I think by now it has become painfully obvious to anyone is the East Coast that this past winter was long and difficult. It developed early in October and really got going in November, a full six weeks longer than the average typical to the region. Add to that the slow spring and the snow lingering to mid April and we had a full six months of winter. The video below was taken early April from the left side of two fairway. Even then the amount of ice concerned me.
Winters in general can create some challenges for golf course superintendents. There are various forms of damage that can occur based on the environmental dynamics through the winter, although typically it manifests itself in three forms.
During the winter the environmental conditions at ground level are conducive to fungal growth that thrives in wet and cold. Pink snow mould will form with 2 months of snow coverage and Grey Snow mould with three months coverage. If left untreated these two fungi can devastate a golf course. As part of the prevention program a fungicide is applied late in the fall to protect the turf beneath the snow.
Another form of injury to the turf from the winter is that which occurs from prolonged ice coverage. The injury varies in severity based on the species of turf and the duration of the ice coverage. Poa Annua, an invasive native turfgrass, can only survive ice coverage for about 60 days. Bent Grass, the turf species used in most northern green’s construction, can survive longer stretches of ice coverage, almost twice that of the Poa. In very general terms, the ice encases the plant and suffocates it. Our greens at West Hills were seeded to T-One Bentgrass and have yet to be invaded by Poa Annua, so ice damage is less likely in a typical year.
Winter damage also comes in the form of Crown Hydration Injury. This typically occurs during the late winter and early spring portions of the year. Plants generally slow to a form of dormancy that aids in winter protection, remaining until temperatures are once again high enough to begin the spring growth period. Similar situations are evident with trees and shrubs, buds start to form, and the plant wakes up. Occasionally we have a few warm days in March or April that fool the turf into believing the its time to get started. The crown of the plant (where the leaves grow from) flood with cellular activity and the plant begins growing. Unfortunately, these warm days are usually followed by a very cold night or two and the plant basically freezes, the cells break, and the plant desiccates. As with ice damage, the severity of crown hydration injury varies with the species, mainly based on what temperature that species emerges from dormancy at. Poa Annua will begin cellular function at 8 degrees Celsius, making it much more susceptible to injury from an early spring warming period. Bent Grass will hold out until 14 degrees Celsius before cellular active begins, making a more resistant to this type of injury. This was not a contributor to the damage at West Hills this year.
For all the courses in the Capital region this winter pretty much hit every point I’ve just listed. The extended winter posed heavy disease pressure. The short melt we experienced at Christmas created ice which covered the plants for in excess of four months, and the few warm days in early spring devastated the Poa when the temperatures dropped in later days.
As a superintendent I follow other supers both in Canada and the US on social media, and this winter has caused a great deal of damage from Ottawa to Minnesota to Moncton. It would be irresponsible for me to discuss the details of how other golf courses in the area have faired over this winter, but it very likely that we are all in the same boat.
If you would like a Superintendents perspective, follow me on twitter @WestHillsSuper and subscribe to my blog, and you can observe as we strive to get the golf course back into shape for the spring. Stay Tuned!