Thursday, March 21, 2013

March Madness, Turf Nerd and Cinderella!

Hello and welcome to "The Greenkeeper"! Today is Thursday, March 21, 2013 so turn in your brackets and let the madness begin.  With the arrival of spring (the equinox occurred yesterday) and the NCAA basketball tournament that means we just wrapped up our first aeration of the putting greens for the year (traditionally the 3rd Monday in March) and the process was ... a process!  I arrived at the course this past Monday to discover potentially heavy rains were forecasted for later that day.  With the new seasonal staff on hand (more on these guys at a later date) the decision was made to focus only on the aeration and core removal tasks and get as much accomplished as possible (topdressing would be postponed till the following day). 
Cores Pushed Into Rows
Aerating the Last Surface!
The staff worked really hard in the cold, damp conditions and we were able to aerate all 22 bentgrass surfaces (1-18, practice green, chipping green, warm-up green and nursery green) and remove all cores on Monday. 
Removing the Cores
It started to rain pretty steady as we were wrapping up our last green about 5:30 pm and overall I felt pretty good about what we accomplished.
Day 2 started with discovering 0.75" rain in the gauge from the overnight line of storms along with foggy conditions.  In order to topdress with kiln dried sand the surface needs to be dry (this allows the sand to be worked into the holes) and thus we had to wait until the sun finally came out around 9:30 am and the breeze kicked up before conditions were satisfactory for topdressing.  Also, the bright, sunny skies were a welcome change to the cold, grey day before.  Once we were able to topdress the crew worked diligently all day hand brushing the topdressing.  This ancient method ensures all holes are filled completely.
Hand Brushing the 5th Green
Ensuring All Holes are Filled
We wrapped up the day around 7:00 pm and still had 14-18, the practice green, chipping green and nursery remaining.  Fortunately we were able to start right away yesterday morning with dry conditions (no morning dew) and completed 14-18 by lunch time and then completed the remaining surfaces before closing the book on this project.  All the greens were fertilized and heavily irrigated to help settle and compact the sand.  
Although the aeration took 3 days (mostly weather related) I am excited about the results it will yield with regards to the performance of our putting surfaces this coming season.  You see, as putting greens age there is a natural accumulation of organic matter in the upper one to three inches of the root zone (as depicted below by the darker region of the upper root zone).  This comes from the natural death and decay of older plant leaves and roots over time and this accumulation if left unchecked can lead to severe problems down the road (poor water infiltration, higher disease incidence, poor gas exchange in the root zone, etc.).  Our greens were established in the spring of 2008 (five years ago) and thus we can no longer treat them as if they are brand new. 
Organic Accumulation and Old Aerator Hole
The secret to great bentgrass putting greens in the humid, southeast is core aeration!  You may be able to get by with less core aeration in other parts of the country but multiple core aeration is imperative to the health and survivability of bentgrass in our region.  My goal was to have the greatest impact to the putting greens while simultaneously minimizing the total surface disruption.  The USGA Green Section recommends core aeration impact 20% of the total surface area annually.  I selected a tine that would impact as close to 10% of the surface area as possible (remember we repeat this process annually each September).  Add our pencil tine aeration in late May/early June and you get 20% thus we are on target.  The sand will smooth and firm the surface, dilute the thatch and organic matter and create channels in the aeration holes which will promote greater water infiltration and allow oxygen deeper into the root zone!  In other words, our aeration process will make our great greens even greater!
So far this has been one of the longest and coldest winters I can remember.  Okay, maybe not the coldest as far as extreme cold temperatures are concerned but coldest in the sense that temperatures have been below normal for many more days than not.  I blame Cinderella! 
Not This Cinderella
This Cinderella

March, 2012 saw 10 days of 80 degrees or more and the two days of greens aeration last year were 83 and 82 degrees respectively with morning lows of 55 and 59 degrees.  This year we have had zero days of 80 degrees or more thus far and the two scheduled days of aeration we experienced high temperatures of 46 and 66 degrees respectively with morning lows of 40 and 39 degrees.  This morning it was back down below freezing (I swear I believe Mother Nature has run off with Old Man Winter).  Anyway, this time last year the bermudagrass was greening up and the greens were growing rapidly which assisted in their recovery from aeration.  Although I am thrilled with the results of the putting green aeration I am disappointed the weather is unseasonable (according to WCNC's meteorologist Brad Panovich the temperatures will most likely remain well below normal until sometime after Easter which is still over one week away) and this will directly impact how quickly the greens grow and recover from the aeration.  As my good friend Charlie Brown would say...Good Grief!
Old Man Winter
Mother Nature
Another unfortunate aspect of this continuation of winter is the impact on the bermudagrass turf.  Although we have not reached 80 degrees yet this year last weekend did see high temperatures of 79 and 77 degrees respectively.  This warm weekend was enough to kick-start the bermudagrass wake-up period and many southern facing slopes on the course are starting to green-up.  This will be short lived with temperatures tonight expected to drop into the upper twenties.  Expect the bermudagrass to hit the snooze button!
Believe me when I tell you my staff and I are ready for warmer weather, green grass and more golfers.  It is time for the long cold winter to give way to spring blooms and robins nesting.  We are ready to trade cabin fever for spring fever so hopefully March Madness will usher in a glorious start to the 2013 golf season at Carolina! 
See you on the course,
Matthew Wharton
Golf Course Superintendent

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