September may seem early to start thinking about putting your greens to bed for the winter, but as we all know planning and preparation are vital for good turfgrass management. Here in Ireland and the UK, despite just experiencing the hottest September week on record, the trees are starting to indicate that Fall is on the way, and with that many turf managers need to start preparations for the winter ahead.
In temperate areas preparing greens for winter involves ensuring your greens are healthy, with suitable nutrient and disease-control measures in place which allow play right through the winter.
More extreme climates require more extreme preparations:
- It’s essential to ensure there’s enough nutrient-availability to survive the duration of the winter.
- A relevant fungicide program, applied prior to the start of inclement weather, is vital.
- Protect greens during extreme weather conditions by covering them with either sand or golf green covers to induce a greenhouse effect, keeping ground temperatures warmer than the surrounding air temperature.
- Monitor the soil moisture levels and if possible, use a surfactant program to ensure a healthy return of your turf for the spring.
How you prepare your greens for winter varies significantly with where your facility is located. In temperate climates where courses and greens stay in play through the winter, preparing our greens for winter involves:
Raise mowing heights:
Increasing leaf surface area by raising mowing heights helps putting green turf generate and store energy for overwintering and reduces turf stress.
Evaluating winter sunlight penetration:
Turfgrass needs sunlight during Fall, light levels have a significant impact on turfgrass quality and development and is important for the acclimation of grass plants to winter stresses.
Inadequate light can lead to weakened swards with poor root systems and reduced reserves of energy, which means slow recovery from wear, winter injury and disease.
Ensuring adequate nutrition:
Nutritional inputs at this time of year focus on turf health and not top growth! Numerous programs are available which have proven success in ensuring healthy turf with good resistance to disease and abiotic stress. Apart from low N inputs, programs which contain Potassium, Manganese, Zinc, Phosphite, Calcium, Sulphur, Iron and Silica have all proven effective in this regard.
As well as nutritional inputs mentioned above, turf managers try to influence all factors which reduce the microclimate conducive to disease development.
Dew removal is vital as leaf wetness is a key factor for infection and regular rolling has also proven abilities in helping to suppress infection.
In cooler geographic areas, including parts of the US and Canada, the extreme weather conditions necessitates that courses must close for months on end. In addition to the points mentioned above, part of the winter preparations includes ‘putting your greens to bed’.
It is vital that turf managers begin preparing greens for winter before it is too late in the season and thereby reduce the risk of winter injury but also improve springtime playing conditions.
Many greens become dormant during this extreme cold period, and often experience long periods of snow cover, however, they still need nutrients to remain healthy. It’s essential to ensure there’s enough nutrient availability to survive the duration of the winter. The nutrients will be stored in the roots, lowering the risk of starvation. Fertilizing prior to winter not only helps keep the turf alive throughout, but also facilitates a flush of healthy, early spring growth.
A relevant fungicide program, applied prior to the start of inclement weather, is especially important if your greens will be inaccessible to sprayers during significant periods of time.
Greens covered with snow or protective covers create ideal conditions conducive for snow mold to thrive. The type and availability of fungicides will vary according to legislative location.
If you can’t spray fungicides beforehand, you risk coming face to face with a dead green when the covers finally come off.
In many regions, it is common practice to protect greens by covering them with either sand or golf green covers. The goal of covering the greens is firstly, to protect turf from cold, dry winter winds, which can lead to desiccation, and secondly, to prevent the formation of ice on the greens surface.
Prior to deciding whether to cover your greens the following factors should be considered:
- What is the frequency and severity of cold temperature injury on your golf course?
- What is the predominant grass species and is it susceptible to winter injury?
- What is the expected average low temperature?
- Are the surfaces open or protected by continuous snow cover?
- Are resources available to purchase, install and manage cover systems throughout winter?
Sand is often used to protect greens and involves late-season top-dressing applied to the greens after they have received their final snow mold treatments and before the first significant snowfall. The aim is to protect the crowns and when applying sand for this purpose it makes sense to apply less rather than too much! It’s easier to apply more if required than trying to remove excessive amounts. Avoid burying greens to the point that foliage disappears as overabundant applications can migrate down slopes and accumulate in low spots to the point that it smothers turf.
Golf green covers:
Using golf green covers provides several benefits. Strong, cold winds can become a significant problem during winter, drying up the air, which in turn can cause damage to the greens. Covers also reduce ice build-up and winter kill and can enable greens to become playable earlier in Spring. In an industry where time is money, being able to open a week earlier in the Spring can be hugely beneficial.
If your greens are accessible through winter, it is a good idea to monitor the soil moisture levels. Maintaining a record of these levels can help combat winter injury in the future by allowing you to build a site history.
Rootzone moisture can be influenced by regular applications of surfactants, this will promote drier and firmer surfaces, ensure water movement through the profile, prevent dry down and hydrophobicity, increase photosynthesis and other metabolic functions as well as assisting with the uptake of nutrients.
There is no way to control what the winter season has in store for your turf, but you can take precautionary measures and be best prepared.