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Do-It-Yourself Research: Simple, Effective DIY Tips to Improve Your Course

July 13, 2010

I often write about some of the various research projects that I have going on for the blog. While research is a big part of what we do at the University some of the best research is done by the end users, golf course superintendents themselves. On-course research is a great way to test new products or re-evaluate existing ones.

Editor’s note: The remainder of this article was submitted by Todd Burkdoll, BASF Professional Turf & Ornamentals Technical Specialist.

Every product used to manage a golf course is tested extensively before it ever gets to the maintenance building. But experienced superintendents know that products researched in other locations with different conditions may perform slightly differently on their course. To more completely understand a product’s performance on your course, do as the university experts do. Research it.

Do It Yourself (DIY) turf management research doesn’t need to be costly or complicated. Simple, scaled-down yet strategic techniques can assure you that you’re using the best tools to meet your course’s unique needs.

Common Research
Just about any golf course management technique or tool can be researched. Here is a short list of typical research subjects:

• Turf varieties – What grows best on your fairways, colonial bentgrass, creeping bentgrass or perennial ryegrass? Which variety of Kentucky bluegrass should you use in your roughs? Testing grass varieties side-by-side will help you learn what the top performers are on your course.

• Herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and plant growth regulators – Research can compare different products or one product with varying timing, rates or growing conditions.

• Fertilizers – What kind, when, where and how much?

• Cultural practices and equipment – Testing some of the many methods of aeration, top dressing, mowing, rolling and de-thatching should show you what works best for your course.

Data Collection Basics
Similar to turf test plots at universities, you should visibly mark trial areas. Extensive mowing schedules make it nearly impossible to come back to your on-course research area two or three days later and know where you applied a fungicide or tried a different setting on an aerator. Identifying plots with marking paint and routinely re-marking them so they can easily be found is crucial. It’s also important to keep a written map of all trials.

Another recommendation is to replicate research. Say for instance you want to evaluate Insignia® fungicide for summer patch control on fairway turf. Replicating the application two or three times allows you to evaluate the average of the results for a more accurate view of performance.

Always follow label instructions and use products during the same time period you would normally do so, especially for chemical products. The goal of DIY research is to learn how products work under your real-world conditions.

There are several things to consider when choosing where on your course to conduct research. First and foremost, consider what you’re studying and what the worst-case scenario might be. It may not be smart to test a new herbicide on a highly visible area of your course. Would you want to risk discoloring the Hole 18 fairway?

Choose areas representative of your course as a whole in order to fairly evaluate products. When testing fungicides or herbicides, it’s better to avoid areas with high or low disease or weed pressure. Utilizing an area that’s typical of your course will make positive results easier to replicate on a larger scale when you start using a product in earnest. Similarly, avoid areas that are topographically unique. If only one portion of your course is hilly, for example, you probably don’t want to do your testing there.

Research Partners
Don’t let the term “do-it-yourself” limit you. DIY research doesn’t have to be done without help. You have limited time and resources, and seemingly unlimited responsibilities so consider working with others – be it university researchers, manufacturing representatives or nearby superintendents. Partnering with others is a great way to continue learning and improve management techniques without being overwhelmed.

Working with university researchers can be particularly beneficial. Collaboration provides another set of trained eyes that can monitor results, provide recommendations and give insights into the latest turf management trends. It also gives university researchers a real-world venue to conduct studies. All the while it improves your course for golfers. Everybody wins.

Other Tips
• Conduct research on small plots. You don’t want to tie up a lot of the course with research plots.

• Communicate results. Post informal research results on your Web site or in your newsletter so members are aware of your efforts to improve the course.

• Beg, borrow and steal research ideas from nearby courses. Introduce yourself to other superintendents in your region and pick their brains about what they’re doing on their course. Chances are they’re doing something you should try.

• Invest in – and use – a decent digital camera. Before-and-after and side-by-side photos come in handy when evaluating research results. It’s also a great way to show off your work to your board of directors or Greens Committee.

Keep Improving
DIY research is an excellent way to make your course the best it can be without breaking the bank. It’s an efficient way to test new products, equipment and techniques so you know exactly what to expect when you incorporate them full-scale into your course management plan.


DIY Landscaping Approaches

April 4, 2011

Landscaping is one of the most common do-it-yourself projects out there. Almost everyone has planted a tree, shrub or flowering plant, and the DIY shows on television make the whole process look simple and doable in a weekend. Although landscape design and installation doesn’t require the same precision as brain surgery, there are still some really important underlying principles that need to be considered for the landscape to be successful. It would take far more space than this blog allows to cover them in detail, so I have simplified it to 5 key points and provided a few references at the end for more information.

1. Planning
Just as with most successful projects, good landscape design requires planning. The planning involves first analyzing the site where the new (or renovated) landscape will be installed. Included in this analysis is determining the environmental factors that will impact plant growth such as light conditions, soil type and drainage patterns. You should also note if there are existing features on the site like plants, buildings, or walkways that will need to be designed around.

2. Determining Function
Once you’ve decided what you have to work with on the site (soil, light conditions, etc.) the next step it to decide the function of the new landscape. Is it simply for aesthetics, maybe to highlight the entrance to a facility or building? Does it need to screen something or direct traffic around an area? Will it serve as a windbreak to protect an area? These are just a few examples, but there certainly are many more. In many cases the function of a landscape directly determines plant selection for the project.

3. Design Consideration
After the environmental factors have been considered and the landscape’s function determined, the design process can begin. During this phase the basic elements of design such as shape, texture, and color should be considered, in addition to the specific principles of landscape design. Understanding and implementing the complete array of landscape design principles is particularly important when large-scale designs (like a site master plan or residential backyard) are being created. On the other hand, for smaller individual projects which are more likely the type to be done on a golf course or municipal park, focusing on the shape of the planting area and the plants, as well as the texture and color of the plants and hardscapes will likely be sufficient.

4. Hardscape Selection
Hardscapes are any non-plant part of the landscape and include such things as concrete pavers, natural stone, poured concrete and wood. There is a whole range of hardscape materials that can be used in our climate and often the selection of a particular product is based on its aesthetic qualities (color and texture), price and availability, and ease of installation. Another consideration I suggest is the product’s sustainability. Is it made from recycled materials? Or, is it a permeable material that allows rainfall to pass through it and reenter the groundwater supply? There are a number of great resources available that describe pros and cons of different hardscape materials and they can be used to direct decisions about hardscapes.

5. Plant Selection
Matching a plant to the growing environment of the landscape site is the most important step in plant selection. Once this is addressed, then you can narrow your selection based on aesthetic features of a plant such as form, texture and color. One way to maximize the visual appeal of a landscape is to mass plants together in groups. The mature size of the plant impacts how many plants should be in the mass. Larger plants such as shrubs can have fewer plants, while a group of smaller perennials really need to have more plants (5-7 or so) in order to provide enough visual appeal. Combining plants with different sized leaves creates a nice contrast of textures and this adds visual interest. And certainly choosing plants with a long blooming period can provide lots of color in the landscape. Instead of relying just on flowers for color, be sure to include plants with unique and colorful leaves since the leaves will be persistent in the landscape all season long and provide color even when plants aren’t flowering.

Below are some examples of landscape plantings





Here are a few resources for more information:
Iowa State University Extension publications available at:
Landscape Plants for the Midwest (PM 0212)
Perennials for Sun (PM 1914)
Perennials for Shade (PM 1913)

Ortho’s All About Landscaping, by Kellum and McKinley

Ann Marie ZanDerZanden
Professor & Associate Director for ISU Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching
Iowa State University