The winter of 2013/2014 has delivered historic snowfall, temperature and mixed rain events. As I have previously mentioned in earlier blog entries and newsletter articles; an insulating snow cover affords the golf course turf the best scenario for successfully surviving the winter. The use of heavy snow blowing equipment has enabled the Grounds staff access to the golf course to both work and observe winter conditions. In surveying the golf course, the following list details primary areas of concern for winter damage along with the current status of LHCC:
- Snow Mold Fungi – There are primarily two types of snow mold fungi which can present problems to turfgrass. “Pink Snow Mold” prefers no snow cover and is active when moisture and temperatures rise just above freezing. “Grey Snow Mold” prefers extended periods of dense snow cover. The Grounds staff preventively treat for both types of snow mould fungi through the use of plant protectants in late fall. These materials discourage activity of both types of fungi. We have not found any fungal activity on the greens, tees and fairways, however, the duration of plant protection is limited and we will monitor the turf conditions in the coming weeks.
- Desiccation – This type of winter injury is associated with exposure of turf to cold, drying winter winds. The extent of damage is dependent upon location of the green and duration of exposure. Prior to winter a layer of sand topdressing was applied to all greens to help protect the plants from this type of injury. In addition, Mother Nature has provided a natural blanket of snow cover this winter.
- Ice Cover – Since dormant turfgrass plants require both oxygen and the ability to release carbon dioxide, a prolonged, thick ice cover poses the greatest risk for winter turfgrass damage. The two pre-dominate turfgrass species found on LHCC’s greens, tees, and fairways, Creeping Bentgrass and Annual Bluegrass, are quite different in their ability to tolerate ice cover. Research shows a great variance in survival duration anywhere from 30 to 120 days. Bentgrass can survive over 90 days of continuous ice cover while Annual Bluegrass can be completely killed in as little as only 30 days. It is important to note that not all ice is the same. For example if we received a couple of inches of rain on a warm day, then the night time temperature dropped significantly, a hard, impermeable layer of sheet ice would be formed. This type of ice presents the largest potential for turfgrass suffocation. The ice which can be currently found throughout the grounds at LHCC has not formed in this manner; rather was formed by a rain event on top of thawing snow, and has not been frozen by a quick freeze. Air bubbles are abundant throughout most ice, indicating that gas exchange is quite possible.
The precipitation event above occurred over two days with temperatures just above freezing producing over 20mm of rainfall. The rain fell on an existing snow pack and penetrated to the frozen ground below resulting in slush and ice formation. Ice cover and Crown Hydration can produce catastrophic losses to turfgrass. The following link from Michigan State describes various factors influencing “Winter Injury”.
- Freeze-thaw Cycles – These cycles are most damaging when they occur in the late winter months. Once the turfgrass plants begin to awaken, the tender new plants are very susceptible to crown hydration and freeze injury. The plants imbibe water and a sudden drop in temperatures can actually rupture the plant’s cell walls causing immediate death. While we can’t control the weather, the best we can do is manipulate the plants growing environment and provide appropriate nutrition to help the plants store enough carbohydrate reserves to remain viable throughout the winter.
As you can see, the golf course is an active place during the winter months, even though the plants are not actively growing. While all necessary preventative measures were put in place last fall, the LHCC Grounds team have been diligently monitoring the greens surfaces. Following is a picture showing turf plugs awakening after varying durations of ice encasement. These samples were brought indoors to de-harden and initiate new growth. To date all samples have shown signs of life without the smell of toxic gas which is an indicator of the presence of methane. It should be noted we are now beyond 45 days of ice cover with extended cold temperatures forecast for the coming week.
Seen below; the Grounds staff over the past 10 days have taken advantage of sub-zero temperatures to gain access and use heavy equipment, tractors and snow blowers in removing over 20 inches of snow cover from 4 acres of greens surfaces; including the opening of multiple surface channels to expedite rain and surface runoff from the forecasted warm-up and rainfall. An insulating layer of fresh snow, crushed snow and ice however, remained prior to yesterday’s rain event as next weeks’ temperatures are forecast to be well below normal.
An opportunity to remove the ice cannot present itself soon enough, as the “clock is ticking” and the turfgrass plants are working on a finite amount of carbohydrate reserves. The Grounds staff will be monitoring the winter weather daily and will act at the soonest available opportunity. As mentioned earlier, a prolonged stretch of above freezing temperatures are required to both assist in removing the ice layer while providing tolerable survival air temperatures.
All cultural practices will be carried out in such a way as to minimize the impact to membership with the ultimate goal of providing superior, healthier putting surfaces.