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When it rains, it pours. And when it rains, floods can occur, which is not good for grass.
A year ago, in August, the end of a tropical storm hit North Carolina, wreaking havoc that made everything about golf seem irrelevant. However, the courses have been hit hard.
Jeremy Boone, longtime member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, is the superintendent of the Springdale Resort, in the mountains near Asheville, where about 20 inches of rain fell within hours, flooding the ground and closing the course for two months.
We asked Boone about the negative effects on turf when there is water, water everywhere, and what fields and homeowners can do to minimize damage.
What happens underwater?
Like the rest of us, grass needs to breathe.
“Imagine trying to drink a 20-ounce bottle of Coke while holding your nose,” says Boone. Here’s what it’s like for underwater turf. The underlying soil is composed of solids and porous spaces, which in turn are occupied by water and air.
These two elements, says Boone, must be in balance for the system to “function properly”. When the root zone becomes flooded, the grass can drown. Over time, the saturated roots can also rot or be devoured by fungi.
The dangers of the puddle
Puddles aren’t just bad for gameplay. They are especially problematic when the sun shines brightly and temperatures rise, as is often the case after an afternoon thunderstorm.
In those conditions, says Boone, “the puddle heats up and burns the grass. The turf, he notes, becomes “like an ant under a magnifying glass.”
How long can flooded turf survive?
For days, Boone says, even if there’s no set rule. The time period depends on a number of factors, including temperature, cloud cover, and the amount of contaminants in the water.
The safest bet is to remove as much water as possible as quickly as possible. If you are Augusta National, simply turn on your SubAir system. Otherwise, Boone says, a spatula should do the trick. In the most flooded areas, you can even collect water with a snow shovel.
Keys to recovery
The flood is over, the land is dry. What to do next? First, assess the damage. If the grass is still green, it should be fine, Boone says. But, he adds, you should still do the turf care version of CPR and “aerate, aerate, aerate,” which promotes the flow of air and water through the root zone.
Depending on the time of year, applying fertilizers can also help. Decaying grass stinks, Boone says, so if you spot an unsightly moldy funk, it might be too late. The same is true if the turf takes on a straw color. It’s probably time to resow.
Problems with impurities
Excess water isn’t the only problem. There are also the resulting contaminants, such as silt, rocks, limbs, and (worst of all, says Boone) petroleum products.
“You can collect rocks and limbs,” he says. “And the silt can be washed off.”
But when gasoline and oil get into the ground, they tend to stick together. Although bacteria in the soil can help break down those products, especially with the help of fertilizer, this process takes time, which is bad news for your turf, because, says Boone, “you need good soil to cultivate good grass “.