lawn recover?

While many lawns might not be “dead”, one major factor that will kill drought stressed turf is when the plant is subject to intense traffic and the crown is damaged. Those areas likely will not recover from that abrasive stress of heavy foot traffic or wheel traffic. Therefore, avoid heavy use during this drought period.

What if I need to replant?

The plus side of all of this is there is a lot of time to plan for a better lawn for the future (generally mid-August is the suggested time to begin turf seeding for the cool-season turf species (e.g. ryegrasses, fescues, bluegrasses). If you lawn does severely thin or large areas do not survive this is a perfect opportunity to replant with an improved species or cultivar/variety.

This area has severely thinned and may require replanting.

One group that I am collaborating with is the Turfgrass Water Conservation Association (TWCA: http://www.tgwca.org/). The stated mission of this organization is “The main goal of the TWCA program is to combat the rising concern of our depleting water resources. To accomplish this goal, the TWCA program is designed to recognize plants and other live goods products in the lawn and garden industry that provide a clear benefit in water conservation. Products that become TWCA qualified will have successfully met a stringent set of criteria.”  In this program we are testing and learning about new varieties of various common lawn grass species that are most drought tolerant.  Several new very drought tolerant cultivars are listed on the program’s website. One characteristic of these varieties compared to prior generations are these grasses are simply are able to retain their green color for a much longer period of time even though they are drought stressed.  Additionally, I participate with another species/cultivar evaluation program, the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) http://www.ntep.org/ This organization also has information regarding the relative drought tolerance of many commercially available cultivars.

If you need to replant immediately, Sodding damaged areas is certainly another option, but the availability of the aforementioned drought tolerant cultivars may be limited. Furthermore, unless it can be regularly watered, it may not survive.

What about fertilizing?

One of the suggested water conservation practices is to stop or reduce (decrease amount) nitrogen fertilization during periods of drought. There is no need to push shoot/leaf growth in the plant when other resources like water are limited. Hence, if your lawn is brown and “crunchy”, certainly do not fertilize at this time.

The partial silver lining…

The upside to this very slow growth and dry conditions is that drought stressed turf does not grow vigorously and thus will require fewer mowings. Furthermore, turfgrass disease incidence is also very low. Consider the current state of your lawn a “more sustainable” turf cover.

Unwinter, Poa seedheads and Growing Degree Days, Oh MY!!!

As the “un-winter of 2011-2012” rapidly winds to a close golf course managers are already bringing their playing surfaces into peak form. For those managing putting surfaces containing annual bluegrass (Poa annua) this means addressing concerns that seedheads are affecting surface smoothness. With the lack of snow cover this past winter, the seedhead season is already off to a rapid start and seedheads in putting green turf are developing quickly! There are several cultural practices that can help minimize seedheads but treatment with a chemical plant growth regulator (PGR) provides the most consistent suppressive results.

Product choices: PGRs have been used for many years and currently there are not many new chemistries on the market. Historically, the most reliable choices have been; mefluidide (Embark or Embark T/O = less formulation) and ethephon (Proxy, several other brand names) or an ethephon + trinexapac-ethyl (TE:Primo Maxx, T-Nex and many other brand names) tank-mix. Mefluidide is normally a one time application thus, proper application timing is essential to success (unfortunately all plants do not produce seedheads at the same time/rate). Many consider it the “gold standard” for seedhead suppression. Any dissatisfaction with this product has been related to the missing the ideal application window and the risk for turf yellowing, particularly for Kentucky bluegrass surrounds. Many managers have moved away from using mefluidide on putting surfaces but it is still frequently used for higher cut fairway turf.
    A popular alternative with very good suppressive properties is the ethephon + TE tank mix. The purported main advantage to the ethephon + TE combination is that the addition of TE with ethephon will minimize the yellowing (a “Granny Smith” apple green color) compared to ethephon applied alone. Additionally, the ethephon + TE combo is involves multiple applications (a second application should occur approximately 21 days following the first) which brackets seedhead development. Thus, many managers report more consistent seedhead suppression with this tank-mix compared to the single mefluidide application.
    The use of other plant growth regulators like paclobutrazol, flurprimidol or TE alone, only slightly suppresses or delays seedhead emergence. These PGRs will not, however, minimize the seedheads to the extent of a mefluidide or ethephon + TE tank-mix. The addition of TE with ethephon also enhances turf color, however, research has shown where ethephon applied alone or tank-mixed with TE significant scalping (Dernoeden and Pigati, 2009) can occur when a TE program is not continued. Another consideration with any of the seedhead products would be the inclusion of a chelated iron source. This will further enhance green color and mask any potential PGR discoloration.
 
Timing: There are a number of managers who still use the “feel”, experience or local knowledge method to determine application timing. Another suggestion has been to initiate a seedhead program based after the second “true” mowing or when the turf is actively growing. While prior experience should still be a part of the decision to initiate, there are also more quantitative methods to help make this decision. Several models are available based on accumulating growing degree days (GDD) or heat units. The GDD models are based on the high and low air temperatures and utilize a “base” temperature. The most common method for calculating GDD is:

GDD = (max temp + min temp)/2 - “base temperature” (normally either 32 or 50 F)

Example: If we had a day with a maximum temperature of 76 and a minimum of 50 and used a base temperature of 50 the calculation would be: GDD = (76 + 50)/2 - 50 = 13, or for this single day 13 GDD. Remember there are no negative GDDs, a negative number is considered a zero and GDDs are summed across time (e.g. GDD day 1 = 3, day 2 = 4, day 3 = 15 would be 22 GDDs). You can do this on your own with a spreadsheet program and the weather data, but in our region (IN, IL, MI, OH) the growing degree day tracker located at www.gddtracker.net is an extremely useful tool that calculates for you.

Differences in base GDD temperatures? In prior years a base temperature of 50 was once used.  Research conducted at Michigan State suggested that the GDD 50 base model often overestimated a few early warm days in the season and due to the higher base temperature and low number of GDD units required to reach the application threshold the model quickly passed the application target range. Thus, the GDD50 model is no longer used and a base temperature of 32 now used for the www.gddtracker.net model.

What to do?  This spring (2012) GDDs have accumulated quite rapidly. The target for initiating an ethephon + TE program is normally between 200 and 250 GDDs, some suggest a specific number 220 and applications will be out of range at 500 GDD. In other words managers that start once 500 GDD accumulate should expect less than satisfactory results.
    For many, in the region it is already time to apply the initial ethephon + TE tank-mix. For example, in Indianapolis this past Sunday (11 March) saw GDD exceed the initial threshold of 200 at 228 GDD and today (15 March) GDDs are predicted to be 320. In Lafayette, the initial threshold was met on Monday (3-12) at 236 GDD and today we will see 300 GDD. Way up north in Bristol the initial threshold will be met today at 212 GDD.
    The take home point is that it is time to start treating for seedheads and as I talk to people in Indiana this initial application is about 11 to 14 days sooner than when they applied last year. The models are tools along with experience and as you gather “quantitative information” for your 2012 agronomic plans don’t forget to check out our tools on the Purdue Turfgrass Web-site www.agry.purdue.edu/turf as well as other online tools like Syngenta’s Pest Outlook Maps http://www.greencastonline.com/tools/PestOutlooks.aspxwww.agry.purdue.edu/turf as well as other online tools like Syngenta’s Pest Outlook Maps http://www.greencastonline.com/tools/PestOutlooks.aspx

Reference:

Dernoeden, P. H., and R. L. Pigati. 2009. Scalping and creeping bentgrass quality as influenced by ethephon and trinexapac-ethyl. [Online]Appl. Turfgrass Sci. p. 1-7.

Winter Fairway Mats

Autumn is certainly in full form here in on the east coast of Scotland… Halloween has passed and over the past few weekends the leaves have fallen off of nearly all of the trees. Half of autumn is over and winter is on it’s way. The change of the calendar to 1 Nov. is a turning point in the golf calendar also for the Links Trust which has moved to “winter-mode” on pretty much all of the courses with the exception of the very short and tame 9-hole Balgove Course generally intended for new and novice players. Although the rootzones of the links courses are mostly well drained and sandy in nature and still prone to “firmer” lies, the purpose of winter-mode is to protect the course from the golfers. In essence, golf is still occurring but because of the cooler temperatures and much shorter days the turf is growing very slowly and not subject to recovery. Thus, any large turf damage that occurs will be very slow to heal prior to next spring (sound familiar to anyone else?). Part of the solution is to golfers and autumn/winter/early spring damage due to divoting is 1. Move the play to “winter tees”

to start each hole and 2. the use of synthetic turf mats in the fairway lies. (On the first tee, each golfer is issued what amounts to a small piece of synthetic turf approximately 15 cm x 12-18 cm long which is then returned after the round in a small wire bin)

I must admit when I first saw these synthetic turf mats I was unsure about how well they would be adopted and the use or performance. As I watched some of the players saunter off into the fairways with their mat in tow it was clear that this culture of winter mat use was no big deal and it was accepted. If it meant less fairway divot issues, better fairway conditions during “prime-time” they seemed all for it… In addition I could see benefits from fewer voids and perhaps even less annual bluegrass issues.

Naturally, I had to “test” ball flight (for research purposes only…) using these mats from fairway conditions (a place where I rarely end up). Now I am far from an “elite” player and as my dear friend the King of Turf Social media can attest I can take a chunk of turf with the best of them, particularly on moist, soft turf in low-lying areas. The mats were essentially like hitting off a synthetic driving range tee but better! The mat stays in place and the shot felt relatively natural, perhaps due to the natural soil and not concrete beneath the synthetic turf.

   

At the end of the day I am now a fan of these mats. Frankly, I think they could be used in many more situations beyond “winter conditions”. I could see clubs encouraging their use during mid-summer when bentgrass fairways are under severe summer stress (have you ever tried to measure how long bentgrass divots take to heal during late-summer?!) or maybe in a time when turf has been replanted/renovated and tender but golfers still want to use the area. Additionally, I could see these as a solution for some of our championship courses in the weeks leading up to a major professional event. My understanding is that the goal of limiting play during this time is to reduce divoting in key areas while still allowing amateur players to experience the venue prior to the event… (anyone remember the little incident at the Olympic Club with Payne Stewart and a fairway divot the last time the U.S. Open was played there?). If you need advice on these mats let me know…

September Sunday maintenance at the Old Course

It is Sunday morning and like most Sunday’s the Old Course is closed for play but not for maintenance. This Sunday is a bit different as the course is getting a bit of an extra buff and polish for the coming week.

This week is the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. An event similar to the A T &T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

This event with leading European Players (and a few token Americans) and some notable Amateurs (Including Huey Lewis?) will be played Thursday thru Sunday over three great True Links golf courses KingsBarns, Carnoustie, and the Old Course. There are Pro-Am teams and Individual Pro competitions. It is a fun event (from what I am told) and a great way to cap off the end of the true golfing season. The winds the trees and smell of the air have autumn in them indeed.

Hope the end of your golf season is going well….

SALTEX and mechanical alternatives to weed control

About two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend SALTEX put on by the IOG (Institute of Groundsmanship) at Windsor Racecourse just outside of London. It was a bit of a train-ride to get there but once I did it was quite impressive, and glad I could get a sense for a bit of the pulse of the industry. There were numerous vendors with equipment and other items for the green industry here in the UK (mowers, rollers, soil preparation and cultivation equipment, and much more!).

A few things stood out to me. First a radio controlled robotic motor. The purpose of this device is to minimize potential operator danger on severe slopes during mowing. There are currently two sizes of the device depending upon size needs.

For the athletic field market a few vendors had various paints, and painting equipment on display. What I thought was really interesting was the laser-line devices to get that nice “crisp” line!



Additionally, with all the concerns with regard to pesticide applications in turf there are a number or vendors marketing devices to mechanically remove weeds from utility turf areas and hardscape. These devices seem a bit aggressive for fine turf areas (maybe a pocket-knife is a better choice!) but still an alternative to pesticides.



Lastly, it was nice to see a bit of home in the group with the Lastec articulating mower from Indiana on display as well.

An eye on Drought in the USA, potential genetic improvements and better cultural management practices on the horizon: Part 2

All this talk of drought and turfgrass brings up a chance to “toot the horn” for one of the warm-season breeding programs. I had a great opportunity to visit with Dr. Paul Raymer last week who in conjunction with the University of Georgia breeding team is working with drought tolerance in bermudagrasses. He showed me some of the things they are working on and a “dry-down” study currently being conducted at the UGA-Griffin research station. In this study they have several bermudagrasses at about 1.5-2 inches under an automatic rainout shelter (see image) to exclude rainfall.

They are measuring soil moisture at multiple depths and evaluating each of the cultivars for their response to drought. There certainly seem to be some winners and losers (stay tuned!). They are also working on grasses like St. Augustinegrass and other species as well.


    For me, it is clear after two years of back to back drought problems, somewhat late in the season that this is most certainly an issue that we as turfgrass scientists need to continue to explore and study for all turfgrasses (cool and warm species). In addition, we need to carefully evaluate our cultural practices and develop more best cultural management practices like Dr. Clint Waltz is doing.

Lots to do!!!

And another cloud pic!

An eye on Drought in the USA, potential genetic improvements and better cultural management practices on the horizon: Part 1

I downloaded and viewed the USA Drought monitor map today (8 Sept.) and was very surprised to see how much of the country is affected by moderate to exceptional drought conditions. The situation is exceptionally bad in Texas, Oklahoma and much of New Mexico and Kansas. By contrast, it seems to be worsening to extreme in places like Georgia and Alabama. In addition in large portions in states like Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Arizona, Kentucky, North and South Carolina and Louisiana are struggling. Even Hawaii is affected! Not paradise for turf apparently…
    For turf managers in my state of Indiana this is two years in a row that turf managers are having mother nature deal some tough cards following a difficult summer. I think these folks deserve “a little something for the effort…” but it does not seem to be happening. Ultimately without adequate soil moisture or the availability of supplemental irrigation all the efforts put into standard cultural practices to help turf be healthy going into winter like fall fertility and replanting/reseeding could be in vain. Hopefully this changes soon. 

Sunset last night above my campus home…

Sunset last night above my campus home…

A “Green” roof and local “rain garden” technology

I had a nice visit with the Old Course golf course manager, Gordon McKie, Friday morning. During our chat, he pointed out a few of the things that he and his staff are doing that I thought were quite creative and I wanted to share.
    One item is a bit new to their facility and is related to their irrigation system (not that they have to supplement rainfall as often as many US turf managers do… but it is nice to have the capacity when you need it). Like all good golf course stewards they are conscious of water use and looking for potential ways to capture unused water to be used when they do actually need it. Currently the water they use is pumped into a large above-ground reservoir adjacent to the maintenance building. At many facilities a pond/lake is the typical reservoir but remember this is “linksland” and the water table is extremely shallow due to the proximity to the North Sea. In addition, here in this part of Scotland several courses struggle with water quality and undesirable water pH (primarily “higher” water pH or > 7.5) issues. Much like many US golf course managers to combat this problem they are acidifying their irrigation water which can be easily done in this type of reservoir. As I mentioned typically this reservoir is filled using deep wells but now they are using an alternative method. They are now set up to capture all the water off the maintenance facility roof (see photo gutters are run directly to the reservoir). When I saw it I thought that was as they say over here “Just Brilliant !”. Now it is all very new in the process but still seems like lots of potential there for some operational savings.
   

Now you may wonder why I titled this “green roof and rain gardens”. Although the maintenance facility has a “green painted” roof it is not technically a true green roof (I will save that topic for a future update). But their reservoir of captured water sure seems like a rain garden to me!


    Traffic management: Like many heavily used “daily-fee” courses (it is hard to believe that the Old Course is essentially a public or Muni but it truly is and that is another reason it is so great), traffic on the practice green adjacent to the first tee is very difficult to manage at times. One thing the staff has implemented over the years to manage golfers and the walk on/walk off traffic is an array of rather classy looking removable fencing (see photo). The openings in the fence are moved to as needed and this helps to spread the wear and manage golfer use/traffic. Will keep you posted on more things as time goes along…. 

And again… a wonderful cloud photo…

So was walking over at my son’s middle school and one of the kids asked “Who do you think you are? Miradona or something?!” @AdamMoeller #oldshoolfutbol