By Sam Bauer
What a difference a year can make. We certainly didn’t expect to be writing this report in the end of April while looking at snow on the ground across the state. Now compare this to last spring, with golf courses opening in mid-March, and it gives us a little perspective on the influences that Mother Nature can dish out from season to season. This winter has certainly gone on long enough, but the end is near (let’s hope). We rewrote the record books last summer and fall with heat and drought extremes across the state, and this winter broke some records of its own. How about these new Twin Cities records:
- Coldest April 20th ever: record cold 21 degrees (previous 26 degrees, 1888)
- Average date for first 60 degree occurrence is March 29th (we still haven’t hit 60 degrees!)
- 3rd snowiest April on record (17.6 inches)
- April was the snowiest month of the 2012/13 winter
Climatologists are calling it the winter of ice, and that just about sums it up. The majority of our ice accumulation across the state occurred around the first part of January, if not earlier. Parts of northern Minnesota and western Wisconsin had ice cover for the longest duration, starting around the middle of December. Winter injury from ice cover can be attributed to anoxia (or suffocation) and/or buildup of toxic gases because turf is still respiring in a dormant state. For respiration to occur, the turf needs oxygen, and an impermeable layer of ice prevents oxygen from getting to the plant. Additionally, ice encasement over a turfgrass area causes the buildup of toxic gases released by plant and microbial respiration. Generally we see annual bluegrass death occurring after 60+ days of ice cover, while creeping bentgrass and other species can tolerate 90+ days of cover.
Many golf courses with mostly annual bluegrass, or those approaching 90+ days of ice cover on other species, began removing snow in early March in an effort to expedite the ice melting process. For some superintendents and assistants, it’s an exhilarating experience driving skid loaders and tractors on their greens when they are frozen solid, and the process didn’t take more than a few days. Others chose smaller snow blowers, and the process took a bit longer. No matter how the snow was removed, we saw ice melt at least one week sooner by removing the snow. At the University of Minnesota Turfgrass Research, Outreach, and Education Center we conducted the snow removal process in combination with ice melting treatments. Snow was removed from both native soil (‘V8’ creeping bentgrass) and USGA (‘Vesper’ velvet bentgrass) putting greens on March 14th. Ice melting treatments were applied on March 21st, and included: black sand, green sand, 10-2-10 organic, 6-2-0 organic, black pond dye, green turf paint, calcium chloride, granular urea, liquid urea, granular humate, and ice removal. You can view this investigation at: www.turf.umn.edu
Winter injury from desiccation, crown hydration or dehydration, direct low temperature kill, and snow molds appears to be minimal this year. While we certainly have some snow mold showing its face this spring, it’s not as extensive as previous years, at least for those courses that have had a chance to evaluate it by now. Many superintendents in central to northern Minnesota haven’t even been able to look at their turf yet. Courses that are free from snow and have had a chance to evaluate the conditions are seeing generally good recovery of most species other than annual bluegrass, which is no surprise.
Soils are very wet and not much warmer than freezing from the Twin Cities Metro and south, but the turf is starting to wake up a bit. It will still be sometime before we can get out the mowers and other equipment. Temperatures in the 70s this weekend will help to dry out our surfaces, and hopefully allow some of the golf courses to open. With that being said, temperatures are expected to drop mid-next week, with lows in the mid to upper 30s. Your golfing public will surely be excited to get out and play as soon as possible, but it’s important to limit the amount of traffic that is placed on the turf in its current state.
Many regional superintendents mentioned communication being the key to their success during the spring transition period. It is critical to make educated decisions in the moment, and informing your members and guests along the way will make sure that everyone is on the same page with what conditions to expect as the golf course opens. No two situations are the same in regards to turfgrass survivability. It’s amazing to see the differences in turfgrass quality on trials at the TROE center this spring. From fertility and drought trials, to ice melt and species trials, it’s clear that certain practices lead to improved results, but every year is different. The only real consistent we have is some turfgrass species always survive winter better than others in Minnesota. Perennial ryegrass and annual bluegrass are always the first species to succumb to Minnesota winters.
On another note, the Member Driven Research is off and running. We’ve recently hired a new junior scientist to lead the MGCSA research initiatives. Mario Gagliardi joined the University of Minnesota Turfgrass Program on April 15th. Mario has an extensive background in turfgrass management, with positions at the TPC Treviso Bay and the University of Connecticut’s Turfgrass Science Program. We are excited to get started on these projects, and please feel free to provide your input as we make progress throughout the 2013 growing season.
These are exciting times for golf course management in Minnesota. The University of Minnesota Les Bolstad initiative is progressing, and we appreciate your continued support of this. We are also excited to conduct the Member Driven Research and make this information available to you for practical and timely use. As always, we are here for support and please do not hesitate to reach out to Dr. Brian Horgan ([email protected]) or Sam Bauer ([email protected]) for turf related issues in the future. Thankfully the wait is over.
Dr. Brian Horgan and Sam Bauer