Dramatic increase in moisture and temperature creates poor turfgrass conditions.

20 May 2016

Posted in General by AmeriTurf

It’s now spring, following the strongest El Nino in recorded history and many of the effects on turfgrass due to the dramatic increase in moisture and temperature are extremely noticeable.

In my visits over the past four months, I have seen a lot of poor conditions.

Soils that were borderline pH neutral are now acid, and those that were slightly acid to moderately acid – in the pH 6.0-6.5 range – are now very acid to excessively acidic, I have seen pH ranges from 3.5 to lower 5 across the entire southern belt, especially the Gulf Coast region from Florida to South Texas.

Rain totals in that region have been well above normal with moderate to slightly above normal temps as well.

This excess rain has lowered base saturation (soil) Calcium and Magnesium and as technically appropriate, has increased Hydrogen levels to the point that pH is a major concern.

Acid pH promotes poor chemical reactions, increases anaerobic conditions and promotes generally poor soil conditions where disease and other less beneficial biological activity dominate.

Those courses with greens in poor conditions will find it very difficult to recover, and it will be hard to maintain density and color on greens in better condition.

Root mass has all but disappeared, which will lead to very difficult conditions as the plant tries to grow in the spring and mature in the summer.

This condition is easily managed with lime inputs, which are both very effective and low cost.  To allow pH to drop below 5 is an issue that does not happen overnight, and prevention management is easily done.

For those who have already crossed this line, the road back will be slow as the chemical reaction where Lime (Calcium Carbonate) reacts with Hydrogen is a slow reaction, taking many months in most cases.

The other factor slowing a return to neutral pH is that too much lime applied at once will create surface chemical imbalances that will induce nutrient deficiency and promote very damaging diseases like Bermudagrass Decline and Take All Patch in Bermuda and Bentgrass greens.

It is of the utmost importance to get the pH adjusted with lime but of equal importance to do it slowly and consistently over the course of the year then not allow the pH to drop like this again.

Inputs of high quality lime such as SoluCal or VerdeCal will be much more effective than using low cost, low solubility lime. Ensure that your inputs are of high purity and as small of particle size as possible.

Lime that is prilled is best but it is still important to assure that the prill is composed of very small and very soluble Calcium Carbonate. This needs to be understood and clarified by your supplier when ordered and purchased.  If not followed, the reaction will be extremely slow or not effective at all.

Remember in turf management that the application is to the surface and has to work its way down, as opposed to lime treatments in Ag where the product is applied at adjusting rates and tilled into the profile to contact as much of the soil Hydrogen as possible, as quickly as possible. This can’t, and doesn’t, happen in turf.

From a fertility stand point where pH is low and acid conditions are in place, use of highly available fertility products in a more foliar manner at increased frequencies will be a much better approach to getting plant response. Working soluble Calcium into the programs at higher levels will also help mask the Hydrogen effect and help the plant recover.

It is absolutely critical though to not follow one mistake, allowing the pH to get out of hand, with another, by applying too much lime at once. 

Make sure that disease is under control with products like Civitas and Prontech. And, ensure that the plant is managed nutritionally with products from Redox, Component and Performance.

Use the highest quality lime applied as suggested and based on the top 2 and 4 inch soil samples.  Pull these samples monthly during the adjustment period until pH is above 6.0 then ensure that the pH never drops below 6.0 again. And for those with Bermudagrass greens, a pH closer to 7.0 is even better.

The forecast for the remainder of the year is to have higher temps this summer and higher rain than normal in the area already most affected.  Soils will continue to decline as will overall plant conditions unless the pH is adjusted and managed.

The Desert Southwest and the Mid-Atlantic states were not rain affected as much in general but the same rules still apply and soil pH should be confirmed neutral and adjusted accordingly.

Do not hesitate to call or mail with questions, but I can’t stress enough the requirement to maintain pH and know that excess rain makes this an even greater concern.