Golf course management is a year-round job, however, as we head into the fall season, unique problems face superintendents that will affect their turf for the next 12 months. The work undertaken in fall can ensure that turf stays healthy throughout the year, and effective management ahead of winter can set your course up for a successful season.
Each course is different, and superintendents must prepare to be flexible with their treatments. This is also true when it comes to weather conditions that drastically vary across North America – conditions in the winter can range from thick snow in Canada to warmth across the Southern United States, while areas around the Rocky Mountains could fluctuate considerably from one day to the next. Different areas will experience different conditions, and turf treatments should reflect this.
Course management is not an exact science, so it’s important to assess the turf and adapt the program before applying any treatments. However, there are some key ideas to consider as we head into fall that should be at the forefront of superintendents’ thoughts at this time of year.
Go in green, come out clean
Heading into fall, superintendents must ensure that their turf is in good shape, as if they go into this period green, there will be improved results come the spring. This proactive approach to turf management includes one or two fall treatments that can delay the plant entering its winter dormancy. These applications can be combined with snow mold spray or other preventative measures that normally take place and can help keep the turf healthier heading in to November and December.
In addition to delaying the turf’s dormancy, a late fall application of a plant protection product will ensure that the greens will begin to grow earlier in spring, allowing superintendents to get out onto the course earlier than they would otherwise be able to. This means that courses will be able to open earlier than previous seasons, or look like they are further along in their spring maintenance program.
Extending the growing season can be beneficial for the turf, especially as many high-elevation areas have very short growing seasons. The extended period allows for the greens aesthetics to be improved earlier and means that recovery will improve from any damage, making the turf more durable. While superintendents are naturally enthusiastic to work on their greens in the spring, they must ensure that the turf is primed and out of dormancy before work begins – and the most efficient way to get it ready earlier is to carry out treatments in the fall.
The fall season also presents superintendents with a change to the climate that can leave their turf susceptible to diseases. During the plants dormancy period it’s unable to naturally outgrow disease, but often freezing conditions can stop fungi from growing, whereas greens are often at their most vulnerable in the “in-between” stage (during fall) and therefore require careful management. While warm-season grasses should not be fertilized in the fall, cool-season turf requires greater attention and fertilizer applications as we move towards winter to control the development of diseases that thrive in damp conditions.
Keeping the turf healthy throughout the off-season is crucial to ensure that disease does not emerge in spring when temperatures increase. Superintendents must still be wary of common cold-season diseases, especially in northern areas that experience heavy snowfall. Pink and grey snow molds can develop under a blanket of snow, and while the turf will often repair itself, it’s important to carefully manage fertilizer applications – too much nitrogen, for example, can lead to pink snow mold, while piling snow in sensitive areas will also encourage the development of disease.
Heading into winter
How turf will cope during the winter months will be a constant consideration for superintendents during fall. Traditionally, ensuring that the crown of the turf is protected has been determined as crucial regardless of whether you are experiencing extremely cold conditions or temperature fluctuations.
There are many treatments that can help during this dormant time, including potassium fertilizers that build up the turfs carbohydrate reserve, ensuring that there is enough starch in the plant to combat disease or damage. A natural approach to carbohydrate build-up involves drying the turf during the fall months, and by doing this, the grass is encouraged to store starch to protect itself for periods of dormancy.
Winter treatment methods do vary depending on location of course – winter conditions in Quebec are unrecognizable compared to those in Texas, so it’s important to remain flexible when planning your winter strategy. In the Northern United States and Canada, winters can bring extreme conditions, with snow, ice and low temperatures. Here, using covers is a common method to harden up the plant, and in areas of heavy snowfall, superintendents will be doing whatever they need to so that their turf survives. Heavy top dressing is effective at protecting the turfs crown, and in extremely harsh conditions, sand can also be used as a protective layer.
Further south, fall and winter is less about survival, as the turf can continue to grow for some periods. Superintendents in the Southern United States will, therefore often raise their mowing height during the fall, meaning there is more leaf plate available to help the plant grow. While superintendents should keep turf at the correct length, raising the mowing height – even slightly – will increase the amount of tissue available, promoting growth even during late fall and winter.
But it’s important to be flexible, as preparing for the worst-case scenario is not always preferable. Using covers on warm weather turf and cutting putting greens so short that a root system cannot properly grow are examples of mismanagement. Instead, superintendents should retain the ability to tolerate fluctuations and be quick to adapt to changes throughout the seasons.
The variety of conditions across the continent means that you cannot prescribe one strategy to all golf courses across North America. However, heading into fall superintendents’ mindsets should shift as they begin to think about seasonal change.
The most important factor is that the course is in good shape the following year, which can be ensured by applying fall treatments of plant protection products such as CIVITAS TURF DEFENSE. These treatments delay the turfs dormancy and allow superintendents to get out on the course earlier in the spring. It’s crucial to remember to protect the turf during winter, as cold conditions and disease are a real danger to turf health, which is why planning the off-season strategy in advance, is so important. By planning the appropriate IPM (integrated pest management) program throughout the fall and winter, superintendents can ensure their turf will be in great shape for golfers in the new season.
Bradley Sladek is Technical Services Advisor at Intelligro http://www.intelligro.com/Home/default.aspx