Is it just me, or did we sort of skip spring this year? It seems like we went directly from an incredibly long, cold winter into a hot, dry summer. At least that’s what happened here in the Pacific Northwest, and I have a sneaking suspicion that we weren’t the only ones.
Then again, it’s not much of a surprise to any of us that temperature extremes – hotter summers and colder winters – are now commonplace. There’s little doubt that shorter springs and autumns will be the result. Ah, the joys of climate change! Longer, hotter summers can mean many things to a golf course maintenance program. Some of these things can be good (like more play, which equals more revenue), and some of them maybe not so good (like stressed and thirsty turfgrass).
Golf course greens are put under an unbelievable amount of stress during these high-temperature periods, and high temperatures aren’t the only culprits. We are creating stress, too. Ultra-low mowing heights make greens especially susceptible to high evapotranspiration (ET) rates, as well as heat and moisture stress. In addition, we do crazy things like frequent mowing, rolling and allowing high amounts of traffic onto the greens. None of these are particularly helpful when it comes to producing healthy turfgrass.
We do have the means to fight these self-inflicted stresses, however. The arsenal includes fertilizers, plant growth regulators, wetting agents, vertical mowing and even coring or slicing. Most important of all is irrigation.
Although overnight irrigation is critical, most superintendents have found that a daytime hand-watering program, in addition to the overnight watering, is absolutely essential in keeping greens alive, especially during these periods of higher-than-normal stress.
As a result, this seems like a great time to review some of the hand-watering basics. Here are five tips for getting the best results from your summer hand-watering program.
1. Hand-watering is not syringing. I’ve often heard these two terms used interchangeably, but of course they are not the same thing. Syringing is basically cooling the plant during high temperatures, usually with the use of very little water. Hand-watering uses more water but not only can be used to cool, it can be used to combat localized dry spots. In fact, after years of experience, I’ve stopped afternoon syringing altogether because its benefits are temporary and, to some extent, superficial. I much prefer to focus on quality hand-watering.
2. Timing is critical. The timing of hand-watering is not nearly as critical as once believed. Personally, I prefer mornings, after overnight watering – behind mowers, but in front of golfers – and I think most supers feel the same way.
3. Have the right worker for the job. Hand-watering can be a tedious job. Walking up to and scouting each green can be time consuming and, in periods of great stress, the areas that require extra water can grow quite large. Choose workers who not only pay attention to the details, but also take pride in their work. You don’t want someone who is going to cut corners doing this job.
4. Quick-coupler location. This may seem like an odd thing to point out, but make sure your hand- waterers have quick and easy access to water at each green. At most golf courses, quick couplers are installed next to one of the sprinkler heads around each green. I once worked at a golf course that chose to install their quick couplers on the furthest sprinkler head possible on nearly every green. Make it as easy as possible for a worker to pull up and start watering.
5. Have the right tool for the job. Equip a couple of carts with hose-reels in the back and use them for nothing but hand-watering. Don’t use them for cup-cutting. Don’t use them for filling divots. That way, they are always ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Having a sound hand-watering program in place is essential. It will cut down on the stress of your greens this summer and on your own stress as well.