Agronomy
CLOSE to 90 golf superintendents benefited from the findings of a Michigan State University turfgrass professor, who visited four Ontario golf courses in August in a series of “turf academies.” Sponsored by Plant Science Inc., the turf academies were held during the week of Aug. 10 at the Whirlpool Golf Club in Niagara Falls, Heron Point Golf Club in Alberton, Beacon Hall Golf Club in Aurora, and Cherry Downs Golf & Country Club in Pickering.
By Dr. Doug Brede This is an update to an article by Dr. Brede that appeared in the September/October 2006 issue of Turf & Recreation. Tom Brain is a natural skeptic. “Years ago I always thought the interseeding we did was a waste of time and money,” said the superintendent at Burlington Golf and Country Club, an 18-hole private course in Burlington, Ont.  “After aerating you’d see the bentgrass coming up—germinating in the holes—but then it would just kind of disappear.” Fast forward to today and Brain beams with the success of his seeding project.
An ongoing lack of precipitation in British Columbia's lower mainland has resulted in alarming drops in water levels, which have affected private wells, fish spawning routes and depleted reservoir levels. FULL STORY
David Woodske, industry specialist (ornamentals) with the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, has been informed of a new turfgrass disease which has been confirmed on a turf sample submitted from a golf course in Kelowna.
Prior to the implementation of the current province-wide ban of cosmetic pest control products in Ontario, some homeowners took a proactive approach toward their lawns, planting alternative ground cover which does not require such products for its continued maintenance. In fact, such "lawns" may be altogether maintenance-free. In spite of her best intentions, one Ottawa-area resident recently ran afoul of existing municipal bylaws which found her front-yard garden in violation of regulations. The story, however, has a happy ending. FULL STORY
Researchers at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute are studying the effects of irrigation and overseeding on soccer fields in a quest to develop stronger and more durable playing surfaces. The city's youth soccer organization is using fields under study to show how they fare following game use. FULL STORY
By François Hébert Design & Solutions For Sports Surfaces F.H. Ltd. Today’s sports fields are subjected to levels of usage that very often far exceed their inherent capacity. These levels most certainly surpass those that older, more basic sports fields were ever designed to be able to handle. User demand has risen extremely fast and many municipalities’ capacity to keep up with this increase in needed playing hours has been stretched to the limit. In many cases, municipalities have had to respond to unanticipated and sustained surges in demand and their playing field inventories are feeling the strain. One of the primary factors that define a sports field’s usage capacity is its inherent drainage capacity. In fact, if we look at the different sports field construction systems available today, and those that have been developed over the years, we find that in most cases, their defining characteristic is their ability to control and evacuate water. This is achieved through a number of strategies, techniques and systems, but in all cases, drainage is the cornerstone of a sports field’s very essence.
Corn gluten meal is a “natural” turf herbicide and is derived from plant materials. It is a byproduct of the corn wet-milling process and is used for animal feed. It also contains 10 per cent nitrogen by weight, and is a source of nitrogen. Corn gluten meal is also classified as a pre–emergent herbicide, which means that it “inhibits” annual-type weeds before they germinate and sprout from the soil. It has no post-emergent effect on weeds, and, unfortunately, it may actually increase the growth of established weeds since it does provide nitrogen with every treatment. This product will not provide the eradicative effect as post-emergent 2,4-D herbicides like Killex, and is certainly not an effective alternative. Corn gluten meal must be applied before weed seeds germinate, which means during the months of spring in most cases. It will only work for a limited time period of approximately 35 to 45 days. In fact, corn gluten meal has been patented as a natural pre-emergent herbicide for the control of annual weeds in turfgrass, such as crabgrass. Following treatment, weed seedling shoots will emerge normally, but the development of the emerging root is inhibited by corn gluten meal. After a period of water stress, the seedlings wilt and die because their root systems do not develop properly. By contrast, 2,4-D herbicides like Killex will quickly destroy the entire plant, and can be applied at almost any time of the season. A program of one to three applications of Killex will provide season-long control of the majority of broad-leaved weeds. Corn gluten meal will fail to control weeds at the same level as a Killex program.
By François Hébert Landscape architect DSSS ltée. Montreal, QC Natural sports turf drainage systems exist in many forms and shapes, but share one common trait. While some water can be evacuated by surface runoff, most of it must percolate through the root zone to reach some form of underground drainage system. How fast and efficiently this percolation can occur and the amount of water that will remain available for the turf in the actual root zone determine a drainage system’s overall effectiveness, and consequently the playing surface’s performance and resistance to wear. All of this is highly dependent on the interaction between soil particles and water molecules. Natural sports turf surfaces are subjected to uses and abuses that are totally incompatible with the very nature of the turfgrasses they are made of. Proper drainage is essential for this turf cover to withstand the abuse it is subjected to. Yet, the very factors that affect the turf surface affect the performance of the drainage systems that are built into the sports fields. In order to design proper systems and to ensure their maintenance and prolonged effectiveness, it is important to understand the basic principles and processes that are at play. Perched water table
By John Hicks, Landscape Architect The pond should have a minimum depth to meet the proposed use requirements, and also to offset normal seepage and evaporation losses. Such losses vary across the continent amidst different climatic zones, soil types, and also from year to year. For instance, the eastern United States along with the Province of Ontario require a recommended minimum depth of 1.8 to 2.1 metres (six to seven feet). This parameter holds true all the way south to the panhandle of Florida, and west beyond the Mississippi Valley. In the central United States, it increases to between 2.4 and three metres (eight to 10 feet) and up to 4.3 metres (14 feet) in the arid western States. Deeper ponds are required where a year-round water supply is needed or where seepage losses exceed 75 millimetres (three inches) per month. Fish ponds, dealt with in later chapters, should be at least 3.7 to 4.6 m (12 to 15 feet) deep in part of the pond to assure survival over winter, and also to maintain a colder area in summer, particularly for trout species. Deep ponds over 4.6 metres (15 feet) may also be suitable for fish if a bottom draw-off spillway device allows the de-oxygenated bottom water to be removed. Wildlife ponds need only 1.2 to 1.5 metres (four to five feet) of depth with low sloping banks which encourage vegetation and weed growth. Oxygenation in these ponds is not a great concern.
OWNERS of Ontario’s lawn care companies will be challenged this year like never before to produce healthy, weed-free lawns for their customers. With the new Ontario Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Act having kicked in on April 22, these companies have officially been stripped of many of the tools they have come to rely upon to deliver customer satisfaction at a fair price. The new legislation, whose ill timing coincides with an already depressed economic climate, has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many company owners, who feel the political process leading to the ban was not only unjust, but one likely to result in lost revenue.
CHOOSING between a synthetic and organic fertilizer isn’t as simple as merely wishing to take a more environmentally-friendly approach toward turf care. Dr. Eric Lyons, a plant nutritionist with the University of Guelph, examined the key differences between the two fertilizer types during an address he made in Toronto in January at the Ontario Golf Superintendents’ Association-sponsored Golf Course Management Conference and Trade Show.
WITH water becoming increasingly more expensive to buy and turfgrass lawns suffering drought-induced setbacks, more and more people are turning to landscape contractors to create xeriscaped yards for them. Xeriscaping, an environmental design of land to minimize water use, has been showing up quite a bit of late "on people's radar," said Sean James, owner of Fern Ridge Landscaping in Milton, Ont. Speaking in January at Landscape Congress in Toronto, he said aesthetic-looking residential and park properties can be created, requiring little maintenance and next to no water. "We can create beauty with it," he said. "It isn't impossible. You just have to think about the plants you're going to use." James said nature does a good job on its own, and contractors and their customers can draw on that for inspiration. He said he prefers using native plants, but isn't opposed to using non-native species to create something different. Anything that can grow in pure sand is likely to be drought-tolerant. Periwinkle, for example, is an ideal, drought-tolerant plant, given the proper establishment process. It's slow to establish, he admitted, but will last a long time. Surface irrigation is usually required at the outset to get plants established, but "once that's done, you're off to the races." Xeriscaping doesn't mean water can't be used, James said. "Certainly water is an important part of any landscape for establishment and for aesthetics, but there are systems you can use that put water right at the root of the plant. I only look at irrigation as a method of establishment." Scree gardening is a method of xeriscaping which requires no soil. Scree is the gravel-like material which falls down the side of a mountain and comes in various sizes. The type of gravel used under roads is ideal for ordinary scree gardens. James, who has created a scree garden atop a driveway, said the growing medium for his scree garden at home ranges in depth from about one inch to a foot and a half, but it doesn't need to be particularly thick for plants to grow. Scree gardens "allow you to tap a whole different palette of plant material." James said it's "uncanny" what Mother Nature can grow that he can't. Keeping plants shorter and stronger will proof them against such things as a lack of water and nutrients. "If you're putting something in scree and you're cutting back on that nutrient and water availability, then you're going to make the plant an awful lot stronger and a lot more disease and insect tolerant." Because plants tend to grow shorter and stronger in scree plantings, powdery mildew will be absent. "In this age where pesticides are being taken out of the tool box, perhaps this is a good way to go to reduce the use." Xeriscapes can be home to several different plant varieties, including types of cacti that are Canadian winter hardy. "Anything that can set your landscape apart is a good thing." Dwarf conifers and miniature roses are among plant types which can prosper in a xeriscaped setting. James said he doesn't do anything with his roses which don't die back during the winter and bloom all summer. He added some landscapers tend to "baby" certain plants during the season, leading to winter dieback and winter kill. Little bluestem is a favourite grass of his for sunny environments because of its appearance, its ease of growing, and the fact it needs no water at all once it's established. "Think long term when you're landscaping. We should be thinking five, 10, 20 years down the line when we're doing things." A juniper big enough to fill the area, for example, "will fill the yard in no time at all." James told his audience to think twice before pulling something Mother Nature has planted, recalling how he gave a second thought to pulling a New England astor from his property. He opted to leave it alone and found it offered good winter interest, it complemented the grass, and looked as if it belonged there. Other plants to consider when xeriscaping, he noted, included iron weed, cat mint, various bamboos, wild blue indigo and red switchgrass. "If you have super, well-draining soil, then thyme is good. If it drains well, it's a beautiful ground cover." James said thyme also thrives in full sun, but added sun and shade are relative. "If something blooms in deep shade, especially late in the year, I'm happy. Try things out and see how they do." Drought-tolerant landscapes should not be overirrigated, he warned, because they will suffer if subjected to too much water. "If something is native and blooms in the shade and blooms in the fall, why would we not have it in our landscape?" Plants such as yuccas offer spectacular texture, James said. "Xeriscaping can have fabulous texture. It is about the leaves and the foliage colour as well and can make a landscape stand out from the competition." Trees such as black locust are drought-tolerant and are fast to grow when young, but slow down as they get older. They are native and problem-free. Barberries work well in xeriscapes, but James warned to be careful where they are planted. Because they are potentially invasive, he suggested they not be planted near a creek. "Put plants together that you think work well together and you'll learn to have fun with it." He said contractors should set the expectations of their customers the right way. Some plants may not look like much the first year but, with patience, will look great down the road. "Your customers aren't stupid. They didn't get financially well off enough to afford us by being stupid. They just may not know, and all they need is some information." The customer, however, is much better informed than he used to be due to such resources as the Internet and garden clubs, James said.
DEVELOPING environmentally-friendly yet profitable programs will be a challenge for lawn care operators and landscape contractors in Ontario now that a province-wide pesticide ban is imminent, but those willing to take that step can continue to offer their customers healthy, pest-free lawns. Such was the message from Turf Revolution's Tim Cradduck who spoke in January at Landscape Congress in Toronto. His message, entitled "Green unleashed: strategies for the new lawn care industry," offered advice to those wishing to provide their customers with the best available programs yet doing so using a "green tool box." It all begins with soil testing, he said. The contactor can meet with the customer, going over key points about what is happening with his turf "without getting lost in the science and confusing the customer." Such an approach, he noted, gives the contractor an added level of professionalism. The key point to note in any soil test, Cradduck said, is the soil's pH level which, if out of whack, will send everything else out of whack. Cation exchange capacity, potassium-to-magnesium ratio, organic matter, soil texture and sodium content are other key points to look at in a soil test. Turf Revolution uses a third party laboratory which conducts its soils tests using Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs standards. Testing is done in the form of a mail-in kit, providing the customer with full results in a PDF format within seven to 10 days. Make sure your spreader is calibrated to the pace of the operator. Using that soil test as a starting point, a core fertility program can be developed for the customer of four applications of fertilizer for the season. If the customer's soil is particularly sandy, one or two additional applications may be necessary because the nitrogen will be used up much faster. The soil test will indicate how many pounds of nitrogen are needed to be put down over the course of a season. The test will also suggest what correctives are necessary as well as the need for adding organics. Cradduck said results from a soil test create an opportunity for contractors to "up sell" other programs to their customers. "You've got an opportunity to sell aeration, overseeding, topdressing, correctives...those are all additional up-sells." He said if a customer can be sold on four yearly fertilizer applications, he can perhaps also be sold on some up-sells. It is important to understand the difference between synthetic and organic fertilizers, he said, because the way in which they work will be affected by the climate. Synthetic fertilizers, he noted, feed the plant directly vs. feeding the soil. High in nitrogen as a rule, they promote top growth but not a lot of root growth. Once it becomes hot and dry, the turf has difficulty surviving due to the imbalance between top and root growth. The reason synthetic fertilizers have become so expensive of late, Cradduck said, is because of the natural gas necessary to make the urea as well as the inflated cost of potash. Organic fertilizers, by law, contain a minimum of 15 per cent organic matter. The remaining 85 per cent of filler is synthetic fertilizer, in most cases. "You may have been sold thinking you're buying an organic fertilizer, but the reality is you've bought a synthetic fertilizer with a little bit of chicken manure or something like that tucked in the back end." Synthetic fertilizers contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium unless it also contains a micropackage of other nutrients. Organic fertilizers, by comparison, not only contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but about 12 other nutrients, including zinc, magnesium, sulfur and boron. Organic fertilizers "feed the soil which in turn feeds the plant, promoting healthy, balanced plant growth," Cradduck said. Although organic fertilizers have their attributes, they also have their drawbacks which include odour, he said, as they are often derived from animal manures or processed human waste. Cradduck said Turf Revolution chooses not to use any animal byproducts because of their propensity for odour and their salt content. Instead, the company uses plant/mineral-based fertilizers made from such products as corn, alfalfa and seaweed. "The nice thing about it is you're feeding a plant back to a plant." Attributes include a low salt index, an excellent slow-release source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and a balanced source of nutrients. "The neat thing about organics is there is lots of cool things that go on behind the scenes." Cradduck said alfalfa, for example, is an ideal nitrogen fertilizer which contains a biostimulant called triacontanal. The biostimulant creates a stronger and healthier grass, more vigorous tillering, and a healthier and stronger cell wall. Kelp also contains a biostimulant which produces significant root growth and doesn't cause the plant to stretch, yet keeps it solid, strong and healthy. It also helps with seed germination and drought tolerance. Polymer-coated urea fertilizers offer a truer form of release among synthetics, Cradduck said, but they are difficult to find anymore due to increased shipments to China. He said if they can be found, they will be expensive. "The nice thing about organics is they're totally natural slow-release fertilizers, so you'll get four to eight weeks of steady, slow feed out of an organic fertilizer." He added organics don't produce the same amount of top growth that synthetics do, which means a company that removes its clippings will be less burdened. It also helps to ensure that only the top third of the blade is cut when mowing regularly. "Ideally, we want to have a fertilizer that's balanced, meaning the first and last number (nitrogen and potassium) are close to being the same." A balanced organic fertilizer will promote both top and root growth, he said. Whenever weeds are present in a lawn, it tends to be a sign of other issues, including a pH level which isn't optimum, salt presence, compaction, low nitrogen levels, and nutrients tied up in the soil. At Turf Revolution, a product called Salt Stopper is used to neutralize the salt content in soil, allowing it to be flushed out so that grass can grow. Cradduck said last winter's salt usage in his driveway damaged the turf on either side of the pavement. By using the Salt Stopper product, he was able to restore a lush, healthy lawn in those areas within three weeks. The product is also helpful in preventing dog patch damage. Since it is the salt content in dog urine which causes the most damage, customers owning dogs can be up-sold on a Salt Stopper program, he said. Three applications in the spring, summer and fall of eight pounds per 1,000 square feet will stave off the problem. "Once the salt levels go down, it actually releases nitrates back into the soil. It's also a great clay buster which helps to reduce compaction. "Your core fertility program will be the key thing in your tool box," Cradduck said, recommending at least five pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet for each of the four yearly applications. If the soil is sandy, six pounds may be required. "The trick is, don't cheap out on this. This is where guys make a fatal error with their lawn care programs if they don't calibrate their fertilizer spreaders properly." He said the walking speed of the applicator must be taken into account so that the spreader can be adjusted according to the individual. Taller people with longer strides will cover more ground in a shorter period of time than someone shorter. The core fertility program is a big key toward crowding out weeds, but adding organic matter into the soil is also important. Microbes need to be replenished in the soil which can be accomplished by using organic fertilizers, retaining grass clippings and using compost. When overseeding, certified seed blends should be used, Cradduck said. "When you go shopping for seed, you'll have to pay a little more for a certified blend." The bag tag will indicate the exact percentage of the type of seed it is as well as the seed variety. Seed should be selected according to its growing conditions, he added, suggesting full sun or predominant shade will dictate what is needed. Seed type can combat potential damage from such pests as chinch bugs, billbugs and sod webworm. Ryegrass and creeping red fescue, for example, contain endophytes which upset the pests' stomachs, prompting them to stop feeding, dehydrate and die. Cradduck recommended maintaining a mowing height of between 21/2 and three inches and leaving behind the clippings which add about a pound of nitrogen to the soil during the course of a season. Water should be used judiciously, he suggested. "If we've got an irrigation system set up and it's coming on every single day and it's splashing water on the lawn 20 minutes every day, the roots don't have to go down anywhere. They can stay right there. You want to make sure you've got a deeper root zone." The customer needs to water less often, but for a longer period of time, he said, suggesting an inch of water per week on average is ideal. Aerating should ideally be done in both the spring and fall. "If you can aerate twice a year, you're off to the races. If you can encourage your customers to aerate more than that, even better." The idea behind aerating is to reduce compaction and increase the root zone. "We're root pruning the grass and it sends out more rhizomes which produces a bigger, thicker lawn and enables the water and nutrients down into the root zone." Topdressing will increase organic matter in the soil. The more organic matter, the higher the turf's drought tolerance will be. Ideally, topdressing should be done in conjunction with aerating, Cradduck said. If the right kind of compost is used, it should be free of weed seeds. Certified compost, or CQA, is weed-free. At the centre of the compost pile, the temperature is taken up to about 60 degrees Celsius so that any weed seeds or pathogens that may have existed are dead. The microbes, however, are still there digesting everything. Turf Revolution uses a spreader-friendly compost product called Time Sav'R Topdressing which can be put down by a broadcast or drop spreader in a quick application. A 3,000-square-foot lawn can be done in 15 minutes. A soccer field can be done in 45 minutes using a broadcast spreader. "Not all compost is created equal," Cradduck said, explaining that anaerobic compost-that without oxygen-is created inside a vessel. When taken out and exposed to oxygen, the microbes die and it tends to have a high salt index. He suggested aerobic compost be used, which is produced with oxygen and material derived from leaf and yard trimmings. "Don't get stuff with a high salt index to it because you'll pay for it in the end when you have to redo the lawn." Cradduck said the Time Sav'R product is pelletized, spreader-friendly, derived from CQA compost, is composted from leaf and yard trimmings, and makes for a fast and easy application. "Put a skid of product in the back of a pickup truck with a spreader and a guy, and he can go off and do 18 3,000-square-foot lawns in a six-hour day and make you about $800." Cradduck's final message: "Educate your customers. You have a formal partnership with your customers. If they want success from the program they're paying you to do, there has to be a partnership between the two of you to make sure it happens."
 Dr. Brian Horgan The decisions that golf course superintendents made last fall in regard to fertilization, nitrogen applications and coverings will determine the health and appearance of their turf in the spring. That was the principal message delivered by University of Minnesota turfgrass scientist Dr. Brian Horgan to Manitoba superintendents and students attending the Manitoba Golf and Turf Conference in Winnipeg, Nov. 23-25. Horgan's topic was "recovery for northern climates." And that recovery, of course, depends on actions superintendents take in the fall. The proper time to apply water-soluble nitrogen fertilizer in the fall is after the last mowing, which is usually in mid-October when growth has essentially ceased, Horgan noted. Late fall fertilizer applications improve turf density and aid in carbohydrate accumulation as growth slows. The benefits are improved fall colour retention and earlier spring greenup. The optimum time to apple fertilizer in the fall is when the temperature is between five and 15 degrees Celsius, Horgan said. Nitrogen application rates for water-soluble sources are 0.5 to one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet and, for organic and slow-release sources, one pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Horgan asked how many in his audience had introduced nitrogen into their turf this past fall. Only three responded positively. He noted the reason so few put nitrogen into the plant at this time of year is because of the concern about snow mould developing. "It is a dice roll," he observed about nitrogen input. "If you put it in at the wrong time, you risk encouraging disease. The key is experience. You have to know your pollens. Some pollens respond differently to different levels of nitrogen." Nitrogen has to be applied at critical growth junctures, Horgan said. Different nitrogen sources have to be applied at different times. For IBDU, late fall application should be no later than Sept. 15. The cutoff time for natural organic nitrogen is October. The deadline for coated ureas is generally around Oct. 15. Soluble nitrogen can be held back until the beginning of November. Again, this is all weather dependent. A cool fall with early frosts may push these dates earlier. "This year was tougher," he noted, "because there wasn't much time between the end of the warm weather and the beginning of cooler days." Where ice is concerned, Horgan pointed out the danger to turfgrass can come during the initial ice formation at the beginning of winter or during thaws when standing water increases crown hydration levels and then there is a sudden drop in temperature below minus five degrees Celsius. Poa annua turfgrass can survive up to 75 days under snow and ice, he noted. The hardier bentgrasses can survive up to 150 days under snow and ice. Turf is most susceptible to injury as it starts to green again in March, he added. Crown hydration generally affects poa annua grass rather than bentgrass because the former is always ready to come out at the first hint of spring while the latter grows more slowly. However, given the right conditions, crown hydration can kill any turfgrass. In discussing winter desiccation-death by drying out during the winter-Horgan noted that perennial ryegrass crowns are longer and more exposed than Kentucky bluegrass. The latter also contains rhizomes that protect growing points from winter desiccation. In addressing the matter of covers to protect against winter desiccation, Horgan noted that permeable ones work well. "We had guys in the Minnesota area who lost a lot of turf to winter kill because they put on impermeable covers over very wet soils. That resulted in a buildup of carbon dioxide and methane that proved lethal to the turf underneath. Now they are putting a foam layer down first and covering that with impermeable blankets." He added that wood fibre blankets can also be used to protect against winter injury. The three to four-inch wood fibre keeps temperatures steady throughout the winter, he said. The disadvantages are that you need a barn to store them when not in use, and they have to be replaced every few years.

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