Thursday, April 17, 2014


Nick Christians
April 17, 2014

It looks like the big winner (or loser depending on your perspective) this winter was perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne).  We use this species in the Midwest on some golf course fairways and a large number of sports fields. It is also often included in lawn seed mixes.

Perennial ryegrass has good wear tolerance and germinates very quickly in spring and fall.  I find that I will get germination from perennial rye weeks early than I do from Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) in spring seedings.  It also matures quickly, and recovery from winter damage takes place much faster than from spring seedings of Kentucky bluegrass.  On golf course fairways and tees, we can get the playing surface back in a few weeks from rye seedings, whereas it can take months for Kentucky bluegrass to provide a complete cover from a spring seeding.  We generally seed the rye at 3 to 5 lbs/1000 ft2 in mid-April.  If you had damage on rye this spring, I would recommend seeding as soon as possible.  If you are planning to overseed Kentucky bluegrass, you will likely see little germination before mid-May and then recovery will be painfully slow unless you cover the area with tarps to speed the process.

We had one of the coldest winters in years in 2014, as Ryan and myself have mentioned in blogs over the past 3 weeks.  We have had a few contacts about loss of Poa annua on golf courses, although it does not appear to be very bad in most of Iowa.  Creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera) damage appears to be minor as of mid-April.   There is also a little damage on Kentucky bluegrass, although that will generally recover from rhizomes in years like this.  Perennial ryegrass is another matter.  We are just beginning to get contacts about rye damage.  The pictures below are form sports fields and golf courses in central Iowa.  This is further south than we normally see winter damage on this species, which makes me wonder how much damage we are seeing in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota. 

Perennial rye does not have a rhizome system like Kentucky bluegrass and generally requires overseeding in the spring when damage occurs.  The good news is, you can get it back much more quickly than other species (see the pictures from Vennker Golf Course on Iowa State University campus from 2008).

Let me know if you are seeing winter damage on your area and send me some pictures as well.  It will be interesting to watch recovery as the spring progresses.  

The first 4 pictures are from Jester Park golf course in Central Iowa.  These are mostly ryegrass fairways with a little Kentucky bluegrass mixed in.

The undamaged area in the left of this picture is Kentucky bluegrass.  The damaged area is perennial rye.

 These pictures were taken on a mostly perennial ryegras soccer field on ISU campus.  Notice the mole run in the first picture.  Thanks to Brent Cunningham for the pictures.

 This set of pictures is from John Newton, certified golf course superintendent at the university golf course.  It shows winter damage on his ryegrass fairways in 2008.  The area was seeded with 3 lbs rye per 1000 sq ft on April 10.  The second row of pictures show flood damage in May with recovery by the end of the summer.  John had a tough year in 2008.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Nick Christians
April 16, 2014

Here are some pictures from Tim Christians and Brian Thomson who are both superintendents in the Chicago suburb of Barrington.  The storm was last weekend.  The hail stones were the size of golf balls and larger and did much of the same damage that a golf ball would do.  They ended up having to fix thousands of holes in the same way they would fix a ball mark.

They also had quite a bit of damage to cars in the parking lots.

Tim reports that this hardly slowed the golfers down.  Right after the storm, the pro shop sold out of colored golf balls and the players just kept going.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Are My Greens Still Alive Update

The first section of this blog will highlight a quick update from Tim at Short Hills Country Club in East Moline, IL. I posted a few pictures of Tim’s greens and damage in a previous blog. The earlier pictures were from March 24th and the second set was taken a week later on April 1st. Tim covered his greens and was getting an 8-degree temperature increase on sunny days. The soil temperatures in the Moline/Davenport area have already risen to 58 degrees in the top 4 inches. This rest of Iowa is currently in the mid to high 40’s. Tim saw increased green tissue appearing over the last week. In the upcoming weeks, he is going to hit them with a shot of soluble nitrogen and a Florentine package. They are hopeful of a full recovery by mid-late May.  Below you will see a before and after picture of the same green.

Below you will find a chart looking at the low temperature hardiness of several turfgrass species produced by Beard (1973).

Low-temperature hardiness
Turfgrass species
Rough bluegrass

Creeping bentgrass
Kentucky bluegrass

Colonial bentgrass
Annual bluegrass

Tall fescue

Red fescue
Perennial ryegrass

As we progress down the list, we are seeing additional damage. In the last few days there has been extensive damage reported to perennial ryegrass stands in central Iowa. Prairie Ridge Sports Complex in Ankeny, IA and across Saylorville Lake in Granger, IA at Jester Park Golf Course is seeing widespread damage of perennial ryegrass fairways and soccer fields. Last week, I visited Elliott Josephson at Prairie Ridge and both of his perennial rye soccer fields have extensive damage. Digging down into the P-rye, there was some slimy green tissue at the soil level, but he has not seen much recovery over the last week. Elliot decided to take a proactive approach about two weeks ago and has already initiated reseeding the field. Supplementary seeding will take place this week. These two particular soccer fields receive high amounts of play and traffic throughout the year from mid-April to mid-late November. I believe the excessive traffic and wear has contributed to the winter damage.  

 Perennial Ryegrass Soccer Field at Prairie Ridge
High traffic and wear area on field above

In addition, last week Nick and I traveled to Jester Park (pictured below) to meet with Superintendent Bob Begey who is seeing extensive perennial rye fairway damage. More information and updates will be available this week. If you are seeing damage, please let us know. 

Monday, April 7, 2014


Nick Christians
April 7, 2014

Spring work is finally getting underway at Iowa State.  One of the first big projects at athletics is the renovation of one of the football practice fields.  The guys from the Iowa Cubs in Des Moines brought down their new "Fraise" mower (http://buckeyeturf.osu.edu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1225&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=170)  to strip the field this morning.  Sports Turf Manager Tim Van Loo is planning to seed the field tomorrow with 10 lbs of Kentucky bluegrass per 1000 sq ft.  He will then lightly topdress with sand and cover the field with tarps until germination.  This will be a very interesting experiment.  I will keep you posted on how things go.

The field is sand-based and was previously established with a Kentucky bluegrass/perennial ryegrass combination.  As was the case in a number of Iowa perennial ryegrass fields, the rye didn't take our cold winter very well.   I am looking forward to seeing how a Kentucky bluegrass turf performs on the field through the coming season.


Thursday, April 3, 2014


Nick Christians
April 2, 2014

 Winter damage at turf research (prior year)

 Desiccation on bentgrass (prior year)

Winter damage to turf can occur from a variety of causes.  These include diseases such as snow mold, ice cover, traffic, frost heaving, desiccation, and direct low temperature damage.  In recent years, desiccation due to mild conditions, lack of snow cover and drying winds late in the winter have been the biggest reason for winter damage in Iowa (see my blog on this site from January 2, 2012).  Snow mold is sometimes a problem (see blogs from March 11, 2010, Sept. 10, 2010, Nov. 27, 2012 and Dec 8, 2012).  The biggest concern this spring, however,  is likely to be direct low temperature damage.

This past winter has been one of the coldest in recent memory for most of us in the Midwest.  As Ryan mentioned in his last blog, the average temperature over the past 3 months was 14.7 degrees F as compared to a normal average of 22.1 F.  We also hit some very low temperatures during the last 3 months, with low temperatures on some days dropping below -20 F.  Records in Ames show that this winter was the ninth coldest in the last 141 years. The question as to how much winter damage we will see as the turf emerges from dormancy depends on the species grown on the site and on a series of complicated, interacting conditions that occurred during the winter.

Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) and creepging bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera) tend to be quite tolerant of cold temperatures.  The fine fescues as well have proven to be quite tolerant in my experience.  Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), and Annual bluegrass (Poa annua) are more likely to be damaged by low temperature.  The warm-season grasses are generally more susceptible to cold temperature damage.  Bermudagrass (Cynodon spp) is easily damaged, whereas Zoysiagrass (Zoysia japonica) and buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides) are more tolerant.  It will be on the perennial rye, tall fescue, and annual bluegrass that I expect the most damage as the grass emerges from dormancy in this area.  Creeping bentgrass is very susceptible to winter desiccation, but the continual snow cover that we have had in most regions of the Midwest should prevent this from being a major problem this year.

An even more important determining factor in direct low temperature kill is the condition of the grass going into the winter and the conditions that occur in the localized area during the winter.  Seedling ryegrass and seedling tall fescue that were established late in the fall are particularly susceptible to cold temperature damage.  It is not unusual to loose late seedings of these species in years with less severe winters that occurred this year. Mature stands of these species survive cold temperatures much better if they harden off properly before extremely cold temperatures occur.  Snow cover during the winter tends to be a good thing, and I rarely see damage in cold winters when snow lasts most of the winter as it did this year. 

If there has been intermittent melting, allowing water to settle in low areas, followed by a hard freeze, damage is more likely to occur.  This is particularly true of perennial ryegrass and annual bluegrass damage.  I have observed this type of damage a number of times over the years and I expect to see some of it this spring.

Damage to annual bluegrass is hard to predict.  This species is more sensitive to direct low temperature kill than is either Kentucky bluegrass or creeping bentgrass.  However I have seen years where I expected to see a lot of annual bluegrass damage and didn’t.  There have also been years when I didn’t expect damage and a lot of it occurred.  Again, it is a series of other factors that determine annual bluegrass damage.  These include the condition of the grass going into the dormancy and the combination of weather conditions that develop during the winter.  As cold as it was this winter, I am anticipating quite a bit of damage.  I am getting early indications from the Chicago that quite a bit of damage has occurred on greens and fairways where annual bluegrass is the primary species.  I’ll keep you informed on that as the spring progresses.  Winter damage to annual bluegrass is often quite localized due to variations in winter conditions.  Here in central Iowa, the annual bluegrass seems to be emerging from dormancy in good shape.

In the last two years, I have done a number of blogs on bermudagrass showing up in Iowa turf areas (Aug. 2, 2012, Sept 18, 2013, July 29, 2013, and June 17, 2013).  Another warm-season grass that has become a problem because of the series of mild winters in recent years is Windmill grass  (Chloris verticullata) (Sept. 19, 2013, July 3, 2012, Aug. 6, 2012).  Neither of these species was a problem up to about 5 years ago.  Both species are quite sensitive to cold temperatures.  It will be interesting to see if they survive this severe winter.  Windmill grass is a perennial, but it is also a very good seed producer.  I suspect that this grass is here to stay, even if a lot of the existing plants died during the winter because of the amount of seed in the soil.

Windmill grass in lawn.

Windmill grass seedhead.

Bermudagrass on Iowa State campus in the summer of 2013.

Let me know what you are seeing as the season progresses.  I would appreciate any pictures that might be of interest to others in the industry.