Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Reducing fusarium with dew removal.....or not.

When I first started in the turf industry my superintendent would always have me go drag the dew to "prevent the fusarium." When I became a superintendent in 2007 I think the only time that I actually dragged greens for disease prevention was the first year. Since then, dew removal has not been a part of my fusarium plan as I never really thought it made much different. Until today I never had any data to support that theory just observations. We use a dew drag and it would miss areas around the edges and there was no difference in disease pressure on the edges. To be honest it was more out of pure laziness that I didn't remove dew. The only times I dew whip is when it's a nice day for golf and I'm not rolling the greens.
Today I came across some preliminary results from a study being conducted at Oregon State University on alternative control methods for Microdochium patch. So far they haven't seen any significant difference between plots that the dew is removed and where it isn't removed.
It is nice to know that my hunch was probably correct and not just based on laziness.
So if you are dew whipping for fusarium you might wanna rethink that practice. It's good for the golfers but has little effect on fusarium.
Roll on

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Growth Potential Fertility: After 2 years

GP finally = 0!!
Growth Potential Fertility (GP) is still a relatively new concept in turfgrass management. For the past 2 years I have been using it as the main method to determine rates and timing of fertilizer applications. If you haven't already read this excellent article by Dr. Micah Woods, I highly suggest you do otherwise this post won't make much sense.

I currently use GP to fertilize greens, tees, and fairways. My main motivation to use GP fertility is to reduce the incidence of disease and to reduce or eliminate any excess or waste in my operation. That is the main purpose of GP, to only apply as much nutrients as the plant needs at the correct times.

I have had quite a few questions how I use GP in practice. Here is a brief overview of how I use GP on each area of my golf course.

For Greens I apply simple soluble source nutrients weekly applied through my sprayer. Every Monday I check the forecast and from this I get the average temperature for the following week. This number is never 100% accurate but it's usually pretty close. I plug that number into the equation and it spits out the nitrogen rates needed for that week. I can then base the rest of my nutrient requirements off of the nitrogen. I apply in this manner from the beginning of March through to the end of October. I go every week because frequent light applications of urea are more efficient than infrequent heavy applications. The rest of the season is cold enough that a light granular app in mid October will carry the plants through the winter.

For tees and fairways I don't have the luxury of applying fertilizer to them every week. On tees I still use blended granular fertilizers with non-water soluble source N. What I use is the average monthly temperature for my area for the past 30 years. Again this number is usually nowhere near actual field conditions but it gives me a pretty good general idea of what to expect. I plug the monthly rate into the calculation and apply fertilizer to my tees once a month. For fairways I switched over to urea as my main nutrient source this season. I was going out every 3 weeks to spray wetting agents so I might as well apply my fertilizer at the same time to save time. I took the monthly GP N rate and multiplied it my 75% and that gave me my 3 week rate. For tees I applied fertilizer as long as the rates were high enough to be physically possible with a granular product. This turned out to be from April till Oct.

Now the above outline is pretty basic. I have tweaked my program over the past few years to better suit my site's specific needs. I have made changes to the GP calculation and have strayed from GP all together in some instances.


For my putting greens I have changed the optimum cool season turf temperature to 18C instead of 20C. This is because my putting greens aren't creeping bentgrass, they are annual bluegrass. It is well known that Poa is less tolerant of high temperatures and can require more fertilizer than other turf species. The adjustment to the equation gives me slightly higher rates of N but doesn't increase the total monthly maximum rate. 3.5gN/m/month is plenty in my opinion. I have always based my fertility program to balance plant health and incidence of disease. I don't want to apply more fertilizer if it is going to mean I have to apply more pesticides. For my grass and climate anything less than 200kg N/ha/ year will result in less M.nivale. To get a good number for your site I would suggest making a spreadsheet similar to the one below and play around with the number to give you a total annual N rate that your are comfortable with. This will give you a good place to start and you can fine tune from there.

My GP fertility calculator annual rates. This is what I use for long range
planning, not for weekly applications
You might have noticed the Civitas/PGR adjustment on the top right. What that is is a way for me to tweak rates based on Primo Maxx and Civitas applications. What I have done is run at 80% when I am applying Primo or Civitas as they seem to reduce the nitrogen requirements.
This is my weekly fert calculator. Plug in the temps and it spits out my tank mix.

Last season I had some greens that were severely damaged over the winter months. I also had some major drainage issues that I wasn't able to address until this fall. These greens required more fertilizer to keep healthy. My healthy greens only required 180Kg N/ha where my unhealthy greens required almost 200kgN/ha to aid in the constant recovery. If you commit to GP don't be afraid to stray from the plan. The really cool thing about GP, though, is that it gives you a really good way to compare fertilizer applications year to year. A 200% GP rate can be as small as 4kg N/ha/month difference in March or as big as a 35 kg N/ha/month difference in July! By keeping track of the GP and how you deviated from the GP you gain a very valuable tool to understand what you are seeing out on the course. If you aren't using GP yet it can be a valuable tool to compare your current fertilizer practices with GP and see how far off you are. Maybe it will help you make some correlations between fertilizer applications and plant health, or seeming lack of it. Here is another great articlefrom Micah Woods showing how reduce potassium inputs in the fall can result in a lower incidence of Grey Snow Mold. The GP fertility method lends itself perfectly to these observations as well.


This year was the first season I used GP on my tees. I was unsure how applying fertilizer with my new sprayer would work on my tees as they are very small and surrounded by steep slopes and rock walls so I chose to use a granular blend. For the most part this worked out pretty good. Because I wasn't able to apply rates as low with a granular as with a liquid. I wasn't able to apply the actual GP rates early and late in the season. I used a blend with a higher % of water insoluble nitrogen which seemed to work out OK.
These tees are hard to spray.
I was able to do a few test sprays on my tees this summer and it turns out that spraying them isn't that big of a deal. Next year I plan to use the sprayer early and late in the season as well as during Mid Aug-Sept to attempt to reduce the incidence of dollar spot. The worst outbreaks of dollar spot have always been where slow release nitrogen sources have been used. Urea packs a punch and makes a big difference. I won't be exclusively using the sprayer on tees, though, because I don't want to make that frequent of fert applications due to time.

Last year I noticed a green up response due to worm castings so this year I will apply a nitrogen punch at this time to help green up and out-compete weeds on the tees. I waited too long to apply fert to my tees this year and as a result there was an increase in clover and plantain. I am less concerned with disease on my tees in the spring so some extra nitrogen at this time shouldn't make a big difference to disease.


In the past I was never able to fertilize my fairways with a sprayer because we only had a pull-behind 200L sprayer and only had a 2wd utility vehicle to pull it. This just wouldn't work for my hilly course. This year I was lucky enough to get a 757L Toro workman spray system on a 4wd chassis. Instantly I was able to spray fairways.

In the past with granular fertilizer applications I was limited to the N release duration, and prill size for my application rates. With my mild season I wasn't able to get rates below 200kg N/ha/year which is quite high for fairways on native soil where the clipping are returned. I switched to a slower release N source last year to try and reduce my N inputs but had a way more dollar spot on my fairways. So much that in some areas I had almost catastrophic losses.

This year I took the advice of a few superintendent on Twitter who said they had been going out with straight urea every 2 or 3 weeks and hadn't noticed any difference compared to other slow release N sources. Of course N losses were my biggest concern using straight urea for longer durations. I trusted their experience and advice and can say that I wasn't disappointed. I chose not to apply any other nutrients as I had obviously been over applying them for the past 20 years!

Just like the greens I adjusted my GP fertility calculation to take into account that I was on native soils and was returning the clippings. I used 18C for an optimum temperature and then went out at 50%GP. This gave me an annual rate of only 80kgN/ha!

This was a significantly lower rate than I had ever applied and I was a little nervous. What I observed was nothing short of amazing. The fairways were more consistent, green, and disease free than they had ever been before. Of course there are other factors at play here but I was not disappointed in the least! The Urea seemed to last the 3 weeks except for a long hot dry spell in early August. Next year I will shorten my application intervals to 2 weeks in the summer. I will also apply an early season boost just like on my tees to help out-compete the weeds. I will also add in some iron sulphate in the wet season to try and help with disease and colour.

In the future I think there are still areas where I can improve. One of my biggest issues this summer was wet conditions and disease. These were combined with huge growth surges which I think were due to excess nitrogen in the soil from OM release. I think that regular (weekly) testing of available soil N would be a huge help to further fine tune the GP fertility for disease management but until a fast, easy and economical way to measure soil N is developed I am stuck guessing.

So that's about it for now. I have switched over the way I fertilize, have saved a ton of money, increased the quality of the course, and gained a better understanding and ability to compare inputs to the course year over year.

Global Soil Survey Fert Recommendation

I also want to give another quick plug for the MLSN and the Global Soil Survey. I have also been using the MLSN for the past 2 years and so far so good. The results from my soils survey this year concluded that according to the MLSN I should be able to get away with applying only nitrogen to my putting greens next year. I think I have solved the major issues with my greens so next year should be good fun. I am going to give it a whirl and see what happens. Stay tuned....

Friday, 8 November 2013

A Funny Story

So here's a funny story.

Last Tuesday the 28th of Oct as I was finishing up mowing fairways I took a pass across the approach of the first green just to see how it looked. The past 2 days had seen a heavy frost so I wasn't able to get onto the greens to have a good look. To my horror the entire green appeared yellow. "Oh shit! I've killed the greens.....again!!!"

The Saturday before I couldn't believe how great the greens looked. Everything was looking good going into November and the winter. I wasn't going to let what happened last winter happen again. Dead grass this time of year sucks to say the least.

So that Tuesday night I got no sleep. I was a nervous wreck. The next day I went out to check on everything and yep, I thought I had killed them.

I tried to figure out what went wrong. The Sunday before was a nice day and my weekend staffer assured me there wasn't any frost when he rolled. I didn't believe him or the pro shop staff. This had to be it or so I thought.

My next step was to review all of the products that I had applied to the greens over the past month. Maybe I applied a bad combination of something. A word of caution. No matter what combination of chemicals you punch into Google you will almost always be able to find someone who says it is lethal to grass or extremely phytotoxic. CRAP!

At this point I thought all hope was lost. What am I going to do now. I sent off that dreaded email to my boss outlining what I thought was happening. "I think I killed the greens again so....."

I spent most of that morning just walking the greens, feeling hopeless and sad. I felt crushed and had lost all of my passion for my work. As I was pacing I get a text from the Super down the road.

"how's it going"
"shitty, my greens are dead"
"what happened?"

We tried to figure it out over text message until he informed me that "4 turf techs will be there in an hour" He was bringing all the Supers on the Coast up to see me.

There's nothing better than looking at someone else's dead grass. It's always a good learning experience. No one likes to see nice greens, come on now.

My wife had also come down to the course to see what was up. I took her down to the greens. She thought they looked great. I didn't believer her. She doesn't know grass....

They supers showed up and I took them down to my dead green. The first thing they say is "you asshole, there's nothing wrong with these greens" They aren't perfect, I've had some issues lately with drainage and keeping the density up, but were , in their opinion, looking good. I didn't believe them at first. What I had witnessed was beautiful putting greens with a vibrant green colour almost overnight turn yellow. Nothing happens quickly to turf except die.

We toured the course. I tried to tell them how my greens were dying. They weren't buying it. "what a jerk, invite us down here to see some dead grass and all we get is this? Show off!"

I wasn't showing off, honestly. I didn't sleep a bit for almost a week. I was a mess, depressed.

When you put so much effort into something, thousands of hours. Your family has to put up with your long hours away. When the greens suddenly die all of that hard work and sacrifice was for nothing. A waste....

Oh, yeah, this is a funny story.

So after the visit I felt a bit better. I have a great deal of respect for my fellow superintendents and trust their judgement even though I was still convinced something was up (who knows it could still be). I actually slept a bit that night.
My dead green pic
I posted a pic of my dead green on twitter and also got some great advice. "they look great" "sometimes the best thing to do is nothing"
I now had some options, try and do something or do nothing. I knew enough to know that I was too emotional to make a sound decision so I put my trust in them and did nothing. It's not like I had a lot of other options this time of year.

I took 2 days off to go play with helicopters. I needed to clear my head and take a break.

Upon returning to work I wasn't so down on the condition of the greens. They were far from perfect but seemed to still be alive.

So I get a voicemail today from one of the Supers that came down last week saying "we figured out what's wrong with your greens"

I promptly called them back. Hey, I want to know too! I thought it a bit odd for them to have figured out what was going on a week later without actually stepping foot on the property.

CIVITAS! What I was seeing was a lack of Civitas. They figure I had become accustomed to seeing the artificial green from the Harmonizer pigments. Good God they were totally right! I had no clue what colour Poa actually was this time of year! They did because there weren't using it.

The Saturday before I noticed the yellowing I had cut the greens but was then unable to get onto the greens for a good look due to persistent frost and darkness. When I finally was able to get back on 3 days later the difference in colour was drastic. I must have removed most of the pigment during the cutting. Add the changes in my fertilizer program where I wasn't really fertilizing much this time of year. Two years ago before I started using Civitas I would apply quite a bit more fertilizer through the winter, until I came across Growth Potential. Now my greens really aren't that green, at least not compared to the colour of Harmonizer.

Talk about paranoid. Looking back it's quite clear how the effects of working alone, more often, without having the luxury of a second opinion blurred my judgement. The weather, darkness, and having to work more to cover all the days of the week by myself broke me down.

It also points out the biggest drawback of using pigments in turf. It takes away one of your best tools for assessing how the grass is doing. Your eyes. With the persistent artificial green I was unable to see the gradual changes as the season progressed.

Over a week has now passed and I feel a lot better about the condition of the greens. They've been better but they appear to be alive now haha.

If it wasn't for the help and concern of my fellow superintendents and wife I might have done something foolish to try and fix the greens. Working alone this time of year definitely takes a toll and it's really good to know that if I need help, it's there. Thanks guys.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Quantifying OM Release and Integration Into IPM Program

As things wind down for the season I begin to have time to reflect on the past season and make sense of some of the data I have collected. This season wasn't without it's challenges especially when it comes to disease management without the use of traditional pesticides. Obviously I wasn't successful but I made some important observations that should help me next year.

 I had an amazingly successful winter but it all came crashing down in June. I again had a very successful July and August but again in early September I was hit hard with fusarium. June and September have always been tough months as they are transition months, they are warm but also usually wet. This creates the perfect storm for fungal attack. Without an effective organic contact pesticide I was out of luck.

It is pretty well known that high nitrogen generally means higher incidence of fusarium on putting greens. It wasn't until I came across the GP fertility method that I was able to more accurately determine the actual nitrogen needs of the plant. Basically what this helped me determine was nitrogen application timing, something that was more or less a mystery to me until last summer. I knew that the total amount of nitrogen applied was a factor in disease development but felt that the timing also played an important role.

In recent readings I came across something about nitrogen release from soil organic matter and this got me thinking about how I have been trying to use nitrogen to control M.nivale on my putting greens. All along I had been completely ignoring the amount of nitrogen released from OM (organic matter) in the soil. Obviously this would have a huge impact on plant health but I had no way of determining how much was being released at any given time. I actually still don't have a good way of knowing but I have come up with a way that I can very roughly estimate what might be happening in there. When I say rough I mean the worst dirt road in the deepest darkest corner of Siberia rough. Ugly rough.

So most if not all of the research I have used to determine nitrogen rates to discourage fusarium have not taken into account soil OM levels. It's probably safe to assume that OM levels in a lot of studies are rather low as the study greens are often not that old. Either way the amount of N released from the study root zones is probably similar to what I am experiencing but there is obviously no way to know. So using rates determined from studies is sill a good idea I just think that there is more to be known regarding nitrogen application timing and when OM nitrogen release occurs.

So that basis of my OM release estimation comes from a formula where;

amount of N released from OM /1000 sq ft per year =  1.7 * ln(OM%) + 1.8 per year

Larry from PACE Turf was kind enough to show me this formula but cautioned that it was a " VERY VERY ROUGH GUESS."

As I have about 1.7% OM in my putting green rootzones which gave me about 2.7 Lbs N/1000 sq ft or to put that in a measurement system that makes sense about 1.22 KG N per 100m2! HOLY SMOKES!! That's more nitrogen from OM that I apply using fertilizer but it doesn't at all mean that I should stop applying fertilizer. After all this OM release has been happening forever but it's just not something that I have quantified yet.

For IPM and specifically managing for M. nivale it's not just about total amount of N applied per season but I'm thinking it's more about the timing of those applications. As of now, I don't have a way of determining how much N is released from the soil OM levels at any given moment but I can use this rough seasonal estimation to make a further rough estimation based on a growth model I already use. You guessed it, GP (growth potential).

Now the release of N from soil OM is going to be dependant on a lot of things, not just temperature. To be fair, so is the growth of a plant. We got air temperature, soil temperature, humidity, soil type, soil air, soil moisture, amount of light the list goes on. The growth potential model is just a basic way of trying to understand the complex way nature works based on temperature, it's the best we got OK. If you really think about it though, most of the biological activity is based on temperature as we are pretty good at controlling all other environmental aspects of the growing environment.

So lets assume that the release of N from soil OM closely mimics the N requirements of a plant after all the N requirements are based on biological activity. The GP formula gives me theoretical monthly N requirements which can be added up for a total yearly N requirement of about 1.1Kg N/100m2 per season in my climate. I can then take the monthly requirements and divide them by the yearly requirement which gives me a month % of total. I can then reverse the formula using this percentage and the theoretical OM N release and this gives me the theoretical N release from OM per month based on temperature...... or something.

Now please before I go on, this is more than likely all a pile of garbage, I'm just speculating here, as usual.

So the above chart shows the amount of N added using GP (blue), the theoretical amount of N added from OM (red), and the total amount of N being added to the system (orange).

Now I should be able to use this data to compare nitrogen rates with disease pressure. Simply put the months of June and September are hell. May wasn't that bad and neither was October. The total N being added to the system in May is about 0.23 Kg N/100m2 and October sees about half of that. The total amount of N being applied to the system in June jumps to 0.4Kg N/100m2 or almost double. This could be a bid deal especially if the environmental conditions are still favourable for fusarium development.

June 2013. Look familiar anyone?
So what do I do? At this point I'm not totally sure what the best answer is. If you look at the OM N release from June is just about what the combined total is for May. Should I just not apply N in June!?! I don't think that's a good idea. Maybe I apply 50% of the required N, or 75%. What if I skip fertilizer applications if the weather is ideal for OM N release and fusarium. Both of the major disease outbreaks followed periods of warm weather and intense precipitation, followed by needle tine aeration to get air back into the soil profile. Whamo, we kick microbial action into turbo and the moisture and lack of drying sun makes disease outbreak explode.

Since I'm being so half assed and guessy here I could just assume that the amount of N release is exactly the same as the GP theoretical N requirement. If disease pressure is high I better keep rates less than 0.23 Kg N/100m2 per month. They say rates above 2 Kg N/100m2 per season significantly increase fusarium activity so why can't I say that rates higher than 0.23 Kg N/100m2 per month or 0.06kg N/100m2 per week significantly increase disease activity. Half that number for amount of N actually added as fertilizer! Those are pretty low rates.

I could speculate further that the reason guys who use "biostimulant" products or amino acids for plant health is because they for once aren't apply too much nitrogen.

In the end I could be totally wrong about the relationship with N and fusarium but at this point it's the best I can come up with and something that I have had the most success with so far. I now have all winter to think about this and try to come up with more crazy theories and ideas of how to survive June and September without traditional pesticides. If you got a better way to determine N release from OM based on something measurable I would love to hear about it!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Summer Dollar Spot Success

It has been almost 2 months since my last post and it's not because nothing has been happening. It was a really busy and good summer and I was trying some new things out to combat disease on the golf course. Since my last disease update the main disease of focus has been Dollar Spot.

Last year I was successful in combating Dollar Spot on my greens but my fairways were wiped out. It was the worst I had ever seen actually. As always applying a fungicide to my fairways wasn't possible.
You could see the devastation from space

More disease than grass in 2012
I accounted this extreme disease to a few factors.
  • In an attempt to drive down fertilizer use on my fairways I had got to 100% UMAXX slow release nitrogen source. This allowed me to put down a heavier granular rate that would last longer. In theory I could get by with just two applications per year and would half the amount of nitrogen on my fairways. With the tools I had at the time this seemed to be the most realistic way to drive down fertilizer use on my fairways as I didn't have a good sprayer.
  • My fertilizer application timing was a bit off causing my nitrogen source to lean out too much in mid summer something I later learned wasn't appropriate for my climate.
  • I had dried the fairways out and without the use of a wetting agent it was hard to re-wet them with my ancient irrigation system. Dry soil isn't good for getting nutrients into the plant I learned.
In the past there really wasn't much I could do for Dollar Spot other than apply a lot of granular fertilizer and sweep dew which was costly. This year I decided to try something new on my fairways.  This winter I got an almost entirely new equipment fleet which included a Toro Workman 200 Spray system mounted on a 4wd diesel workman. The 4wd was a must as the fairways here are very very steep. This new sprayer opened up a lot of possibilities for me. Instantly I could spray fairways in a few short hours with whatever my heart desired.

4wd is a must on steep fairways
Right away I threw wetting agents into my fairway program. I used Dispatch as it was the most economical. I wasn't looking for a miracle, just anything better than nothing! Next I was going to melt down UMAXX and apply it at the same time as the wetting agents. After some discussion on Twitter I was convinced to go with straight urea as it was cheaper and other superintendents had noticed no significant changes between the two nitrogen sources at a 3 week application interval. The use of urea also allowed me to more accurately follow the growth potential model on my fairways than if I was to use a slow release nitrogen source. The soluble nature also increased the likelihood that the nutrient would get into the plant. I have to say I was not disappointed!

This plan took on the disease on a number of preventative fronts, primarily giving the plant what it needed when it needed it. The wetting agents allowed me to keep the soils relatively moist but not too wet which kept the nutrient supply to the plant more consistent. The soluble nitrogen was also quickly taken up by the plant and the relatively frequent applications kept the supply consistent. I also decided to go with a light a frequent irrigation regime to try and keep soil moisture as consistent as was possible with a terrible soil.

A quick aside about using straight urea. I know there are a lot of apparent reasons why urea is bad (volitization, burn potential, it's not organic, growth surge, blah blah blah) but I have to say my experience this summer was nothing but fantastic. Science has shown that urea is quickly taken into the plant and in turf volatilization is of little concern. It is considered one of the best nitrogen sources available. In my experience this summer I did not have any apparent issues with nitrogen losses. I had a good consistent feed all summer long even with low rates of 0.12kg N/100m2 on a 3 week interval in July and August. Growth surges were more dependant on rain and temperature than anything else. I would try and apply before a rain to wash the urea and wetting agent into the soil but a few times I had to use the irrigation system with no issues. Mixing th urea was also very easy. I would just pour the bag of low grade urea into the basket on the sprayer and it would melt as fast as I could fill the tank. Best of all was the cost. With a cost of less than $120/ha/ season to fertilize fairways I was a happy camper! If you get Ag grade it's about half the price as "greens grade" and melts just as good. In some areas it's also tax free wink wink.
The only picture worthy incidence of dollar spot on the course this
summer was on the 4th approach for a few days

So now that we are safely out of Dollar Spot season I can say that this plan was an astounding success. My fairways have never been better actually. Of course there was the odd incidence of disease this summer but they were minor. One of my approaches was particularly hard hit as a wet spot prevented me from taking my sprayer on it. My tees were also hit with a bit of the disease but I attribute this to the use of slow release N. Next year it's straight urea on them too!  I think this program will also benefit my winter disease management plan on fairways. With less available nitrogen going into winter I hope to see a reduced incidence of Fusarium Patch. Time will tell on that one...

I wish all disease management approaches were this good. Improved conditions, less disease and significantly less cost! (other than a brand new sprayer of course) There are a few things that I will do differently next year but they don't relate to dollar spot and will be the focus of my next blog post looking back on an entire season of growth potential fertility.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Moss Disease


 I noticed something interesting happening to the moss on my practice green this summer. It appeared to be under attach by some sort of pathogen. I posted some pictures online when I first made the observation and had literally no feedback as to what it could be. Maybe no one had seen this on their course because they didn't have this much moss? The first time I head of the possibility of this disease was from the Superintendent at my neighbour course. He had a very slight case of this but it really wasn't that obvious and I shrugged it off as nothing. I was really surprised to see such a widespread incidence on my practice green this spring.

Today I came across a blog post from Dan Strey from Iowa State University who had made a similar observation in one of his moss studies. He found it to be Sclerotium rolfsii and likened its appearance to that of the dollar spot fungus. He noted that " It is very common in the tropics, subtropics, and other warm temperature regions. However, it is very rare to see the disease this far north. The pathogen rarely occurs when winter temperatures fall below 32˚F." This winter was very mild on the Southern Coast of Canada and this could be a reason why I am seeing this show up on my greens. Other contributing factors to this disease occurrence could be the lack of traditional fungicide treatments on this green since 2011, and the poor irrigation system which has lately been re-cycling the schedules and severely over-watering this green combined with relatively hot daytime temperatures. 

 I have sent samples off to be diagnosed but would welcome any other labs out there to check this out for curiosity sake. I think it is pretty cool and who knows, maybe it could be made into a biological moss control in the future?

Saturday, 20 July 2013


This post is a bit late as I have been a tad busy the past few weeks moving to a new town and battling the July summer heat. June might go down as one of the most difficult months I have ever had dealing with disease and the survival of my putting greens. I had two of the worst outbreaks of Fusarium I have ever seen in my 6 years as Superintendent here. It was a stressful month to say the least but I came out of it with a few new strategies for next year. The massive failure that was June 2013 helped me fine tune my disease management strategy.

June seems to be becoming a wet month in my part of the world. Last year it was consistently wet all month long. This year it started off with a few intense rain events then got decently nice for a week or so followed by an insane week of rain (same weather event that flooded Calgary). The first week of June my original disease management approach fell apart and I was forced to go back to traditional pesticides to regain control of the fusarium. I had to put all my plans on hold (including growth potential fertility) to regain control of the situation and push recovery on the greens. As the weather dried out the recovery was quick. Just as things were getting back into decent shape we got the same rain event that flooded parts of Alberta and that's where it got really bad. The fusarium exploded as the control provided from the Iprodione applied in early June faded. I was unable to apply any corrective fungicides until 3 days after the outbreak as it was raining much to hard. Things got even worse when the weather suddenly got very hot for the July 1 long weekend. The saturated greens were inundated with golfer traffic and they were almost turned into mud. It was very disheartening to say the least. With some stroke of luck I was able to keep everything alive and the greens are now in pretty good shape.

Heavy golfer traffic on over-saturated greens = bad
Looking back and after analysing my actions for that month I have made a few observations and changes to my fusarium management plan:

The growth rates in June were out of control. I am still using Primo Maxx to regulate growth but for some reason it just wasn't performing at all. I would get great growth rate control for about 3 days followed by intense growth action! It was so bad that we had to cut 2 times a day and were still scalping. It was this injury that probably made the disease attack worse. What I think went wrong here was that the Primo I was using was no longer working as I had been nursing the same jug since 2007! I had also increased nitrogen rates to push recovery which probably only made things worse. I should probably take my own advise more seriously in the future. Needless to say I bought a new jug of Primo and the growth rates have been much more consistent since then.

The growth surges are exactly in tune with disease pressure. High growth = high disease activity
As I had so much success with my Civitas and phosphite program through the winter I had decided to keep on with it through the summer which I now see as a mistake. I was applying these products on a 3 week cycle which worked great until about mid-May. At about this time I would notice an increased disease pressure mounting on the greens starting about 2 weeks after the application. Looking back I should have taken this as a sign. Man, I am dumb sometimes! Obviously as the temperatures warm up the plant's metabolism also increases and these products are used up quicker. Since the last big outbreak I have switched back to weekly applications of both of these products along with my fertilizer applications. In the future I plan on switching to weekly applications in April when I resume my weekly fertilizer applications. I will keep the overall monthly rates the same for now with just different application intervals. If this doesn't work I might try adapting my rates to the growth potential. Light and frequent, light and frequent, light and frequent, say it with me people.

What really clued me on was an application error on the 17th of June where I forgot to put my phosphite product in my spray tank while fertilizing greens. I remembered after I had already sprayed 2 greens but thought "what's the worst that could happen?" Well I was completely shocked to see the difference this product really made to my fusarium management program. I knew it worked, just not this much!
Missed phosphite application on the left. Phosphites applied on the right.

The worst of it, I almost had a heart attack

Fluffy white death
Following the crazy fusarium outbreak the weather dried out nicely and it got hot. Four days after dealing with the fusaium I had dollar spot mycelium on my greens! I mixed in some Rhapsody ASO (bacillus subtilis) and went directly into my dollar spot management plan. I wasn't able to roll at all in June and had to wait until mid July to start back up again as it was just too wet. Since that day I haven't seen a single sign of dollar spot anywhere except for a tee box that dried up due to a faulty controller. Urea applications based on growth potential, adequate soil moisture, daily rolling, civitas and rhapsody are a winning combination for dollar spot control on Poa greens in my opinion and experience.
Are you serious? Don't even start....
I have also changed my disease management approach on my fairways this year. Last year and in years prior I was always smoked with dollar spot as I mentioned in this post last August. So instead of doing nothing I am applying urea based on growth potential and wetting agent applications every three weeks. This might be too long an interval for the summer but I will give it a try this year and see how it goes. Based on history I should start to see some dollar spot on my fairways any day now but so far they are clean.

It is months like this that I wish I had more bent in my greens. The bentgrass I had was completely untouched by the fusarium but when you have 95%+ poa and shit hits the fan you just need to grow poa! Fertilizer, water, and pesticides!

All in all I am pretty happy with the outcome of June. I was kicked in the ass but was able to come out of it in decent shape. I leaned a few lessons and should be better prepared come next year. I will also carry these lessons on into September as I once again try to fend off the fusarium as the season winds down. So far I have not been successful in making it through September without traditional pesticides so I hope the things I have learned over the past year will help me accomplish this goal. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Looking Back and Forward

About 1.5 years ago the golf course industry in British Columbia was facing a real threat of an outright cosmetic pesticide ban. At this time I wrote a post about how I thought we should focus our efforts not just on fighting the ban but also on alternative pest control strategies just in case the ban became a reality. Ever since writing that post my blog has taken on a different purpose. It once started as a way to communicate with my members but changed into a tool for me to share my experiences as I try to reduce my reliance on pesticides on the golf course.

I would by lying if I said the past 2 years had been easy. It has been a journey filled with highs and lows. Highs such as seeing the possible effects that rolling has on fusarium patch and going 360 days without a synthetic pesticide application on my 8th green have overshadowed the lows of losing grass and being ridiculed by my peers for being different and maybe a bit crazy. I have experienced great success and also great failure but in the end I have started to accomplish what I originally set out to do in September of 2011. Just to be clear I didn't set out to find a way to eliminate the use of pesticides, I just wanted to find a different way of doing things that reduce the need to use these products in case of a pesticide ban. I was sick of all the pesticide haters saying we should ban these products without offering real alternatives. I set out to find an alternative way.
yep, that didn't work....
I'll admit, a lot of what I have written about has been a bit or a lot haywire. When I first started out I had no clue where I was going. All I knew is that I wanted to make a real effort to reduce my reliance on synthetic pesticides ( a term that I hate by the way. It would be nice if we could come up with a unified term for the "safer" pesticide products that have recently been released). I was trying anything I could from simply not applying pesticides and seeing what happened to extreme cultural practices (rolling 2x daily for a month straight). Hey! I wonder if this works?
yep, that also didn't work. hmmm...
I found it pretty interesting to see what I was concerned with when I originally wrote the post 2 years ago. My main issue was getting turf in my location to survive the winter without traditional synthetic pesticides. I was also concerned with managing for a certain level of turf death, something that I now think isn't necessary (in my climate anyway).

My primary pesticide reduction strategy was withholding  pesticides and powering the turf through the damage. This worked to a certain level as I had managed to cut my pesticide use in half using these methods but it didn't work from late fall, through the winter, and into early spring when the turf growth rates in my climate were very slow. It actually seemed that the more I tried to push growth during these periods, the worse the disease would be.
Sometimes it works!
In that post I talked about the importance of sharing what I was doing in order to learn and move forward. This has easily been the most important factor in any of the success I have had this past year. Through sharing I have been able to learn a great deal from a lot of very generous and smart people. Through these people I was able to learn about alternative pest control products (phosphites, civitas), growth potential fertility, and many other tricks and technologies (water management) that allowed me to make progress with my traditional pesticide reduction plans. If I had kept quiet I would still be blasting my greens with nitrogen to outpace the fusarium damage.
I cannot express my appreciation to these people enough! They saw through my craziness and gave meaningful input. They saw my passion and wanted me to succeed. For this I cannot thank them enough. The past few years have been incredibly exciting for me.

Because of what I had learned I was able to somewhat answer my original questions in that post.  Yes, we can get turf to survive the winter in my climate without the need for traditional pesticides in most cases. We can expect that the quality of these putting surfaces will not significantly drop and will remain competitive with surfaces that need traditional pesticide applications to survive. We can possibly do this with the long hated Poa annua with tools that we possess today. Of course none of what I am doing will work in every location but for me, it works.

Looking forward I know I still have a long way to go and that makes me happy. What I have learned might not be repeatable in other locations or even my location. Many challenges still await and I plan to keep on sharing them with you as I continue to learn. I know there is no cure-all solution out there but my hope is that you can take from what I share and maybe use it in a meaningful way.

What's going on here? It appears that something is killing the moss? Crazy? Totally! 

Thursday, 30 May 2013

"The Best Laid Plans...."

Well I broke down today and sprayed a traditional contact fungicide on most of my greens. I just wasn't confident that I could recover from the recent fusarium outbreak without it. Everything seemed to be going really good until yesterday when the turf growth rates exploded as did the fusarium activity. It would appear that the turf has finished its seed head production cycle and has now gone back to some serious vegetative growth again.
One of the less infected areas. Still green from a recent Civitas application.

Making the decision to spray was difficult because I really wanted to see if I could make it until the summer without the need for conventional pesticides. As usual I left some knock out areas to see if I could in fact outpace the disease without the contact pesticide. This time last year I did almost the exact same thing and the knock outs suggested that I did not need a fungicide. This is why the decision to spray this year was even harder this time around.

I had to weigh my options and make a decision that I would feel comfortable moving forward with. There were a few things that made me feel comfortable and these were:

  • The forecast was favourable with dry warm conditions.
  • Growth rates were relatively high to outpace the growth of the disease
There were also a few things that made me very nervous:
  • The overall cover of the disease was very widespread. If things turned sour there would be very little grass left after a few days. This is bad just in case you need clarification. This issue was made worse due to the natural Poa annua thinning following seed head production.
  • I hadn't applied really any products with significant fungistatic properties in almost 7 months. Aside from the small amount of sulphur there was little in my program that actually had any direct effect on the fungus. Civitas and Phosphite mode of action is primarily indirect. So there was basically nothing to stop the disease except for the plant's natural defences which leads me to my next point.
  • The Poa annua had just come out of seed head production which is pretty stressful. There is a natural turf decline following this phenomenon and most turf managers are especially careful during this weakened time of the year.
  • I didn't want to increase sulphur rates as this could stress the poa out more which would make things potentially worse.
This is why I decided to err on the side of caution and experience and spray.

The active disease has been active on the greens for months now but hadn't seemed to be spreading at all. This is one of the issues I see with only using indirect fungicides in your disease management program. Sometimes you just need to hit the fungi directly with something that really works! There are currently limited organic options with direct fungistatic effects that really work. I tried zerotol with no success last year.

I like to look back at my disease management program to see where I could improve next year. I think that my seed head management program might cause some of the disease issues and maybe some adjustments are needed to balance playability with disease management. I also over-applied nitrogen the past 2 weeks because of stupid math errors. I can only wonder what might have been. Or maybe I am doomed to have to spray a traditional pesticide whenever the poa goes out of seed head production. I guess that is one of the issues with  Poa annua. I was starting to think that I would be able to do this with the Poa but this is just another case for bentgrass. If only I could get it to grow here....
Who Knows?

Other things I would try differently would be to apply the civitas and phosphites more frequently through this period of stress. Maybe that would help?

This is one of the reasons I have been hesitant to fully commit to my program. This stuff is unproven and blindly committing to an unproven method is insane. I wrote about this issue with organic golf last summer.

I have to take away the positives from this though. I made it through the winter without traditional pesticides, something I once thought impossible in my climate. Now I just need to figure out this late spring and summer thing.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Changing My Weed Management Approach

Lately I have begun to change the way I approach weeds in the landscape. In my experience over the past decade I have seen a lot of weed management failures, not just on the golf course but also on people's home lawns. I have noticed a few things and here is what I have got.

The principle is this: Instead of focusing on the pest, focus on the desirable species. It might sound easy but it is really a hard thing to do. 

Take dandelions in your home lawn for example. When dandelions sprout on most people's lawns their first reaction is "what do I apply to kill these dandelions?" While this is a fantastic short term solution it really solves nothing over time and not after long the lawn is usually plagued with more dandelions. Instead of focusing your energy on the dandelion focus on the needs of the turf. The dandelions aren't the issues. The turf that is weak and unable to out-compete the dandelions is the real issue. I am often approached by members telling me I better cut the seed heads and flowers off the dandelions before the seed blows onto the fairways. I have never done this because I grow good grass. Twelve years on the job and no increase in weed populations. Dandelions aren't going to grow where good grass is growing plain and simple.
Brown un-irrigated area is mostly dandelions
get over it.
Areas where we can grow good grass there are virtually
no weeds.
Another common weed issue I see on people's home lawns is moss. For some reason people hate moss on their lawns and I just can't figure out why. It's green and requires virtually no maintenance so what's the problem? Most people's attempts to kill the moss actually do more harm to the turf than the moss. Liming and applying high levels of iron can help with the moss but do little to help the turf perform well enough to compete with the moss. It seems that the harder you fight the moss the more moss you end up having. The moss isn't your problem here, your crappy grass is!
This isn't a moss problem, it's a lousy grass problem.
I am constantly asked by the public what I use to control weeds on the golf course. My answer is "we haven't used a herbicide on our fairways in 10 years!" and they are always surprised because in their view there are very little, if any, weeds on the golf course. The truth is that there are lots of "weeds" on the course they just don't notice them because there are very few weeds for the size of the turf area. We employ sound turf management practices and don't strive for perfection. Perfection when it comes to weed management is sometimes achievable but no one really notices, or cares. Instead we focus on the big picture and do whatever we have the resources to do to make our grass out-perform the "weeds." If we can do this we can easily keep control of the weeds using manual removal using hand tools.
White clover barely affects play and most people
don't even notice it especially from a distance.
There are some areas of the course that are mostly weeds. These areas are typically on steep slopes that aren't irrigated, fertilized, or aerated because we simply just can't on that terrain. Of course I could spray these areas to kill the dandelions but why? So more can grow back? The only time I would use a herbicide to control a weed is if I was able to correct the underlying issues that permitted that weed to exist in the first place. If you can't grow good grass in that location there is absolutely no point in trying to kill the weeds, right?
Un-irrigated rough, yep this is all I can expect.
This kind of thinking is what many turf professionals do every day even if we don't realize it at first. For me this simple change in thinking has really helped my efforts to grow good grass and stop killing the weeds.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Learning to Manage the Seed Head

Seed head popping up prior to mowing.
I've always been a manager of Poa annua greens and I always dread the onset of seed head each May. It seems that just as my greens have recovered from aeration they get all soft and bumpy again due to the sea of white seed heads. YUCK. Over the past few years the issues I have been experiencing with the seed head have gone from borderline major to practically non-existent. Of course it could be that changing climate that is to blame but my ego would like to think that it is because of what I am doing that is making the difference. Here's to me!

Way back when I was new to the grass growing business I remember mowers stalling out trying to push through the puffy greens. The greens were more white than green and any attempt at achieving anything considered greenspeed was futile. We would fight the poa by aggressively verticutting to thin the puffy inflorescence filled canopy and would reduce nitrogen inputs to try and slow the growth of the ghastly seed head. Looking back I can say that those two attempts to overcome the bumpy soft conditions were complete failures.
This used to happen EVERY May.
The past two seasons the issues pertaining to the Poa annua seed head have virtually disappeared. Last season I implemented an aggressive rolling program. I was in experimental mode and wanted to see what the limits were for lightweight rolling on putting greens. We practically rolled the chlorophyll out of the greens last year but in the process I noticed a few interesting things. On my study green I noticed that there appeared to be less seed head on plots that were rolled more frequently. Of course my observations were hardly scientific but it at least highlighted a possible impact on seed head by rolling. So aside from the obvious smoothing effect of the roller there could be other impacts that actually reduce the amount of seed head that the plant produces. I really wish I had more time this year to study this further but that will have to wait until another year.
Literally more seed head than grass blades in 2011.

This year I have not been rolling as often as last year simply due to labor restraints. Even if I had the additional labor required to roll daily or 2x daily like last June I don't think I would. Just because my test green showed that rolling 3x a day could maybe reduce fusarium and seed head on Poa annua doesn't make it the best approach. It would be foolish to throw all your eggs into one basket when tackling an issue. Instead I have rolled as often as I can (4-7 times a week) with the understanding that it can be one tool towards achieving my end goal. In this case my goal is have smooth, firm greens all while not using traditional pesticides to get the Poa through the seed head stress. Rolling has been a very important tool for me to manage the problem of bumpy seedy poa greens. It smooths the canopy, maybe reduces number of seed heads, and allows me to skip mowings and cut higher to reduce any stress that I can on the plant.

About as bad as it has been so far this year.
The next thing that I think is having a big effect on the seed head this year is something I have already talked a lot about. Demand based fertilizer applications using the growth potential formula developed by PACE Turf. Specifically I think it is the nitrogen that is having the most profound impact but it could also be helped due to the fact that I have applied almost no phosphate to my greens in 2 years. Having said that there is plenty of phosphate in the soil so the plant is not going without.

With my old fertilizer methods based on the classic cool season growth rate chart I was applying more nitrogen than my turf actually needed. As nitrogen is one of those things that can be luxury consumed I was having a big impact on the turf health by fertilizing in this manner especially if the plant didn't actually need it. Was the excess nitrogen applied in the spring used to build carbohydrate reserves for seed head production further increasing the amount of seed heads on my greens? I don't know the answer to that but it a sneaking hunch that I have.

Then just when the plant would start producing seed heads I would cut the food supply off further stressing the plant out. What do plants do when under stress? The same thing I try and do after a few glasses of wine. Try and reproduce. Key word: Try.

Last year I kept my nitrogen applications consistent through the seed head cycle and was pleasantly surprised at the outcome. This year I have applied less than half the historic nitrogen amounts and have been further surprised. I hypothesize that the lean conditions as well as rates based on the changing needs of the plant have helped reduce the severity of the seed head this year. Again, who knows?

In Canada we don't have any products registered for use in controlling Poa annua seed head but I see this as a blessing. If I had these products the seed head wouldn't have been an issue and I wouldn't have sought other means to solve this issue. This year I have also stopped the use of Primo Maxx plant growth regulator so this is also not a contributor to what I am seeing.

Three years ago if you would have asked me that I would be getting compliments on the smooth fast greens in May I would have probably called you crazy but here I am blown away at how great Poa annua greens can be right in the middle of the seed head flush. Again, this could all be delusional rhetoric, I'm no scientist. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Sorry, no graphs just another bad picture of grass.