Friday, June 29, 2012

Summer Challenges

As the summer stresses become more evident on the golf course, certain areas begin to look less than 100% healthy. Areas in many of the fairways are showing signs of drought stress. These areas can get a yellow and brown colour to them and the leaf tissue will almost cease to exist. Looking closely at areas around these hydrophobic spots can look as healthy as any turf ever has, so cranking up the irrigation to try and rid the property of every isolated dry spot is really just a waste of water and an added expense.

You may have also noticed that the collars on some greens, such as at 5, 11, 12 and 17 have looked like we neglected to get water to them and the drought stress caused some damage. However Kyle and I have known for a week that something else was going on in these areas. When we see turf decline on any part of the golf course, the first thing we do is to remove a plug and send it in to the University of Guelph so the lab can diagnose if there is a pathogen infecting the turf grass.

While we patiently wait for the lab to identify a possible disease that is not visible to the naked eye, we continue to watch for any other possible causes such as insects, fertilizer issues or abiotic stresses.

When the University got back to me they said they found no pathogens and no insects. I really started to stress out at this point because I know something is causing this turf to decline, (and it’s not drought related) and without positive identification of what’s going on, I know the turf health will continue to go backwards until we positively identify the problem and it’s only a matter of time before the problem gets into the greens.

So our first line of action knowing we had some turf decline, but not knowing the cause, was to reduce stress any way we could. First off we did not verticut on our maintenance morning the way we normally would as this puts enormous stress on the turf and opens wounds in the leaf tissue making fungal attack easier, but we did do a solid mini tine aerification on all greens and collars. This allows fresh oxygen better access to the roots and allows carbon dioxide and methane as well as other gases to escape the soil. It also allows easier water penetration to the root zone. We kept the roller off the affected areas which again reduces stress and traffic. We used a mini tine to pull cores from the damaged collars and over seeded to promote healing, and followed up with a light shot of fertilizer. We also called in three different technical advisors from different companies to ask their opinions. I took photos with my phone and sent them to fellow superintendents and asked if they were experiencing anything similar, and asked for ideas or suggestions.

When we did get the message from Guelph that no pathogen was found, I was immediately suspicious as these labs always find something, and the usual challenge for us is determining if everything they find is actually causing any problems or if there is just low populations which is the normal case. So we immediately sent off a 2nd plug for re-diagnosis. Late on Wednesday the University emailed me with their findings. Pythium!

If you don’t know what Pythium is, having it diagnosed on our turf is a little like having a family member being diagnosed with cancer. It is as serious as it gets. And like cancer, there are different strains, different levels of infection, and if the host is healthy and strong, fighting it is easier. We are confident that the greens are healthy and that we got the correct product into the plant early enough to get complete control.

Since we don’t stock products that can help us fight this disease, I quickly called our fungicide supplier and told him our dilemma, and he agreed to get the products we need and have them delivered to us by 6am Thursday morning. We were able to get the fungicide sprayed onto all greens and collars early Thursday morning. I would like to apologize to the first few groups of members who had to deal with the irrigation system running as this product had to be watered into the root zone, and I thank you for your patients. We feel at this point we caught the infection early enough to stop it from spreading, but we will certainly have a close eye as we may have to reapply in 7 to 12 days.

Recovery with this type of damage is never fast, and member’s can help us by avoid walking on the stressed areas. As always, the healthier the turf looks the better it handles the traffic. 24 hours after this product was applied and we are happy to say we are seeing a slight improvement already.

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