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Food for Thought this Fall

November 2, 2009

USGA Green Section Mid-Continent Region

Food for Thought this Fall

By Ty McClellan, Agronomist

Updated October 19, 2009

The weather in 2009 for the upper Mid-Continent Region will be recorded as one of the coldest and remembered as one of the oddest. Other than a 12-day stretch of intense heat during mid-June, temperatures were well below normal. In fact, only a handful of days reached 90°F in the Chicago area and very few areas in the upper Mid-Continent Region hit 100°F. When elevated temperatures did develop, they were short-lived and/or quickly offset by cool nighttime temperatures. Rainfall was plentiful and often timely. All told, environmental conditions mimicked those of the Pacific Northwest rather than the Midwest.

Given these non-typical summer conditions, cool-season turfgrasses experienced much less stress while the warm-season turfgrasses lacked vigor, as their growth was slowed much of the year by cooler temperatures and frequent rainfall. For all turfgrasses, disease development was rather minor when compared to more typical summers. By all appearances, this was a relatively easy summer for turfgrasses and their managers; however, there were a number of shortfalls observed this year. Before falling victim to a false sense of security, areas needing special attention as we transition into fall are detailed below:

• Completion of Earlier Projects - One of the wettest springs on record for the upper Mid-Continent Region did not favor those in the midst of course projects earlier this year. Whether work was performed in-house or contracted out, projects were delayed, if not abandoned, as even two consecutive days of favorable weather proved elusive. On the other hand, growing conditions were quite favorable for cool-season turfgrass (especially in the rough) all year-long and, with frequent rainfall, additional labor was needed to keep up with mowing. This limited the availability of labor for course projects. More often than not, spring projects either did not get finished or they persisted into the primary golfing season, inconveniencing golfers and interfering with routine daily course maintenance.

Looking forward, projects that went uncompleted (particularly if critical) will need to be readdressed. To do so with the typical number of full-time employees may result in other delays, as the unfinished projects take precedence over those originally planned for this winter. In other words, without additional winter staff to get the schedule back on track, projects previously planned for this season may need to be postponed until the projects from last season are completed.

• Adequate Budgeting for Fungicides - Mild temperatures correlated to an overall reduction in disease outbreaks in 2009 and the amount spent on fungicides followed suit. Superintendents generally reported anywhere between a 15% and 35% reduction in fungicide use this year when compared to previous years. While courses can count themselves lucky this year (and maybe even last year), this year’s fungicide expense should not be used when establishing next year’s budget, since it was not a true indication of typical disease pressure or the subsequent budget needed for control. It will be important to keep in mind typical use and needs.

• Irrigation - Cool temperatures and timely rains for most of the golfing season meant much less irrigation than normal. In fact, many superintendents in the Chicago area reported using their irrigation systems less than five times during the entire year for the purposes of replenishing soil moisture to appropriate levels. Rather, most used irrigation to simply water in chemical applications or lightly syringe ‘hot’ spots. As such, this year was very kind to those with inadequate or poor irrigation systems, who pay for water, or who have poor quality irrigation water. Unfortunately, this has caused some to lose sight of the need to improve the irrigation system, accurately budget for future water use, or support additional practices to manage problems associated with poor water quality, such as increased aeration, flushing and applications of gypsum, lime, calcium, etc.

• Organic Matter Accumulation on Putting Greens - Organic matter in putting green root zones increased this year, even for those with well-designed sand topdressing and aeration programs. Soil temperatures simply remained too cool for much of the year and putting green root zones were oftentimes waterlogged given regular, if not record-setting rainfall. Basically, cool soil temperatures caused soil microbial activity to slow and thus, limited its ability to decompose organic matter. A wet spring also meant the soils remained very saturated, thus limiting oxygen levels in the root zone that slowed oxidation, i.e. natural aerobic decomposition, of organic matter. To further complicate matters, routine topdressing applications throughout the growing season were difficult to administer given frequent inclement weather, so less sand was applied less often. To account for the increase in organic matter accumulation, an even greater emphasis should be placed this fall and next spring on core aeration and incorporating more sand into putting green root zones.

• Poa annua Control – Given that this summer was more like that of the Pacific Northwest, overcast skies combined with cooler temperatures and frequent rains that created environmental conditions very favorable for Poa annua. As such, decreasing Poa annua populations found in creeping bentgrass putting greens and fairways was very difficult this year. A lack of mid-summer heat meant that the Poa annua did not decline, and selective herbicides, such as Velocity, or plant growth regulators with some known levels of Poa annua suppression, such as paclobutrazol (Trimmit) or flurprimidol (Cutless), were not as effective. Looking forward, greater success should be anticipated in the future with a return to more typical summer weather.

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.


Chicago/Northern Illinois Update: …reporting from Chi

August 17, 2009

Testing. Testing. Testing. Yes it is typewriter. I mean my lap top computer with Microsoft Office Word 2007 ®. Knowledge...that was what I wanted to talk about this week. How do we get it. As a former un-named professor of mine, Dr. Ned Tisserat, used to say... “You buy them books, send them to school...”. I can’t remember the rest. The other classic quote I do remember clearly is, “What were you think-in?” In no uncertain those two quotes were used in tandem. I had made a mistake in my research. He was holding me accountable...and after my eyes got big and my palms started to sweat I would say “I don’t know what I was thinking.” He would say something like “That’s OK...I have done that too.” He was a wise-one that Dr. Ned Tisserat. He taught me how to question everything. He taught me I should try and prove what I was saying via a set of skills called science, “...sounds like another research project”. He taught me to be very generous and to listen before I talked...I think I can.

Anyhow, life is good. It has been a summer from God like no other. It has been a wonderful year to be a golf course superintendent. However, the weather has been off and remains off. We were overly cool in May, then overly cool til the 3rd week of June. The 3rd week of June marked an all time record of rainfall from Jan to Jun. Then it got dry and we continue to brown as far as unirrigated Kentucky bluegrass lawns and golf roughs go. It also marked the hottest period of summer (so far). It challenged us all because during that string of 90+ degree days we should have not made any applications and yet we did. In the name of science, in the name of a calendar, in the name of preventing fungal pathogens of turfgrass, in the name of xxx? Just fill in the blank. The point is you need to think. If we do not think, we risk making mistakes. We all had Ned’s in our lives – someone who holds our feet to the fire and makes us accountable. Let’s think first...then we can be spared from one of my life’s favorite quotes...”What were you thinking?” Summer is now waning... Labor Day is September 7, 2009. So enjoy the next 21 days...summer is about over and we saved a lot of money on fungicides during this ‘peak’ golf season. Rounds are up now that it is dry, and so am I...up! Stay up...21 days to go!

Derek Settle, PhD
Director of Turfgrass Program
Chicago District Golf Association
11855 Archer Ave
Lemont, IL 60439