Putting Turf To Bed For Winter

By the time you read this article, the campers will be gone, the golfers will be few, and most school fall sports will be winding down. Although it may be tempting to close up shop for the winter without a second glance, now is the time to think about how to make turfgrass areas ready for the rigors of next year’s traffic, weather and overuse.

Take note of individual problem areas. Is it something that can be fixed as simply as changing traffic patterns or clearing up drainage, or will it be a major renovation that needs to be communicated and planned out with the powers-that-be? No matter how major or minor the concern, now is the time to plan.

Aerification And Fall Seeding

Fall is the time to begin to develop root systems through aerification. With cooler temperatures and longer nights, the turfgrass plant begins to rejuvenate. Aerification is the process of punching holes, or slits, into the turfgrass in order to create a gas exchange within the soil profile by the removal of thatch. Thatch is an intermingled organic layer of dead and living shoots, stems and roots of grasses that develop between the turf canopy of green vegetation and the soil surface. If thatch is not removed from time to time, it can develop into an impervious layer that will not allow irrigation or fertilization to reach the soil. This is also a good time to reseed any bare spots with quality seed (look for the blue tag--certification from the state that ensures a consumer is getting the product with all the genetic characteristics of a particular cultivar).

When seeding, always use a blend of turfgrass seeds. Never use a monostand of seed (a turfgrass community composed of plants of only one cultivar). The reason for this is turfgrass cultivars are susceptible to different diseases and environmental conditions. By making a blend, the chances that an entire crop of turgrass will be wiped out by disease or environmental conditions are limited due to the genetic makeup of each variety. During seeding establishment, apply a starter fertilizer that has a higher rate of phosphorus at about one pound per 1,000 square feet. Don’t worry about the nitrogen level at this point. Some nitrogen is needed, but not in any large quantity to start the plant. Something to think about for those who maintain an athletic field is reseeding the field prior to the last game and letting the athletes work the seed into the soil. It is important to have that seed-soil contact in order for the seed to establish and germinate.

Following these steps will put turf to bed for the winter and develop a healthy stand of turfgrass for the next season:

· Soil testing--Take soil samples in the fall and send them to a lab; a determination can be made on how best to plan for the upcoming season.

· Weed control--Now is a good time to control any weeds that have propagated the past year.

· Seeding--Choose a good quality (blue-tag certified) and always use a blend of several varieties: 70 percent Kentucky bluegrass plus 30 percent perennial rye grass (for cool season climates).

· Dormant fertilizer--Apply slow-release nitrogen at the end of the season when the turf has stopped growing but before the ground freezes. This is done because the soil temperature is still warm enough to encourage root growth for the upcoming season.

Sean McHugh , CGCS, is chief superintendent of Golf Turf for Cleveland Metroparks. He can be reached via e-mail at spm@clevelandmetroparks.com