Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Winter Preparation

As Michigan gears up for winter, golf course superintendents are doing the same.  An important aspect of turf management is preparing the grass for the extreme climate changes of winter (freeze/thaw cycles and heavy snow fall).  There are many different tasks that are part of winterizing a course and the major ones that da' Brook performs are explained in the following article.

Dormant Feeding:
Dormant feeding is an important element in this preparation.  It entails a heavy rate of solid fertilizer applied to specific areas of the course.  MCC applies a granular fertilizer to its tees and fairways at a rate of 350lbs of product per acre.  The fertilizer formulations for dormant feeding usually include a small amount of nitrogen coupled with a large amount of potash (Potassium).  Potassium is an important plant nutrient at this time of year because it provides strength to cell walls.  Long periods of cold temperatures or abrupt freezes and thaws are extremely detrimental to the turf.  Ice crystals, formed by cold temperatures can puncture cell walls in a weakened condition.  During a thaw, the plant can actively take up water, hydrating the turf.  The water will than freeze puncturing cell membranes from the inside, which will result in the death of the cell.  This process in known as crown hydration, and while not completely unavoidable, dormant feeding does provide some relief from it. 
The summer of 2011 left its mark on some of the fairways, in the form of voids or bare spots in the turf.  The crew hopes that the dormant feed will assist in the recovery of these spots before the snowfall and carry the benefits into the spring.

Snow Mold Control:
The biggest threat to turfgrass during the winter from a disease standpoint are the snow molds; Pink and Gray.  Pink snow-mold is the most common in Michigan (Gray requires a long, heavy snow-cover that southeastern Michigan does not see consistently) and before the snow comes, superintendents try to spray the vital areas of the course with fungicides.  The norm for snow mold prevention and control has become a combination of products that contain active ingredients from different chemical families.  On a side note, PCNB, a very effective fungicide for snow mold applications was taken off the market to edit it's EPA Label.  It recently has re-entered the market and superintendents are thankful for its return. 

Winterizing the Irrigation System:
To avoid pipe and sprinkler head damage brought on by water expansion during freezing, the irrigation system of golf courses are winterized in late fall.  This entails the shut down of the pump house and the use of a large air compressor to blow the remaining water out of the lines.  The irrigation lines themselves contain thousands of gallons of water but with the use of the large compressor and experience of the first assistant and irrigation tech, the task can be completed in a day.  This is also an excellent time to check sprinkler heads for malfunctions (with thousands of yards of pipes, wire and numerous sprinkler heads it stands to reason that something might go unnoticed). 

Winter Covers/Green Winter Preparation:
Meadowbrook CC is in the process of trying a new management practice in regards to prepping the greens for winter.  Instead of aerifying the greens in early fall, the crew waited until mid-November.  The greens were topdressed heavily with over a quarter inch of sand than aerified, leaving a large amount of sand on the greens surface.  The theory is that the surface sand will provide some insulation/protection to the green during the winter months and the aerification holes will aid in removing water from the greens surface, which can damage turf when it freezes. 
Due to the orientation of some greens, more protection is needed.  Greens that are exposed to northern winds or heavy snowfall are covered with bubble wraps and heavy tarps.  The bubble wraps are similar to the packing material and allow for air exchange between the green surface and atmosphere (to prevent the build up of toxic gases).  The heavy tarps are placed on top of the bubble wrap and protect the green from winds, snowfall and surface water.  The combination of these two is an effective mechanical practice in preventing winter damage. 

Everything the crew does at this time of year is geared towards having a healthy golf course come spring.  Hitting the ground running in late March and April is a huge advantage when the golf season starts.  We hope the members have a pleasant winter and happy holidays.  Enjoy.

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