Monday, March 29, 2010

Native Grass / Naturalized Grass Burn

Over the past two weeks weather conditions have been conducive to our annual practice of controlled burning of our Native / Naturalized Tall Grass areas. The exact timing of when we conduct this process is always somewhat unknown as of course precipitation has a significant impact on the burn-ability of these grasses and thoroughness of the burn. Recently, though, weather has cooperated (except for a wind shift that occurred and unfortunately sent smoke in an unwanted direction!) and allowed us to nearly complete this task.

I prefer to burn in the spring each year for two primary reasons. First the dried grasses, especially the true native grasses like Little Blue-stem, Indian Grass, and Switch Grass, remain upright throughout the winter adding landscape interest during this stark season. Secondly, withholding the burn until spring, the grasses, both native and naturalized (the term we use to refer to tall grass areas of non-native fescues, orchard grass, timothy, and other species of European origin) provide protective habitat for wildlife during the long cold winter.

As listed in last years Prairie Fire post (click on Tall Grass under Blog Topics) there are several benefits to Controlled Burning:
• Reduces the large mass of dried plant material. Much more cost effective compared to mowing, raking, hauling, disposing, and much more thorough.
• Clears the plant canopy so new grasses can grow without competition.
• Improves the quality of the re-emerging plant species and aids new plant seed germination.
• Reduces tree seedlings, annual grasses, and weed encroachment.
• Prevents the accidental ignition by a discarded cigarette / cigar.
• Burned ash returns plant nutrients and organic matter to the soil aiding new growth.
• Burned black ash absorbs the suns energy and warms the soil speeding re-growth. (The very deep root systems are unaffected by the flame or heat and underground shoots re-emerge when the soil warms)
• Devoid areas provide habitat for wildlife such as the nesting Killdeer birds.

 Starting a fire line on the Native Grass mound at #12

Dried Indian Grass, Little Blue-stem, & Switch Grass, burn rapidly and intensely! 

Typical charred remains - ready to absorb sun's rays and begin growth anew

After a spring rain or two the ash and blackened remains will dissipate and before long new green shoots will emerge and begin to flourish. 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Tree Management Activities

In an earlier post this year I mentioned that our annual pruning activities were underway. (See Annual Pruning Activities - Mar. 2)  Well I'm happy to now report that the aerial work is complete, nearly all of the branches have been removed from the course, and most of the remnant debris has been raked clean.  Hundreds of trees were pruned throughout the course over a two week period and the result is improved canopy structure, reduced chance of hazardous/dead branch fall, reduced incidence of disease through sanitation pruning, improved light penetration for the underlying turf, and overall improved health and appearance. Our remaining task now is the chipping of the branches stockpiled at various locations around the course.

In addition to this annual pruning we also have begun to address an additional tree management activity, that of tree removal. As I mentioned in the Mar. 2nd post and last year as well (click on Tree Management under Blog Topics to see all posts) we follow a set of criteria I call the 5-D's when determining whether a tree warrants removal.

The 5-D’s that guide our tree removal actions:
• Diseased - significant infection that is untreatable or too costly to treat.
• Decayed/Dead - significant decay, or complete death, resulting in structural weakening and hazardous conditions.
• Damaged - significant structural damage from high winds and/or lightning.
• Disfigured - Unattractive shape from over crowding of adjacent trees or from damage.
• Disruptive – Affecting playability. Causing traffic concentration, excess turf loss from shade, root system impacts to turf and drainage tile systems.

Approximately 25 trees have been identified as having met one or more of the 5-D criteria, more than half of which are spruce trees in groupings at two locations.  The following photos show some of the trees that have been (or will soon be) removed and the criteria reason.

  Spruce (5)- behind alternate tee #12 - Severely Diseased, Disfigured, Disruptive to tee.

Austrian Pine - #7 berm rt. of tee - Approx. 2/3rds Dead

 Silver Maple - Rt. rough #8 - Severe Canker Disease

Close up of Canker in above photo - causing dieback of canopy

Red Oak - Lft. rough #17 - Damaged central leader

Spruce - No. 8 Lft. of green - Diseased, Disfigured

Spruce (3) -walk path at #9 - Diseased, Damaged, Disruptive

Arborvitae and Spruce - Lft. edge #9 pond - Damaged, Diseased, Disfigured

Close up of Arborvitae & Spruce in previous photo showing extensive dieback from Disease

The above photographs are not all of the removals planned but do represent the majority and the most significant.  In some cases we will replace the removed trees/shrubs, such as in the last photo at #9 pond, where we intend to replant with a combination of clump form ornamental trees (Serviceberry), shrubs (Red-twig Dogwood) and grasses (Indian grass, Little-blue stem) which will provide multiple season interest.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Greens Recovered - Naturally

How was that for a tease?  Three days of nice temperatures, a welcomed amount of sunshine, a chance to play to the regular greens, and then we wake up this morning to this:

 Hole 14 - Saturday morning 3/20
 I guess after all, it is mid-March and it is Chicagoland! Hopefully this is winters last hurrah and this recent covering is short-lived!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Flagsticks In - Spring Prep Activities

The regular greens are now open and ready for play!
 This morning we finished rolling all greens, mowed them, set new hole locations, and put in the freshly painted flagsticks. Let the season begin!    
 Greens Open!

A few players took advantage of the nice day today, and it looks like tomorrow should be nice as well, but the forecast for the weekend and early next week looks a little bleak so it's likely we will be recovering the greens soon. It takes a crew of about 8 men, approx. 4-41/2 hours, to put the covers on, so if the forecast stands we'll start recovering early tomorrow afternoon. I mentioned the reasons why we do this in the previous post but in general we don't want to have a decline in the benefits that the covers provide.

It was a very busy day today on the grounds at SCC. The photo's below show our activities:

First greens rolling complete

First greens mowing complete

All fairways rolled to prepare for mowing

Aeration of shaded, saturated, ice damaged area on #8 fairway
(fortunately this is only fairway with larger areas of injury)

 Controlled burning of native & naturalized grass areas begin
More details on several of these above projects / practices will be forthcoming.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Covers Off - Greens look, well,...Green!

With the snow gone, ice finally melted, and forecast temperatures mild during the day and above freezing at night, the green covers have now been removed! We now enter a period I call the "cover shuffle" which means we'll leave the covers near the greens and if the nighttime temperatures are forecast to drop below freezing, we'll put them back on. When the nighttime temperatures again reach above freezing, we'll take them back off again. This on and off covering/recovering process will continue until temperatures ultimately moderate.  It's a tedious task, and we always look forward to a long stretch of days/nights where we can keep them off and let them acclimate, but I believe if we don't replace them during these temperature drops, we'll likely have a reduction of some of the benefits the covers provide.
 A Green Cover being removed

Benefits of Green Covers:
  • Protection against desiccation (drying) in an open winter. (Not a concern this year with extended snow cover!)
  • Protection from animal activity such as deer and geese.  Both tend to dislike covers. 
  • Prevents debris and animal waste (deer, geese, coyote) accumulation over winter.
  • Allows us to perform aeration later into the fall and extend the playing quality of putting surfaces.
  • Provides enhanced green-up and root growth as covers accelerate soil warming. 
  • Helps us achieve smoother, truer, ball roll in an earlier time frame.

Back of #15 Green - Nice & Green...just in time for St. Patty's Day!

We began rolling the greens today and we'll likely begin to mow them tomorrow.  Also began rolling fairways to firm them and settle some of the natural frost heaving that occurs when the soil freezes.  More information on all these activities will be posted shortly.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Good Bit O' the Green

St. Patrick's Day is on Wednesday next week and aside from the usual reasons to celebrate, this year (due to some very favorable developments just this week) there are plenty of additional reasons!

It's hard to believe but just a few short days ago the course was still blanketed by snow.  We've had a winter with a generous helping of the fluffy white stuff, in fact I believe it's the seventh snowiest on record. With temperatures well into the 50's this week, the blanket is no more.  Snow melted...Reason #1 to celebrate!

 Snow cover on Monday 3/8

Snow melted by Friday 3/12

The mostly continuous snow covering this winter has really tested the efficacy and length of protection of our late fall applied plant protectants used to manage snow mold disease activity.  Many areas in the untreated rough have a greater than usual presence of both Typhula and Microdochium fungi, commonly known as, Gray and Pink Snow Mold.  These diseases typically cause foliar blighting but no crown or root damage so recovery will occur from these unaffected plant parts, in a reasonable length of time. Our fall applied nutrients will help accelerate recovery as soon as soil temperatures rise, at which time they will become available for plant uptake. Fortunately, the areas we apply protectants to, the greens, tees, approaches, and fairways,have little to no activity. As with the rough, the amount of disease is more than I've seen in many years (in spite of our treatments) but overall less than many other fellow Agronomists and many Plant Pathologists expected, given the lengthy period of snow cover. Less disease than expected...Reason #2 to celebrate!

 Snow Mold disease fairly prevalent in untreated rough (foreground) but fortunately minimal in green, tee, and fairway areas.

Along the same lines of continuous snow coverage, a great concern of mine, and many of my colleagues, has been the lengthy covering of ice. You can review our snow and ice removal efforts in my January blog posts which, at the time, were performed at what perhaps could have been the upper limits of time that poa annua (a significant plant species component of our turf) is thought to withstand ice covering or encasement. Since those days back in late January I've been wondering if we would have ice encasement injury on #11 green, one of two greens that was rather severely damaged last year. After "flood melting" the snow off #11 green, and then warm temperatures thawing the soil enough so that we could pull the staples, we were able to turn back the cover for a good look. We're not completely "out of the woods yet" (a sudden drop to sub-freezing temperatures could happen and could result in crown hydration injury) but each passing day brings us closer to spring temperatures and beyond the threat of winter injury.

 Thick (3-4") ice coverage on #11 Green in Dec. & Jan.   
Breaking and removing ice on #11 Green 
 The result of our uncovering was a huge sigh of relief as we found very minimal, essentially typical early spring, slight turf discoloration. No apparent ice or other winter injury symptoms...Reason #3 to really Celebrate!

 First uncovering of #11 Green revels little to no winter injury!  

 Another Green (#2) with a Good bit o' green!
The Luck o' the Irish must be with us! (Along with the luck we created for ourselves with our management practices and products we used to protect our turf this past winter!)  Now let's hope the luck stays with us all summer long, and especially through the Western Amateur Championship!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Snow & Ice Washed/Melted Away

It's hard to believe that just a couple days ago (Tuesday) the course was still covered with several inches of snow but today (Friday) it's nearly gone. A couple warm days and temperatures remaining consistently above freezing, as well as occasional rainfall this week has worked quite nicely toward helping with it's disappearance. Also, with the angle of the sun becoming more vertical each day, the radiant energy is now better absorbed by the snow and ground (warming and thawing it), compared to throughout the winter months when the sun is lower on the horizon and the energy is more easily refracted or bounced off, lessening it's warming effects.
Anxious to have a look at #11 (to see if our January ice removal efforts paid off) on Monday we chopped a hole in the ice, set up a water pump with a 2"hose, and "flood melted" the 3-4" snow layer. 
Throughout the rest of the week Mother Nature took care of the remaining melting process on all other parts of the course!

With all the melting in progress and the added moisture from rainfall, it's quite understandable that ground conditions are extremely soft. There are in fact many places throughout the course where the soil is still frozen at lower depths. The surface has thawed throughout, but the moisture is being held in the top few inches due to the frozen layer beneath. Continued above freezing temperatures, sunshine, and even rainfall will all aid soil thawing and the eventual drainage that will follow.
Ice still present on portions of #3 fairway

Right now it is very important that we avoid any traffic (vehicular, or pedestrian) until this drainage occurs. Compaction, the compressing of soil structure and collapsing of vital pore spaces (which are essential for proper aeration, water holding capacity, and for drainage of excess water) will occur very easily under these saturated conditions. Also, with the soil easily shifted with every footprint and/or vehicle tire pass, turf roots (which are now beginning their most active growth phase) are easily sheared or torn and greatly damaged.

At this time our grounds staff are refraining from any equipment or vehicle travel, on any turf surface on the property, and even limiting foot traffic as much as possible. I know it is very tempting to walk around the course or grab a club and hit a few balls around, but please give it a little more time to completely thaw and allow excess moisture to drain. It will prevent damage and give the turf a better chance to get a good start to the new season. I'm sure it will be very soon that we'll be able to let course travel resume.
Your patience, understanding, and cooperation is very much appreciated!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Thorough Clearing

With pruning activities continuing throughout the course, one location where we have recently concentrated is the area east of #9 tee. This out of play, woody, thicket-like area, has received limited maintenance efforts over the years and upon closer evaluation it was obvious that a thorough clearing was needed.
 Dense thicket of Common Buckthorn

As we inspected this area we found a grouping of older Red Oak, several smaller American Elms, a couple Ash and a couple Hawthorn, but beyond these, the remainder was only the invasive, nuisance weed species, Common Buckthorn. Several of these were fairly large shrubs/small trees but with these removed, the desirable species remaining will have less competition and will be much healthier. Additionally, with improved light penetration we can now plant fescues and other grasses which will be left natural, allowed to produce seedheads, providing a much more interesting landscape.
 Clearing nearly complete. Maintenance pruning in progress
Entire area will be seeded with Fescues and  Little bluestem

 As I mentioned in a response to a comment in the last post, although Common Buckthorn is a non-native, invasive species and competes very aggressively (out-competes in most cases) with nearly all of our more valuable and desirable native species, we still allow it to grow along the perimeter fenced areas for the screening that it provides. As such we have retained a strip along the inside of  the fence for this purpose.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Annual Pruning Activities Underway

It's that time of year again when, if you happen to be out walking on the course, you may see guys dangling from trees, and/or see branches scattered about looking as though a micro-burst just ripped through it. I'm happy to say the guys dangling are well trained, professional climbers, securely fastened to ropes, and the "debris field" is the result of their pruning activities.    
Annual Pruning Session Begins

Every year we have a portion of the course pruned to:
  • Remove dead, diseased, or storm damaged branches
  • Repair structural defects
  • Thin the canopies to promote new juvenile growth and reduce shading of turf
  • Shape the canopies to provide balance and improve aesthetic qualities
With nearly 2000 (not including adjacent perimeter) trees on the course it takes approx. 7-8 years to make a complete circuit. We usually have the work performed in specific sections but this year (with the Western Amateur Championship coming) we are altering this and moving around the course addressing areas most in need, and especially where improved light penetration is needed for improved turf health and vigor.

 Pruned material awaiting gathering, hauling, & chipping tasks

Our tree pruning contractor performs all the aerial (climbing) pruning work and our own staff performs ground activities including, lower branch pruning, gathering and hauling pruned materials, and assisting with chipping.

Every year at this time we also determine trees that meet our criteria for removal. It's a system I call the 5 "D's". The "D's" are; Dead or Decayed, Damaged, Diseased, Disfigured, and Disruptive and there are in fact a few trees that meet one or more of these criteria. We're in the process of finalizing a thorough evaluation and I'll soon report (on this blog) trees we will likely remove.
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