Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Long, Difficult Winter for Turf

A couple months ago, I wrote about possible sources of winter damage to turf ("Good Winter or Bad Winter for Turf?").  As of now, we can say it was not an easy winter on any sort of turf -- home lawns or golf courses.  Almost every turf area I've seen has been affected in some way.  What can we do about it?

In Chicago, we had long periods of snow cover and 97 days with high tempuratures under 50 degrees.  We also had a slow thaw that may have soaked low areas.  Because of this, many lawns and turf areas have spots of pink snow mold, gray snow mold, or water damage.  A friend called me the other day in a panic because his landscaper told him he had snow mold.  The landscaper wasn't wrong:  Everyone has snow mold this year!  Turf authorities do not recommend chemical treatments, except in very extreme cases, because your lawn will most likely recover once the grass starts growing.

The following was written in 2005, but is just as relevant this year:
Winter has definitely been a long one this year in Michigan and if I had to guess, I think we will definitely see some snow mold in some turf areas. There might be some pink snow mold and in other areas some gray snow mold. Whichever is your favorite color, I wouldn’t get too worked up over the symptoms you’ll see. Gray snow mold is typically seen in turf areas that were under snow cover for extended periods of time. The damage from either type of snow mold is typically restricted to the leaf tissue and once the temperature starts to warm, the turf will start growing and recover from the damage quickly. (Dr. Kevin Frank, Michigan State)
Most bluegrass lawns and golf course rough have been affected to some extent by gray snow mold.  Most places, this fungus only affected the blades of the plant and will not affect the health of the turf long-term.  Areas affected by gray snow mold have a matted down appearance.  The blades look like they are glued together, and pin-head sized sclerotia (fungal structures) can often be seen.  By now, this disease is inactive and can do no further damage.  The best thing to do:  Wait for it to dry out, use a rake to break up the matted areas, and wait for new blades to come up.  Most of the time, seeding isn't necessary.

Pink snow mold can be a little more damaging.  We have seen some spots at the golf course:
Pink Snow Mold spots
Isolated spots like this are not a big problem.  Even if the roots have been killed, small amounts of seed in a few weeks will correct the problem.  Sometimes these spots will be so numerous they can kill a large portion of turf.  So far, we've only seen isolated spots.  Since this was a unique winter, this is to be expected.

The slow thaw and large amounts of moisture this past month may cause a less interesting, but more common problem: flood damage.  Some areas have been under water or ice for a long period.  When the turf in these areas warm up and come out of dormancy while underwater, flood damage can occur.  It is too early to say, but I suspect damage of this kind will be common this year throughout Chicagoland.

Spring water damage several years ago
One of the nice things about our greens at Sugar Creek is that they are elevated and sufficiently sloped to avoid a lot of these problems.  So far, the greens look very good considering the long winter we came through.  Pretty soon, it will be time to putt them!

So what is the answer to my initial question -- "what can we do about it?"  Nothing fancy, really:  Wait, rake it, seed it, mow it, and enjoy it!

Added 3/16/2010:  I ran across some great pictures of snow mold from the Chicago area.  Check them out for more information.  (Link)

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