The Politics of Aeration

Nothing stirs controversy on a golf course quite like disrupting perfect putting surfaces in the name of plant health. We are no stranger to controversy here. The agronomic benefits must be weighed against the economic impact of having less than perfect greens for a week or two.

At Plum Hollow, we must core aerate our greens in spring and fall due to the poor quality of our irrigation water. Filtration methods at the pump house or relying on city water are extremely expensive alternatives, and unfortunately for us, not an option at the moment. Our irrigation pond is polluted with fine particles of silt, which go through our pump and sprinklers and get deposited over every inch of the golf course. This is less of a problem on fairways and tees, but maintaining firm and healthy putting surfaces while “topdressing” with silt water daily becomes extremely problematic over time.

Silt creates layering issues in our soil structure, resulting in a green that can not drain very well. Our only remedy is a strict, weekly sand topdressing program and aggressive spring and fall core aeration. This fall we will also deep tine our greens to further improve our ability to dry them out by creating 8” deep channels for water to drain. Knowing our problem with silt, there can be no argument that the greens must be core aerated in spring and fall to ensure the long term heath of our putting surfaces. Failure to keep on top of soil layering issues will result in dramatic turf loss during the summer months.

This year, we originally scheduled our greens aeration for the day after Labor Day: September 3rd. Aerating greens the day after Labor Day has become a standard practice for private clubs in the area. There is a good reason for this.

• Temperatures begin falling into an ideal growth range, and
also allows for such a disruptive process to occur without
putting too much stress on the greens.
• There is still a decent amount of daylight available, and
the plants need sunlight to grow and recover to fill the
aerification holes.
• There is almost no risk of a frost or cold snap, which would
delay recovery.
• The angle of the sun is higher, and greens with fall and winter
shade issues still receive a good amount of sunlight.

The point to take away from early September aeration is this: amount of sunlight, day length, and temperature. These three factors directly affect plant growth and speed of recovery. Greens aerated in the early part of September will generally recover in 10-14 days under optimal conditions. This gives you perfect greens from mid-September through the rest of the season. This is why many clubs prefer to get greens aeration out of the way early.

Unfortunately, what is best for our greens isn’t always best for the club. Revenue has to be a consideration in these tough economic times. As a result, our greens aeration has been pushed back to Monday, September 30th this year.

What does this mean for our greens this fall? That is difficult to predict. What isn’t difficult to predict, is that we will be looking at a much longer recovery period. There is a good chance that some of our greens will have aeration holes in them for the remainder of the 2013 season, and also the beginning part of the 2014 season.

Why such a longer recovery period?

• Cooler temperatures that are not optimal for growth. Remember,
plant growth dictates recovery, as the plants must grow across
aeration holes to reduce the bumpiness of the green.
• The chance of an extended cold snap, wet weather, and frost is
greatly increased and almost a certainty in southeastern Michigan.
• The angle of the sun becomes lower, and many of our greens will
be shade covered for a majority of the day. Plants need direct
sunlight to grow and photosynthesize efficiently.
• The length of day becomes shorter, and the amount of sunlight
available is reduced.

We will do everything in our ability to speed the recovery process along, which includes applying heavy rates of fertilizer to promote growth, but ultimately we are at the mercy of the weather. Welcome to the political process of aerating greens.

Adam is the Superintendent at Plum Hollow Country Club and Principal of Turf

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