March Madness

It’s that time of year again when the NCAA basketball office pools start, and everyone speculates which team will become the reigning champion. Some of our teams won’t make it through the first round, and others will make it to the Final Four (Go Rutgers). March also is the time when most of us in the parks and recreation business are preparing athletic fields, school grounds, parks and golf courses for the onslaught of spring when all of nature starts to rebound to life. (Get it, rebound?)

While Mother Nature is waking from her winter slumber, there is usually debris to clean up, such as fallen branches. In our area of Northeast Ohio and similar environments, a cleanup of leaves is needed due to a late fall that kept them on the trees longer than usual. This cleanup can become a challenge due to snow melt and wet conditions. I recommend working certain areas early in the morning while the ground is frozen, then moving from those areas when they begin to thaw.

The sooner you can clean up leaves and debris, the sooner the grass will respond to the longer days and sunlight. Believe it or not, the grass will start to grow slowly by mid-March. By removing debris, the grass plant can breathe and start photosynthesis--the process of producing food to grow and become green.

Be On The Lookout

Once the remnants of the cold weather are removed, check turfgrass areas for any disease that may have developed over winter, such as “snow mold.” Remember, just because the name suggests snow, the disease does not necessarily need snow to be present. There are two types of snow mold: pink (Microdochium nivale) and gray (Typhula incarnata). Pink will usually form on snow-free turf as circular and water-soaked patches. The disease can begin as 1- to 2-inch circles and grow to 12 inches. The circles are yellow to orange-brown in color, which will turn tan. The gray type occurs most commonly in high snowfall areas, although it is known to appear in wet and cold weather with little snow cover at temperatures of 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit. It appears as light yellow to grayish-brown and ranges from 2- to 30-inch circular patches.

Before And After

Treatment for this disease is usually completed prior to winter with a fungicide. However, a few simple steps can be taken after the fact to help the grass plant recover as quickly as possible. First, take a leaf rake and rake the matted-down leaves to allow air to circulate the plant and help dry out the disease. In most cases, the turf plant should recover on its own. In cases of high infestation, you may need to reseed the area. To help control snow mold in the future, try to eliminate thatch buildup, improve drainage in the area, and avoid high levels of nitrogen in the fall.

And while we are rooting for our favorite college teams (Go Rutgers), the only March Madness we will experience will be on our television screens and not lurking in our turf. It’s time to get our facilities ready and prepared for the biggest season--summer recreation.

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