Saturday, May 3, 2014

Don't Skimp on Aerification

Now I'm not one to call myself an expert on ultradwarf bermudagrass management by any means but after 10 years of maintaining them I have made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of hard lessons.

We converted our greens from bentgrass to Champion ultradwarf bermudagrass in July of 2003 and for the first 4-5 years our greens were as close to perfect as we could make them.  The turfgrass plants were young and had not produced a distinct mat or organic layer at that time.  When the economy made its downturn around 2009-2010 the decision was made to lessen our aerification practices to try and keep the golfers happy, keep the cash register ringing and try to limit the downtime of the greens during the summer golfing season.

Now let me say that ALL agronomic decisions made at Harrison Bay are mine, and with that I take full responsibility for the conditioning of the greens at our course.  In 2010 we started limiting our aerification practices and only aerifying with small 1/4" side eject tines at a close spacing and going only about 1.5-2" deep.  This practice gave us the desired results of golfers being happy with "unaerified" greens and it kept them coming out and in turn the revenue increased.

Well, now it is time to pay the piper as they say.  The photo to the right is a profile sample of one of our greens taken from a weak area.  You will notice that we have a mat layer consisting of live and dead shoot and root tissue which is diluted with sand from our topdressing.  Below that is a 1"-1.5" "muck" layer of organic matter that is completely restricting root movement, water movement, and air movement into the soil profile.  As you can see by the color changes the organic matter levels in the 2"-3" level are markedly less and below the 3.5" level it looks like the green was just built, no roots have entered this area to produce any organic matter.

This photo is representative of a lot of the areas on our greens, especially the areas which are showing stress from this past harsh winter.  As you can see the roots have not, can not penetrate this layer of organic matter and the turfgrass is doing its best to survive in the top inch of the soil profile.  This is not favorable for a successful green and here is where our problems lie.

The photo to the right is taken from a very good area on one of our greens.  If you will notice the organic matter has been managed or has not accumulated in this area as much as the previous example and with that water, air, and roots (sticking out of the bottom of the profile) can easily move thorough this profile.  This is what all of our greens should look like.

I know "aerification" is thought of in many golfers circles as a lengthy four letter word but it has to be done.  The USGA Green Section recommends the removal of 15-20% of the greens surface in a single year and through our practices over the past years we have only been getting between 8-10%.

Our payment to the piper will start this Monday and Tuesday as we will begin our aerification schedule for the year to begin repairing the mistakes that have been made over the years.  We will be conducting a "Spring Cleaning" of the greens designed to remove old plants from past seasons and initiate growth of new plants.  It will also serve to begin removing the organic layer and introduce new sand and soil amendments to the area below the "muck" layer.

We will be using a 3/8" coring tine on a 1.5" x 2" spacing.  The cores will be removed from the green and the topdressing drug in, greens mowed, greens rolled, and watered heavily. I do not think this will be overly disruptive to the putting surface since we did the back of #9 green last week and to my knowledge no one even knew we did it.

We will be working all summer to remove the organic layer in our greens.  Our large core aerifications will be performed on June 3 and 4 and August 4 and 5.  We will also be performing spot aerification on some of the weaker greens at other times during the summer months.

Over the past several years the popularity of ultradwarf bermudagrass greens has taken off in the South, especially here in Chattanooga.  As I said, I don't want to sound like a "know it all", but if you are a superintendent growing an ultradwarf bermudagrass or a member or owner of a course that has ultradwarf bermudagrass greens, please do not make the mistake of skimping on proper aerification practices.  It will come back to bite you and when you least need it to.

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