Fall Colors February 27, 2015

Fall Colors

By Stanley J. Zontek, Director
September 23, 2009

The first frost advisory was issued this week for the northern counties of Pennsylvania. While the calendar just finished saying summer, the fall weather pattern is settling into place. For many individuals in the golf and turfgrass management industry, this change in the weather brings a huge sigh of relief.

There were many uncertainties as the golf and turf industry entered the spring growing season. While there still remain many unknowns with the economy, most golf courses I have visited expressed every attitude from, "the worst may be over" to "so far, so good, we’re still here as a golf course."

In terms of golf course agronomy, currently the most important condition that needs concentration is the re-growth of the grass root system. While making Turf Advisory Service (TAS) visits, many course officials were surprised how shallow most of the grass root systems were in the greens. The playing surface looks good, but roots were shallow. This root loss was the result of all the heavy rains that most, but not all, parts of this region experienced the second half of the summer, primarily in August. What happened?

As water soaks into the soil it replaces air. Grass roots grow primarily in the large air spaces between soil and sand particles. When these air spaces are full of water, roots do not thrive. They suffer even more when the saturated water gets hot due to high daytime and nighttime temperatures. Warm water has little oxygen, and as the grass grows, the roots can literally collapse. Therefore, while the surfaces of the greens look good, the root systems are shallow and weak. A large number of golf courses in this region traditionally schedule major putting green renovation, aeration, and topdressing for late August. There is so little time for this work to be done that turf managers feel obligated to complete the work in spite of weather that can, and did, cause mechanical damage to the grass.

If your course was one of those that were forced to aerate and topdress on a few reserved dates in mid to late August, now is a good time, in anticipation of the 2010 season, to have a second contingency date set aside. In this way, if it is hot, humid and wet during the time of the next August renovation, there will be a second date, later in the fall, for the work to be done. The health of the grass is the important point here, as well as getting the necessary fall renovation work completed while minimizing golfer inconvenience. The fall is a good time to punch some extra holes (solid tines, quadtines, etc.) and apply a little bit more fertilizer to re-grow the grasses root systems that were damaged this summer. The re-growth occurs naturally, but the more air spaces you have in the soil, the better.

Finally, gray leaf spot is active on golf courses affecting perennial ryegrass. The disease is most active in the roughs, intermediate cuts, and now on fairways. Be forewarned.

In summary, if you need to rebuild your grass rooting system, control broadleaf weeds, or install drains, now is the time to start planning for that work.

Always remember, the Mid-Atlantic Region agronomists are part of your agronomic support team.  If you have a question or concern, give us a call or send an e-mail.  Stan Zontek ( and Darin Bevard ( at 610/558-9066 or Keith Happ ( at 412/341-5922.