I’ll be attending the New England Regional Turfgrass Conference in Providence, Rhode Island this week and guarantee the hot topic will be ice layers on greens. Guest speakers, superintendents and industry professionals will share every tidbit of information they can to help each other get through the next few weeks of critical course management decisions.
When an Ice layer forms directly on a green’s surface, the turf beneath is sealed off from the air exchange necessary for its survival. Carbon Dioxide and other toxic gases build up under the ice and Oxygen is slowly depleted (anoxia). If the ice doesn’t dissipate within a certain amount of time, turf damage can occur. In the Northeast, we are concerned with two species of turfgrass on greens, Poa Annua (Annual Bluegrass) and Creeping Bentgrass. Poa Annua is the most susceptible to this type of damage. After an estimated forty days, anoxia may kill Poa Annua. Creeping Bentgrass is genetically more resistant and may not be affected until ninety days. Notice my careful choice of words. There is no exact formula to predict the death of either variety of turfgrass. Superintendents rely on their own experience, course conditions, university studies, peer experiences and every other morsel of information available to them to make the right decisions in preventing damage to their course’s greens.
To further complicate the issue, the extreme variations in conditions from course to course, within a single course or on one green, make it impossible to analyze this subject in “black and white”. The differences in climate, soil type, turfgrass species and management techniques make every courses situation unique. Superintendents are faced with making difficult decisions without a solid foundation of facts to support them.
The big question is if superintendents should try to remove the ice layer and when. Successful results and methods are spotty at best. I’ve seen courses have success with snow removal using snow blowers, heavy equipment and dark colored topdressing materials. I’ve also seen those same techniques cause more mechanical damage than if nature was left to take its course.
Here is one last fact to complicate the issue. If the snow and ice have been removed and the turf is exposed, it is now susceptible to extreme fluctuations in temperature because there is no insulating blanket protecting it. After a couple of warm days the turf starts to absorb water and break dormancy. Cell walls get thinner and it is now susceptible to a drastic drop in temperature. Two or three days where temperature reaches fifty degrees then a night that drops into the teens can spell disaster. Welcome to March in New England!
We can’t all be as lucky as my old friend Eric Morrison, the superintendent at Shennecosset Golf Course in Groton, CT. His course is already open!