Saturday, April 19, 2014

Frank Beckmann podcast with Dr. Kevin Frank of Michigan State University

Dr. Kevin Frank and Frank Beckmann had a very interesting talk on the radio recently regarding the state of the golf courses in the Metro-Detroit area.  The following video has that podcast along with a slideshow depicting the conditions here at Meadowbrook CC.  Enjoy. 


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Homeowners Lawn Care Update

Tri-Turf, a distributor of chemicals, seed and various lawn care products located in Farmington Hills is again offering a spring time sale on seasonal fertilizers and pesticides.  As usual, if the members mention Meadowbrook CC they will receive a $1 off a bag.  After a grisly winter like the one we just endured, getting your lawn as healthy as possible before summer is important for it's survival, let alone the aesthetics.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Green Recovery

The 15th green did not handle the winter well.  Similar in condition is the 17th green, with over 80% of the green surface dead or in a very precarious condition.  Several other greens sustained injury in the 25-70% range.  Even some of the covered greens show signs of injury but this was namely due to trees that shade the green surface and do not allow snow or ice to thaw. 
The recovery process will be trying and the crew has their work cut out for them and unfortunately for golfers, the use of temporary greens will be necessary to allow the greens to recuperate.  Recovery from a winter like this is a slow process, and one that is detailed below. 

  1. Verticutting- Developing a good seed bed is key for seed germination, and the crew aggressively verticut the damaged greens.  Seed to soil contact is necessary for germination.
    2. Seeding- Creeping bentgrass seed is applied at a heavy rate.  Some of this seed is expected to
        fill in these damaged areas but poa annua seed already present in the green will do the same.

    3.  Aerifying- Not a typical aerification, but a light one intended to push the seed into further
         contact with the soil. 

     4.  Rolling- Once again, just another way to ensure more seed to soil contact with the added
          benefit of smoothing the green. 

      5.  Fertilization- A fertilizer application is made to provide adequate fertility for damaged plants
           and seedlings alike.
      6.  Irrigation- Seed needs water to germinate and granular fertilizer has to be watered in so the
           irrigation system is already being utilized. 

After all this, the greens are recovered with tarps to trap heat and warm the soil.  The weather is starting to turn favorably for golf during the day but night temperatures still fall close or below freezing.  Young and damaged plants do not tolerate these low temperatures well making the covers necessary.  Luckily, these covers are permeable to sunlight and water so they do not have to be removed each day. 

Areas on fairways and tees suffered injury as well and the focus will swing to these areas soon, but greens have to be the priority.  The blog will continue to be utilized to keep the membership as updated as possible in regards to the recovery of these greens so please stay tuned. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ice Damage and the Potential for Winterkill II

All over the Midwest, the question on every superintendent's mind seems to be, "what conditions will my greens be in coming out of winter?"  One can speculate all they want but there is a way to at least predict the amount of turf loss when the snow thaws and temperatures warm.  Pulling plugs from dormant greens and bringing them inside to break dormancy is a useful procedure used by superintendents for decades to see what they will be dealing with in the spring. 
Of the 20 putting surfaces at MCC, 8 are covered with the combination of bubble wrap and heavy tarps.  These covers have been, for the most part, completely successful in eliminating winterkill from these greens.  Notably, these greens have been the most problematic in the past and need this extra protection even during the average winter. The remaining 12 greens were sampled for turf recovery.  Two cores were taken from each green, in areas prone to winter damage (based on past experience).  The depth of the cores varied despite trying to keep them at a consistent two inches.  A grow lamp was utilized as well, set for a 12 hour cycle. 

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 6

As the pictures depict, the majority of the plugs show recovery and growth after only 6 days.  Weakened and dead plugs consistently had over 2 inches of dense ice formation, leading the crew to believe that these conditions are conducive to winterkill, obviously over extended periods of time.   The following table shows all the data collected from the greens during this process.  Depth of ice cover was an average taken from both sites of samples on each green but a special note was made if one of the plugs was underneath +2" of ice. 

While these sample results are promising, it is important to note that the greens are still under ice cover, and the potential for turf death only increases every day they are under ice.  Also of concern are the cold temperatures predicted into April.  Crown hydration and ice formation are still a real concern with the amount of water that could potentially sit on the green surface.  To limit the amount of water settling on these susceptible plants, the crew is removing the snow from all uncovered greens but even this presents the possibility of damage (weight on the green surface can crush the ice into the plant leaf blades and crown).  That being said, the dangers posed by crown hydration are greater than the risks associated with snow removal. In conclusion, while the majority of the plugs survived, it is important to remember that this isn't completely representative of what will happen in the spring.   We are not out of the woods yet by any means so please keep those fingers crossed and send the course some positive vibes.  Enjoy. 

Snow removal on the 16th Green

Snow removal on the 12th Green

Snow removal on the practice putting green required the use of the tractor

Monday, March 3, 2014

Continuing Education

On the 26th of February, the assistant superintendents attended the Spring Management Meeting put on by the MiGCSA at the Inn at St. Johns.  The meeting boasted lectures on various topics and a chance to network and discuss current events and problems faced by other maintenance crew's around the Detroit area.  Topics discussed include:
  • Research updates concerning the myths and misconceptions about the fungal disease Pythium
  • The use of blogs and other social media software as tools for communications with customers or members
  • Methods to achieve success in the interview process
  • Techniques for making pesticide applications more efficient and effective
  • Ice formation and the potential for winter kill (the hot topic of the meeting)
  • Administrative announcements having to do with the different turf organizations present in Michigan
While everyone at these education conferences have completed their schooling, none have finished learning.  The turf industry, like other industries, constantly changes due to economic climates, changing weather patterns and environmental issues to name just a few factors.  New technologies, chemistries and cultural practices are being researched and developed every year and to stay current, these educational meetings are necessary.  The Michigan Golf Course Superintendent Association and the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation not only provide funding for research but create a knowledgeable network for superintendents to utilize.  The crew at MCC would like to thank the MiGCSA and the MTF for it's continued commitment to turf managers across the state.  Enjoy. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What Lies Beneath?

Pulled from the blog Turf Tips and Clippings at

Dr. Kevin W. Frank
Associate Professor & Extension Turfgrass Specialist
Michigan State University

Some might remember 'What Lies Beneath' as the title of a horror movie but currently ice is a real life potential horror for golf course superintendents worried about winterkill. 

Weather Scenario
The winter of 2013-2014 will be remembered for many years to come. The first significant event was the ice storm of Dec. 21-22 that knocked out power for thousands and coated everything, included exposed turf, with a perfect coating of ice. 
Tall fescue encased in ice.
Most turf areas were covered with snow prior to the icing event and as the rain percolated through the snow it formed a very porous, crusty ice-snow layer.  This type of ice-snow layer is not a concern for turfgrass as it is porous and allows for gas exchange from the turf/soil interface to the atmosphere.

Two inch porous snow-ice layer + 1 in. snow on top.
Five days after the ice storm (Dec. 27) temperatures at the Hancock Turfgrass Research Center (HTRC) warmed to 38 °F and were accompanied by 0.15 in. of rain. On Dec. 28 and 29 temperatures were above 40 °F.  The warm temperatures resulted in melting and I believe this is when the first ice layer formed.  On Dec. 30 temperatures dropped and we all learned what a Polar Vortex meant as day time high temperatures were in the single digits and nighttime lows were well below 0 °F.  The Vortex combined with a foot or more of snow closed MSU for Jan. 6 and 7 but by Friday Jan. 10 the HTRC recorded a daytime high temperature of 38 °F and by Jan. 13 the high temperature was 44 °F.  This resulted in another melting event and another ice forming event as temperatures in the day melted snow and nighttime temperatures refroze any remaining water.   Some superintendents that were clearing snow from putting greens throughout the winter may have been successful at removing any ice that existed or formed during these melts.  However, depending on available labor and equipment many superintendents are not able to constantly remove snow during the winter so ice formation is inevitable. Since the melting ended on Jan. 13-14 the temperatures have been well below the point where any further melting would occur.  Not every green at the HTRC is covered in ice but at least one poorly draining Poa annua putting green is now covered in a 1-2 inch ice sheet.  I believe this ice sheet initially formed during the Dec. 28-29 melt so as of today (Jan. 29) the Poa has been under ice for 31 days.   
Two inch ice sheet on Poa annua green at HTRC.

Ice Sheets
In Michigan especially for Poa annua greens, crown hydration and subsequent refreezing are often the primary culprits of winterkill. However, this year ice sheets are a cause for concern.  In the 1960’s James B Beard conducted research at MSU on survival of creeping bentgrass and Poa annua under ice sheets.  Creeping bentgrass survived 120 days of ice cover without significant injury while annual bluegrass was killed somewhere between 75 and 90 days of ice cover. More recently Darrell Tompkins conducted research at the Prairie Turfgrass Research Center in Canada that suggested Poa annua greens could be damaged in as few as 45 days under ice.  The primary cause of death to turfgrass under ice sheets is most likely from toxic gas accumulation under the ice sheet from soil and turfgrass respiration.  The day estimates for turf survival are just that, estimates, use them as a guide but know that they are not absolutes.

Remove Ice?
Whether or not to attempt ice removal is a difficult decision for golf course superintendents.  The decision to remove ice can be based on several factors including: turf sampling, duration of ice cover, current and future temperatures, ability to remove water following melting from the green, and labor.
1. Sampling – Bob Vavrek from the USGA recently posted a great YouTube video on how to sample greens under ice to assess survival.  An important point that Bob makes is that there is variability in sampling and just because your sample comes out alive doesn’t mean all areas on the green will survive – same can be said if your sample is dead.   
2. Duration of ice cover – as discussed in the previous section, estimates of days of ice cover causing death vary from 45-90 for Poa annua and 120 days for creeping bentgrass.  At this point I’m less concerned for creeping bentgrass surfaces as I’d expect significant melting before we reach a 120 day threshold as this would be well into April.  Poa annua is less certain as at the HTRC we will approach 45 days under ice cover by mid-February.  Check your calendar and start counting. 
Ice sheet at HTRC, 31 days and counting.
3. Temperatures – our 10 day forecast does not look good for trying to remove ice as day time high temperatures are forecast in the teens to low 20's with nighttime lows in the single digits.  Part of the concern with removing ice is exposing the turf to cold air temperatures after being insulated with snow and ice since mid-December.  In the past, some superintendents have removed ice and then recovered the greens with snow to provide insulation against cold temperatures. 
4. Physical ice removal – physical ice removal includes practices to fracture the ice with impact (hammers, chisels, aerifiers, slicers) and then remove the fractured ice sheet with shovels, tractors, or skid steers.  I recommend avoiding direct impact with tools such as hammers to less impact concentrated equipment such as slicers and aerifiers.  There’s always some risk associated with impact related ice removal but the alternative of leaving ice in place and rolling the dice on survival is also risky. 
Damage from a hammer used to crack ice.
5. Melting ice – there are many different products that have been used to melt ice including black sand, dark colored natural organic fertilizers, and synthetic fertilizers.  The key to any melting strategy is to be able to remove the water from the green following melting so it doesn’t refreeze and form another ice sheet. We will be testing products to melt ice at the HTRC in cooperation with researchers from the Univ. of Minnesota in the coming weeks.     
6. Labor – if you’re going to remove ice you need help.  Ice removal is not a 1-person job. If your golf course has 18 greens covered in ice even with several employees this is not a one day job. 

No Guarantees
Unfortunately there are no guarantees with respect to winterkill and whether or not ice is removed.  The days under ice cover for survival are estimates from research and conditions from course to course and even within the same course vary thereby effecting how long turf can survive under ice.  It’s already been a long hard winter and let’s all hope our turf survives so it’s not a long hard spring reestablishing grass. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ice Formation and the Potential for Winter Damage

Thirty-nine inches of snow have fallen in the Detroit area so far this season which is double the normal amount.  While this makes tree removals and pruning difficult, it doesn't pose that much of a threat from an agronomic standpoint.  Of real concern is the 1" of rain Northville received two weeks ago.  When this precipitation reached the ground after working through the snow layer and temperatures dropped below freezing (which occurred two days after the rain) ice was observed on the surface of the greens. 
This type of weather can lead to winter damage on greens, usually in two different ways (specific to MCC, winter damage in general can occur in a variety of ways).  The first of these poses a very serious threat because of our grass type.  Poa annua can and will break dormancy at the first sign of higher temperatures.  Breaking dormancy mid-winter is dangerous, plants will uptake water and when the inevitable freeze occurs, this moisture will freeze within the plant, forming ice crystals that will puncture cell walls and membranes and result in plant death.  Readers might be familiar with this process already, known as crown hydration.
The other way winter damage is suspected to occur at MCC is by ice build-up on the green surface.  If ice forms thick and dense enough it can create an impermeable layer to gases.  Turf can than be susceptible to anoxia (unlikely, dormant plants need minimal oxygen) or the accumulation of toxic gases given off by cold weather fungi and bacteria. 

Ice on the 17th green appears to be porous, hopefully allowing for air movement
Thicker ice forming on the 15th green
Minimal ice formation on the practice putting green
Winter damage, and the ways it occurs, is problematic to research.  Particularly in Michigan where cold season weather can vary so much.  Poa annua can survive under dense ice cover but not indefinitely (approximately 60 days according to Dr. James Beard of Michigan State University, 1964).  In comparison, creeping bentgrass can survive much longer under these same conditions.  We appreciate any winter sport enjoying members to please not cross greens or tees when at MCC and all members to keep their fingers crossed for minimal winter damage when the snow clears.  Stay warm and enjoy.