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Out of the Oven and Into the Fire

August 11, 2011

This article comes to us from Ty McClellan, USGA Green Section Record Mid-Continent Region Agronomist. Ty provides his thoughts about the hot temperatures most have experienced this summer and the toll is has taken on cool-season grasses.

Although the summer of 2010 was one of the hottest on record and widely publicized for the wake of destruction in the turf industry, it looks as though we’ve jumped out of the oven and right into the fire in 2011. Popular phrases that include ‘the perfect storm’, ‘equal opportunity destroyer’, and ‘turf loss of epic proportions’ are being bantered about once again, as Mother Nature turns up the heat and tries to roast the cool-season turfgrasses found on many golf courses beyond well done.

Managing turf during June and July in the upper Mid-Continent Region has been anything but easy, given the persistent heat wave. For much of Kansas and Missouri, nearly every other day during the past nine weeks has exceeded 100°F, and nighttime lows have rarely dropped below 80°F. Even though it is hard to imagine, 2011 may surpass 2010 for record heat. Some superintendents are already stretched, as this summer has dealt them an even worse set of circumstances. August conditions may leave some to wonder how they will have any turf to manage as putting green soil temperatures may continue to exceed 90 degrees.

Somewhat surprisingly, education and communication efforts that were effective last year are not providing the same understanding ears this year. Course officials and golfers seem to be less receptive to the news about heat stress. This is a good time to revisit some fundamental principles of turf management:

Creeping bentgrass root dieback begins when soil temperatures exceed 86°F at a 2-inch depth.

Poa annua is a fragile species that is usually the first to decline during high temperatures.

Portions of putting greens that suffer from poor air movement, poor drainage, and concentrated traffic (particularly the collars) are the most difficult to maintain and the first to decline.

To survive the heat and maintain turf health until the fire is extinguished with the onset of cooler temperatures, some of the most effective strategies include:

Supplement automatic irrigation as much as possible with hand watering.

Raise the mowing height and use solid front rollers when preparing the greens for play.

Mow less frequently and roll instead.

Use large oscillating fans to improve air circulation and assist the transpirational cooling of the turf. The fans may be needed continuously for 24 hours of the day.

Vent the greens when possible via non-disruptive aeration techniques.

Increase the rate and frequency of fungicide applications, as disease pressure increases with higher temperatures.

Reduce traffic on the putting greens via temporary closure, if necessary, or cancelling / rescheduling large outings.

Cool-season turfgrasses are in a fragile state, and superintendents and their staffs are feeling the effects of long hours and touch-and-go conditions. Now is the time to support them as they work to maintain the turf. Expectations for exceptional playability simply must be put on hold until temperatures cool off…and hopefully that is soon.

If you would like more information about a Turf Advisory Service visit, do not hesitate to contact either of the Mid-Continent regional offices: Ty McClellan at or (630) 340-5853 or Bud White at or (972) 662-1138.


Spring Fever in February

February 21, 2011

Ty McClellan, USGA Green Section Record Mid-Continent Region Agronomist, weighs in with his thoughts on the warm winter weather.

Only a week ago a whopping 49 of the 50 U.S. states had snow cover. This was the after-effects of one of the worst winter storms on record that hammered much of the country with ice, snow and sub-zero temperatures. In the upper Mid-Continent region, some were buried beneath nearly 28 inches of snow.

Fast forward to last week, and temperatures climbed into the 50’s and 60’s. In fact, a few parts of the region have experienced record daily temperature highs for February. It’s hard to imagine it, but areas in the Great Plains that saw temperatures dip to -35°F two weeks ago, reached close to 65°F last week. That’s a 100-degree turnaround in a week!

Keep in mind that it is times like these where golf courses are most vulnerable to traffic damage. Even when air temperatures rise to a comfortable level to play golf, soils may thaw near the surface but will remain frozen several inches below. Subsurface drainage is impeded, which causes water to dam at the surface. Soft and wet soils are extremely prone to compaction damage from any sort of traffic, and rutting is possible with heavy-tire traffic. Either will require significantly more aeration in the spring and summer to correct the damage that has been done, and spring green-up will be slowed considerably. Play should never be allowed during such conditions!

It is likely that much of the snow and ice covering putting greens has melted. For superintendents, it is important that water can freely exit the green so that it does not puddle and refreeze on the surface. It takes just a few freeze-thaw cycles and there is sure to be winter injury by way of crown hydration injury. The common question of whether to remove snow and ice from greens, or not, is never easily answered and it depends on many variables, including site conditions and weather forecasts. Regardless of the decisions made, there is sure to be some degree of second-guessing involved. Even the best laid plans may fail. To a large extent, winter injury remains one of the unsolved mysteries in our industry.

For golf enthusiasts and anyone experiencing the winter blues, the recent warm-up is only temporary. Another winter storm is expected in a few days. In fact, winter is still some six weeks or so from being over. So, continue utilizing all-season driving ranges to keep your swing sharp and rely on your superintendent and knowledgeable course officials for the green light as to when it is safe to tee it up for real.

If you would like more information about a Turf Advisory Service visit, do not hesitate to contact either of the Mid-Continent regional offices: Ty McClellan at or (630) 340-5853 or Bud White at or (972) 662-1138.


The Year of Brown Patch, Tim Sibicky, CDGA

July 21, 2010

Above normal daytime temperatures of 90+ degrees have been accumulating quickly (now up to 11 days in Lemont, IL), and the combination of high nighttime temps and high dew points has created a precarious situation for the rapid appearance of brown patch. This soilborne fungal disease is caused by the pathogen Rhizoctonia solani. Recent weather has been fairly dry since July 4th, and although it has been much needed for superintendents, it has added further
environmental stress to any previously weakened turfgrass plants. Damage by Rhizoctonia is now obvious (Figure 1).

Damage by Rhizoctonia

Research trials on Sunshine Golf Course have been providing excellent data on product testing for dollar spot. In addition, the exceptionally conducive environmental conditions for development of brown patch have allowed us to monitor effects of the products on both diseases. Untreated plots in all replications on July 15 showed greatest disease pressures at 40% brown patch and 15% dollar spot. Visible symptoms for brown patch were most severe on untreated plots as expected (Figure 2).

Visible Brown Spot

Of fungicides, the 21 day interval of the Emerald treatment at 0.18 oz had highest brown patch visibility at 20%, which when compared to the control was still far less. Other treatments that showed amounts of brown patch were Chipco26GT (dicarboximide family), Insignia (QoI), and the 14d low rate of Reserve (chlorothalonil + DMI). The fungicides that performed well with no visible symptoms of brown patch disease have been Daconil Ultrex (chlorothalonil), Honor (QoI
+ carboximide), Concert (chlorothalonil + DMI), Insignia, Renown (chlorothalonil + QoI) and Reserve (chlorothalonil + DMI) at both the 21d and the 14d high rates.

Brown Patch Disease

Treatments that have provided the best dollar spot disease control so far include: Daconil Ultrex, Chipco26GT, Heritage + Daconil, Insignia, Concert and Reserve at 21d (high rate). Treatments of Emerald, Honor, Renown and Reserve at 14d (high and low rates) all provided good levels of disease control. All fungicide treatments provided acceptable levels of quality except for Concert, appearing off-color (due to the DMI-propizole) and with coarser visible leaves.


Tim Sibicky
Chicago District Golf Association
11855 Archer Avenue
Lemont, IL 60439


Goodbye July, Hello August

August 2, 2010

We close the book on July and welcome August with open arms. August means that we are that much closer to September and better growing conditions. July was full of stressful conditions throughout most parts of the state and it contributed to general decline of our cool-season turf. Last July we were spoiled as the average temperature of 68.3 degrees ranked as the coolest July among 137 years of state records. July 2010 returned to normal with average temperatures of 75 degrees, just slightly above normal.








The hottest day of the month occurred on July 14 with daytime temperatures reaching 95 degrees. The Des Moines area experienced the most days with temperatures in the 90’s with 6 followed closely by Ames (5) and Lamoni (4). Waterloo, Mason City, and Ottumwa each had 3 days in the 90’s. The high air temperatures also contributed to further heating of the soil profile. Soil temperatures spent much of the month in the high 70’s low 80’s further leading to turf decline.

The wettest June on record was followed by a July which brought above average rainfall amounts for much of the state. Waterloo and Ottumwa were hit hard with each location receiving over 10 inches of rain. Marshalltown (6.32), Lamoni (5.69), Des Moines (5.44), and Mason City (4.94) each received rainfall amounts above average for the month of July.

The above average temperatures along with excess amounts of rainfall created conditions favorable for disease development. The picture below is a disease that showed up on one of my research plots. The grass is ‘L-93’ creeping bentgrass maintained at 0.5 inches. The turf is planted on a sand-based rootzone and was established during the fall of 2008. The symptoms first appeared during the middle of July yet the turf hasn’t really declined and continues to grow.














Taking a closer look using a compound microscope I was able to find hyphae infecting the roots of the plant. Hypha on the roots is characteristic of both summer patch and take-all-patch. The plant disease clinic here on campus is helping to diagnose exactly which disease this is.

Let’s hope August brings everyone a break from the rain. September 1 is less than 30 days away!


Lose a Battle to Win the War

August 11, 2010

This article comes to us from Ty McClellan, USGA Green Section Record Mid-Continent Region Agronomist.

In this case, the ‘battle’ is playability, i.e. putting green smoothness and speed, and the ‘war’ is turfgrass survival. With the summer’s weather challenges, some courses have already lost major portions of rough and fairways to natural physiological decline or flooding. Reports of greens being lost are on the rise and these facilities are now faced with re-grassing this fall. For others, the fight continues.

Root depth on greens is generally two inches or less, and heat indexes in recent weeks have exceeded 115°F with average daily relative humidities just shy of 100%. Soil temperatures are frequently in the mid-90s and above. (Note: Bentgrass root dieback begins when soil temperatures reach about 86°F.) Most of the weaker species that possess lower thresholds to environmental extremes, such as Poa annua, have long disappeared from greens and surrounds. Arguably the most difficult to manage area of the golf course, even during favorable conditions, putting green collars have been decimated regardless of species. For many, the only objective now is to preserve what bentgrass remains on the greens and what Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and tall fescue continues to hang on in the surrounds.

Given continuing weather extremes, golfers should forego high expectations for their bentgrass greens for the sake of preserving turf that remains. Look beyond today (August) so that golf can be enjoyed tomorrow (this fall).

Since my last USGA Regional Update in early July titled "Feeling the Heat", extreme conditions have only intensified with even more heat and rain. The perfect storm for turfgrass decline continues and on a devastating path. Areas in the upper Mid-Continent Region are still in the midst of record-breaking rainfall totals and heat waves. For most of the region, 10- and 30-day forecasts are not encouraging. Fortunately, it is August meaning day lengths are getting shorter and September is around the corner. We just have to get there.

Given the harshness of environmental extremes across several geographic regions this summer, some great resources have been generated and can be found below:

- Many recent USGA Regional Updates discuss summer struggles and outline excellent recommendations for survival. (

- USGA Senior Agronomist Chris Hartwiger developed a webcast, “Bad to Worse for Creeping Bentgrass - Seven Steps to Help Your Greens Make it Through the Summer” that includes seven survival recommendations: 1) proper and continuous use of fans (i.e. 24 hours/day), 2) venting the greens when possible via non-disruptive aeration, 3) raising the mowing height and using solid front rollers, 4) mowing less frequently and rolling instead, 5) increasing the use of fungicides, 6) taking irrigation management to the highest level possible, and 7) reducing traffic on the greens.

- Virtually every disease known, and even a few new ones, have been prevalent on cool-season turfgrasses under duress this summer. For instance, there have been a few titles on turf diseases over the last two weeks, and a daily blog by five contributing university turfgrass pathologists nationwide states, “Dead Bentgrass Makes Headlines”, “Heat + Rain = Dead Grass”, “No Wind = Dead Grass”, “Heat Wreaking Havoc on Courses Nationwide”, “Relentless Heat and Humidity” and “Stress, Stress, Stress.”

This has been a trying summer for all. Cool-season turfgrass are in a fragile state and superintendents and their staffs are feeling the effects of long hours and touch-and-go circumstances. Now is the time to rely on the wisdom of your superintendent and support the recommendations from professionals. Slower greens are still quite playable and enjoyable. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to enjoy hole locations in areas of the green that otherwise are not available when greens are fast. Respect course closure and cart restriction policies when saturated course conditions exist.

Know what is at stake and adjust your expectations of playability now in order to fight another day. Your fall golf season may just depend on it.

If you would like more information about a Turf Advisory Service visit, do not hesitate to contact either of the Mid-Continent regional offices: Ty McClellan at or (630) 340-5853 or Bud White at or (972) 662-1138.


Goodbye Warm Summer Nights

August 25, 2010

Although you might not have been aware, Central Iowa had quite the streak going. June 6 was the last time the nighttime temps went below 60 degrees…that is until last night. Most of the state was greeted to early morning temperatures in the low to mid-50’s this morning. Some northern locations even saw temperatures dip in the 40’s. A cool reminder that fall conditions and improved growing conditions are upon us.

The weather this summer has been unusual to say the least. Most of the readership would probably use a different adjective to describe the weather but I’ll stick to “unusual” (This is a PG rated blog site after all). The consecutive day’s streak of nighttime temperatures above 60 degrees officially ends at 79 days. This falls just short of the record set back in 1983 when Central Iowa ran up a streak of 81 days. Good bye and good riddance. Don’t come back until next year.

Even with the cooler temperatures there are still disease and insect pressures that continue to cause problems. We have quite a bit of type II fairy ring working at our research station. Type II fairy rings have only a band of dark green turf, with or without mushrooms present in the band. On areas that are mowed frequently (greens and tees), mature mushrooms may never be observed but the "button" stage may be present at ground level. These rings have coalesced together and cover a fairly large area of turf but they have yet to cause any damage.

We also have noticed a tremendous increase in bird activity lately as they hunt after black cutworms that are feeding on our green and fairway height creeping bentgrass. I was able to find this sample by digging through a wedge I sampled from a putting green. I was surprised to observe just how deep into the soil profile the tunnel went.

Sand bunkers continue to make news as a Connecticut man was arrested in part for taking a joyride on a golf course which caused an estimated $10,000 worth of damage. Maintenance workers arrived at work to find a car in the greenside bunker on the eighth hole. There hasn’t been any word if local rules deemed it a waste bunker allowing golfers to ground their club. Maybe we can get a ruling from the PGA on this.


Dare I say it. Can we get a little rain?

October 18, 2010

We are just past the halfway point in October and some parts of the state have yet to receive any considerable rainfall this month. After being bombarded with rain during the summer months, the Des Moines area has received a measly 0.03 inches of rainfall so far in October. Their last considerable rainfall event took place on September 25. Depending on what happens the remaining 14 days of the month, October could go down as one of the driest on record. Irrigation systems that didn’t get much use during the rainy summer months are surely being used during this stretch of dry weather. The picture below from the National Weather Service shows that a good chunk of the Midwest is experiencing below average rainfall for October.

There hasn’t been too much activity (as far as stresses go) at the research station. We still have dollar spot working in some areas and rust and powdery mildew are showing up on Kentucky bluegrass. Grub damage at the station seems to be less this year compared to years past.

Other than the droughty conditions, the fall months have been conducive for turfgrass growth and recovery. Soil temperatures are holding steady in the high 50’s low 60’s. Those putting down natural organic fertilizers yet this fall, remember that those products require microbial activity to release the nitrogen contained in the product. Microbial activity usually ceases at 50 degrees. The dry conditions could also affect post-emergent herbicide applications as uptake and translocation are not as effective on drought stressed weeds.

I’ll leave you with some pictures of fall.

Regardless of the weather conditions, poa always seems to find a way to thrive.

This maple provides brilliant fall color on the north side of the ISU campus


Enjoy the Fall Colors

November 15, 2010

Last week the state received some much needed precipitation. Rainfall in October was well below normal. A period of dry weather began on September 26 for many parts of the state and continued through October 22. During this time period the average statewide precipitation was 0.04 inches compared to a normal for the period of 2.24 inches. Ames received a measly 0.62 inches of rain during October which ended up ranking as the 15th driest among 138 years of records. This is in stark contrast to October 2009 when Ames received 7.86 inches of rainfall.

October 2010 temperatures were above normal and overall much greater than temperatures during this time from one year ago. The warmest day was the 8th of October when we hit a whopping 86 degrees.  The extended fall weather provided an opportunity for turf to recover from the summer stresses. Hopefully, the majority of the readership also experienced good growing conditions. The temperatures have cooled significantly in November and some parts of the state have already received their first snow cover.

Everywhere you look outside there is more and more evidence that the season will soon be over. I have been enjoying the beautiful fall colors the last couple of weeks. For a turf guy, the fall colors I’m referring to are the reddish-browns, blues, and purples found on established creeping bentgrass putting greens. This phenomenon is evident during cool/frosty temperatures in the spring and fall. These colors tend to appear in patches and are a response to physiological changes occurring in the plant. So why does the bentgrass change color?

Often during the spring and fall the daytime temperatures are relatively warm while nighttime lows can dip below freezing. During the warm, sunny days the plant leaves and stems are able to manufacture large amounts of sugar through photosynthesis. These sugars are normally translocated to the crown of the plant during the night for storage and for use in other plant processes. But, when nighttime temperatures get too cold for the sugars to be properly translocated they end up getting “stuck” in the leaves and stems. This accumulation of sugars appears as shades of red, purple, and blue colors.

I’ll leave you with a couple late fall pictures.

With the cool temperatures and lack of rainfall, the only disease I have spotted the last couple of weeks has been yellow tuft.

A common sight at many golf courses as they prepare for freezing temperatures.

Turf covered in frost greets us most mornings now. Soon the turf will be covered in snow.


Winter Weather Update

February 2, 2011

On the heels of a major winter storm that just pummeled the state and most of the country it’s fitting that today is Groundhog Day. The crowd that gathered at Gobler’s Knob in Punxutawney, Pennsylvania this morning witnessed Punxsutawney Phil make perhaps the most celebrated weather prognostication of the year.

Phil’s prediction this year you ask? You will be happy to know that Phil is predicting an early spring. Let’s hope he’s right. Now, when I was doing my background work on Groundhog Day, I was surprised to learn that there are other groundhog forecasters all across the U.S. While Phil may be the most notable, other furry forecasters include General Beauregard Lee, Buckeye Chuck, Wiarton Willie, Sir Walter Wally, Birmingham Bill, and Shubenacadie Sam, just to name a few.

Now, onto the winter weather update. A relatively mild fall gave way to snow during November and December. As of the end of January, central Iowa had received 27.5 inches of snowfall. That is 8 inches above the normal snowfall level at this point in the season. The month of January has accounted for 12.8 inches of our total snowfall this year and over half of that fell during a two day stretch during the 10-11th of the month. Although our year to date snowfall totals are above average we have experienced periods of melting in between the snowfall (See the graph below).


Whenever snowcover goes through melting and refreezing our turf can be subject to crown hydration. Crown hydration is one of the winter injury stresses that can damage our turf and unfortunately this process and measures to prevent it are not completely understood. A number of factors combine to cause this type of injury. In my experience shade and drainage are two important factors. There also seems to be agreement that annual bluegrass is more susceptible to crown hydration compared with creeping bentgrass.

If you are in doubt about the health of your turf, try to harvest some plugs and bring them into a warm environment. Incubate them for a week and evaluate the overall turf health. The picture below shows a couple of plugs I brought in from a golf course back in 2008. Notice how the plug on the right responded favorably to proper growing conditions. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the plug on the left. While this was not necessarily the best of news, at least the golf course staff had a better idea what they might expect come spring and was able to begin planning.


Next week I’ll be on the road reporting from the GCSAA Educational Conference and the Golf Industry Show in Orlando, Florida. Hopefully, I won’t have to worry about snow down there.


March Mega!

March 9, 2011

I’m on the road this week and my travels have taken me to our neighbor up north. I’m in the Twin Cities area to speak at the March Mega Seminar hosted by the Minnesota Golf Course Superintendents Association. There was some great content on the first day with Dr. Nick Christians (Iowa State Univ.) covering soil testing and interpretation and Dr. Mike Richardson (Univ. of Arkansas) tackling foliar fertilization and nutrient uptake. I’m going to be discussing blog use in the turfgrass industry and how this technology can be used to promote yourself and your facility. I want to thank Eric Counselman and Jeff Ische, Conference and Education Co-chairs for the invitation to speak.

Of course, it wouldn’t be fitting to make a trip to Minnesota in the winter without receiving a little snow, right? Snow is something Minnesota knows well, especially this year. I did a little digging and found some interesting Minnesota weather data.

The current winter is the ninth snowiest so far in the Twin Cities area. Through March 6, the Twin Cities area has received 78.3 inches of snow for the season. This ranks as the 9th snowiest winter on record. Minnesota also recorded the 5th largest snowfall in a single day this winter season when the Twin Cities received 17.1 inches back on December 10-11.

The snowiest season on record is the winter of 1983-84 with 98.6 inches. Iowa’s snowiest winter of 1911-1912 recorded 72 inches. This doesn’t even rank in the top ten snowiest winters for the Twin Cities, yikes.

Top Ten Snowiest Winters in the Twin Cities 1884-2011 (numbers are measured in inches).

1. 1983-84 ....... 98.6
2. 1981-82 ....... 95.0
3. 1950-51 ....... 88.9
4. 1916-17 ....... 84.9
5. 1991-92 ....... 84.1
6. 1961-62 ....... 81.3
7. 1951-52 ....... 79.0
8. 1966-67 ....... 78.4
9. 2010-11 ....... 78.3 (through March 6)
10. 2000-01 ..... 75.8

The weather does seem to be turning despite this last snow event. The extended forecast looks promising with daytime highs reaching into the 50’s and nighttime lows staying slightly above the freezing mark. The four inch soil temperatures across Iowa are still hovering around the freezing mark. These warmer temperatures would certainly change that and would help remove the frost and allow water to drain into the soil. Greens covers will certainly be coming off soon back in central Iowa.

Don’t forget to move your clocks one hour ahead this weekend. Another sign Spring will soon be here!