The busy summer season is coming to an end, temperatures are falling, all the major club competitions are done, there’s less golf being played, so greenkeepers can start to take it easy.
Fall is a big turning point for most turfgrass managers, and these are some of the most crucial months of the year for golf course maintenance.
The Fall period with its reduced level of play and favorable growing conditions after the summer stress, allows turfgrass managers to focus on preparing for the approaching winter challenges. Simply put, it’s a time to repair and recover after the stress of Summer but also crucially, to prepare your course for the challenge of Winter and ensure it is in good shape for the following Spring.
The tasks required for this depend on turfgrass species, geographic location, and prevailing climatic conditions.
Raise mowing heights.
One of the first things to consider doing is raising the height of cut on your surfaces. This gives increased leaf surface area, which in turn helps turfgrass generate and store energy for overwintering, as well as reducing stress. Stressed turfgrass is more susceptible to Winter injury than healthy turf! And the turfgrass has adequate carbohydrate stores to call on in Spring.
Control traffic around the course.
Controlling traffic on the course at this time is very important, as divots, ball marks, and heavy traffic can damage turf. Grass grows more slowly in the Fall so it is important to get golfers to avoid wear and tear on the course as much as possible.
Turf that is going dormant is much more susceptible to damage.
During Fall, as the need for summer maintenance, such as mowing reduces, greenkeepers will have time on their hands to concentrate on other tasks. This is a good time to carry out tasks that are stressful operations for the turf, such as core aeration, scarifying and topdressing – work that might disrupt the surfaces. You have got your main playing season out of the way, so surfaces don’t have to be perfect.
Core Aeration is an excellent procedure during this period to relieve surface compaction following a busy season of foot traffic, machinery pressure, and accumulations of excessive thatch. The conditions at this time of year allow for excellent recovery and the surfaces will be better able to withstand the coming challenges. Bear in mind it’s important to consider the roots as well as the above-ground appearance of your turfgrass.
Interseeding: Fall is also a great time if you’ve got areas you need to seed, or if you need to introduce new turf species or cultivars, as the still warm soil temperatures allow for rapid germination and the daylight hours still give time for the work to be completed. A point to consider however, is that some industry experts contend seeding at this time of year can cause conflict between grasses in the spring, as they vie for the same water and nutrients.
Reduce shade by thinning canopies or removing trees, light is important for the acclimation of grass plants to winter stresses, turfgrass growing in shaded conditions during Fall will be poorly acclimated and less Winter stress tolerant. Inadequate light can lead to weakened swards with poor root systems and reduced reserves of energy. Turfgrass will be slower to recover from wear and Winter injury, biotic challenge, and does not have the carbohydrate reserves to call on when Spring arrives.
Nutritional inputs at this time of year should focus on turf health and not top growth! Avoid excessive nitrogen applications! 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. Remember turfgrass that goes into Winter weak won’t come out any stronger!
Another crucial step turf managers should take in the Fall is to manage disease. Diseases such as Microdochium Patch thrive in mild and damp Fall conditions and can be a major problem. Later in Winter Snow molds can cause significant damage in areas with prolonged snow cover.
Fall is when you need to prepare your turf using an integrated approach which encompasses cultural controls and defense activators, with fungicides (if available) applied as part of a targeted preventative program.
Winterise your golf course irrigation system.
One of the most important Fall maintenance items is to winterise your irrigation system. Forgetting to do so can be a costly mistake. Golf course irrigation systems must be completely purged of water to prevent freezing over the winter. The purging process often takes a few days to complete so make sure you plan out the timing accordingly.
Construction projects are often initiated at the beginning of Fall, many will undertake drainage upgrades, construction of tees, pathways, and bunkers etc. This is when ground conditions are still dry and firm, and the threat of heavy frost is slight, so heavy loads of material, or big machines, can be used without significant damage.
Deciduous demands! In many locations Fall brings the dreaded leaf fall! Raking and leaf removal can be a huge part of course maintenance requiring many man hours. Total leaf removal is next to impossible, but leaf blowers and rakes can keep the course playable and aesthetically pleasing.
Main aims of Fall maintenance.
Fall is an ideal time to not only repair the stress damage of a busy summer and to restore the vigor of turfgrass, but vitally, to prepare it for the Winter ahead and ensure it will be ready for the next full growing season.
Key tasks would be:
- Increase HOC.
- Control and limit traffic damage.
- Carryout tree work.
- Carryout aeration and seeding.
- Prepare for disease control.
- Ensure your nutritional inputs are adequate and will help your turfgrass respond positively to challenges.
Turf management practices during the Fall can have significant positive effects on the quality of grass and will ensure your course remains playable and aesthetically pleasing and will withstand the challenges of winter.