A spring burnout

By |  March 12, 2019 0 Comments
Photo: Karl Danneberger

Karl Danneberger

Finally, the first day of spring. It’s still cool, but it’s sunny, and the snow is finally gone. After five months of storage, I lift the garage door, revealing my 1969 Pontiac Firebird. It’s one of the year’s most exciting days.

Turning the key and hearing the engine fire up is special. As I back the car out slowly and shift into drive, the only thing I’m thinking about is mashing down on the gas and doing a burnout. The smell of burning rubber and the appearance of white smoke is the announcement that spring is here!

Unfortunately, the problem with this first burnout — really all burnouts — is there is more to it than just stomping on the brake and gas pedal. Factors like weight distribution, tires, brakes, throttle control, rear differential and driver experience need to be considered when doing a burnout. If everything’s not right, you can end up sideways, potentially crashing into barriers or fences, or worse, other vehicles. Or maybe burn up a clutch, destroy a drivetrain or throw a rod. A failed burnout can make someone go from being “cool” to being a “fool.”

After doing a poor burnout, the arduous process of repairing and paying to fix the car begins.

The first chance to play golf in the northern U.S. is an exciting event as well. After a long winter, golfers and superintendents are excited to get on the course. That excitement is not always matched by the course’s appearance.

Early spring is a quirky time for cool-season turfgrasses. Both air and soil temperatures are generally on the cool side, resulting in differential growth among turfgrasses. For example, tall fescue starts shoot growth sooner than most turfgrasses, including Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. Because of this difference, the pronounced clumping of tall fescue is most evident.

On putting greens, annual bluegrass (Poa annua) often is green and growing at a relatively rapid rate. In contrast, creeping bentgrass is growing at a much slower rate and often appears to not be growing at all. In response to the difference in growth, it’s not uncommon to see blotchy purple and green patches on greens.

Achieving a uniform green color at this time often leads to applying nitrogen frequently and excessively. Creeping bentgrass, however, is on a different biological clock than annual bluegrass. Research looking at both shoot and root growth reports creeping bentgrass growth occurs later in the spring. If you have a solid science-based fertilization program, don’t do a “burnout” on creeping bentgrass by stepping on the nitrogen. The negative impact of too much nitrogen applied at the beginning of spring will cause problems much later into the season for both grasses.

Creeping bentgrass will start actively growing when it’s ready. If you are concerned with differential growth between creeping bentgrass and annual bluegrass, manage differential growth rates through applications of a plant growth regulator.

Although I’ve focused on cool-season turfgrasses, an early-spring nitrogen application to bermudagrass may not be desired. Fifty years ago, Texas research described an occurrence at the time known as root dieback. On warm-season turfgrasses, specifically bermudagrass and St. Augustinegrass, root dieback can occur at the time of first leaf emergence. Roots that were white and healthy quickly turn brown and die.

Root regeneration occurs rather quickly, but mechanical practices at the time of first leaf emergence are detrimental. Root dieback does not occur every year and may be extremely sporadic. I’ve seen no research cited recently referring to this event. I would still be cautious with any aggressive management practice, including a hit of nitrogen during this short time of first leaf emergence.

This spring, fertilize in moderation and don’t start too early. If you do a “burnout” too early, you will be try-ing to fix your turf for the rest of the year.

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