The turf routine: What defines healthy turf?

By |  January 22, 2015 0 Comments

I was at the British Turf Management Exhibition (BTME) in Harrogate, England, a year or so ago when I listened to a speaker talk about the golf swing. He identified three distinct aspects of hitting a golf shot — the pre-shot routine, the shot itself and the post-shot routine. After briefly describing each, the speaker asked the audience, “Which of the three aspects does a golfer have control over?”

The answer was the pre- and post-shot routine. The golfer has little control over the shot or swing itself.

Using the golf swing analogy, what aspect does a superintendent have the least control over?

The answer is the shot — but in our case the shot would be the weather. Given that we have little control over the weather, which during the summer dictates the level of environmental stresses, our control over the pre-shot (pre-stress) or post-shot (post-stress) routine is extremely important. In pre- or post-stress situations we are either trying to promote a healthy turf going into the stress or trying to facilitate turf recovery after the stress with the goal of getting to a healthy turf.

Given that two out of three of our “golf swing” components focus on producing a healthy turf, a fair question is, “what exactly defines healthy turf?”

Here I have listed five components of a healthy turf. By no means is this list all-inclusive; I believe we could come up with some additional assessments. As a caveat, excesses/extremes with any of these components is detrimental.

Color. A green turf is a sign of a healthy turf. The green turfgrass plant color is due to chlorophyll. Active chlorophyll production is associated with efficient photosynthesis. Based on the turfgrass species or cultural programs, different shades of green exist and in some cases can be detrimental… a plant can be too green. However, a green turfgrass plant, or almost any green plant, is a healthy plant.

Growth. A healthy plant produces shoots and roots. Shoots intercept light, while roots provide the uptake of water and nutrients. In the case of growing roots, the soil conditions become extremely important. Under this component I would place a “healthy soil,” which directly impacts root and shoot growth. For example, well drained, nutrient and moisture sufficient, non-compacted soil contributes positively toward growth.

Turgid. Turgidity, or the water contained in the plant, reflects a healthy plant. A non-turgid plant is drought-stricken and most likely dormant or injured. Important factors in turgidity are the quantity and quality of the water present.

Metabolic activity. A healthy plant is actively producing and using amino acids, proteins, enzymes, carbohydrates, etc., which are used in thousands of reactions within the plant cells. A drop in activity may show, among others, an increased susceptibility to pests and environmental stresses. Nutrition plays an important role in that many of the components consist of the major elements.

Thrives/tolerant to intended use. The turf is tolerant to the normal stresses associated with playing the game of golf. Here we would put tolerant to the given mowing height, and normal wear, given that mowing is a stress.

Using my five components, a healthy turf would appear green, hydrated, growing at a desirable rate and showing no visible injury.

Unfortunately, the superintendent’s dilemma is not necessarily to produce a healthy turf, but one that is dictated by the game of golf itself. The desire to produce fast, firm conditions taken to the extreme where burned-out or brown turf exists is resulting in abandonment, erosion or continual changes in our pre- and post-shot routines.

A burned-out turf does not represent our best golf swing, but I guess in many cases it will have to do.

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