Milt Engleke speaks to attendees of the zoysia learning tour on what was an abnormally chilly day in San Antonio during the 2015 Golf Industry Show. Photo courtesy of Team Zoysia
Editor’s note: In conjunction with “Zoysia and the Future of Golf: Fewer Inputs from Tee to Green,” a learning tour at the 2018 Golf Industry Show in San Antonio, GCMOnline.com is presenting a series of stories on zoysiagrass, its increasing prominence in golf, and the learning tour itself, provided by Team Zoysia.
On my agenda:
Final preparation for travel to the Korean Golf Industry Show and Sky72 winter conference in Seoul.
Preparation for GIS 2018.
Time to winterize — it may be a bit late, but not really. It’ll be 55 here today — what about where you are?
I’m remembering the Golf Industry Show in sunny San Antonio in February 2015. The coldest day of the year was the day of the zoysia tour. Promises have been made that the weather will not be as bad in 2018 as it was in 2015, so don your suntan lotion, shades and shorts, and head out to ... Well, wait a minute. Let’s err on the cautious side. At least bring decent winter clothing — it’s always easier to take it off than to not have it. We do promise to have the coffee pot on this year, plus a slate of experts and speakers who will push your wow button. We’ll cover zoysia for greens, reductions in fertility and mowing costs, enhanced turf performance, extended growing seasons, and new varieties.
Tip of the day: Time to fertilize! I know there are a lot of naysayers about dormant feeding, but I am an advocate of such. I have been for years, and save a ton of cash on fungicide bills because of it.
I am not an advocate for overseeding zoysiagrass just to have a sustained winter color, for several reasons. First, it’s expensive. Even though my wife makes her living with cool-season grasses and many are used for overseeding, the expense incurred is not just in the seed, but in the preparation for proper fall planting, frequent mowing throughout the winter months to provide the “ideal”-appearing surface, and the application of N-based nutrients to support the cool-season grass. Therein lies the rub — applying N-based fertilizers at the wrong time of year can have a serious negative impact on the performance and survivability of zoysiagrass.
Turf is made up of a lot of living organisms. The base grass (zoysia) isn’t the only thing we have to deal with, but if it is the base grass, it should be the primary concern. Zoysiagrasses are generally recognized as having issues with large patch disease. While some varieties are more susceptible than others, I have seen disease on all varieties at one time or another. The severity of the disease, however, is associated with the presence of free nitrogen (available to the pathogen), especially during early spring and late fall. When soil temperatures are low, canopy temperatures where the pathogenic organisms thrive can easily support fungal growth and development (disease). These are periods of time in which the zoysiagrass is growing the slowest and when the pathogenic organism can outgrow the grass, namely early spring (soil temperature under 65 degrees Fahrenheit) and fall (loss of light and reduced soil temps). We recognized this several years ago and started with a modified fertility program as follows:
- Dormant-feed in winter — when the grass and the fungal organism are both dormant — using a 100 percent slow-release fertilizer with ratios of NPK as needed for the soil site. The fertilizer is moved below the canopy over time, hence no free N is in the canopy where the organism is working on the slow-growing leaf (spring). Additionally, the nutrients from these types of fertilizers are most often released based on soil temperatures and, consequently, microbial activity (65 degrees Fahrenheit is critical both for zoysiagrass and microorganisms).
- The dormant feed eliminates the need for a spring application, as the nutrients will become available to the plant when the soil temperatures naturally support plant growth. A later spring application can be a fully soluble fertilizer, although I think the future of the slow-releases are the right way to go.
- The third application of fertilizer should be made in mid- to late August. At this time, stay away from applying P, as this can result in chlorotic appearance, especially in the early spring months. Again, use a moderately slow-release type fertilizer to support the plant and beneficial microbes into the fall months. The critical issue is not to apply free N to the turf once the plant growth has started to diminish because of the onset of fall dormancy.
This regimen for fertility management does not guarantee that diseases won’t occur, but their severity has been greatly reduced, and, in most cases, they’re only a minor nuisance.
These are my opinions, and I stand by them, as I stand by recommending participation in the Golf Industry Show zoysia learning tour at Bladerunner Farms on Feb. 6. There will be a host of speakers — all experts in their fields, and each sharing important information on why zoysiagrass, how best to maximize zoysiagrass performance, and the introduction of zoysiagrass for greens. You’ll also have the unique opportunity to interact with researchers, producers and like-minded superintendents who are actively involved in zoysiagrass management or are seriously considering employing this game-changing grass.
M.C. (Milt) Engelke, Ph.D., is professor emeritus at Texas A&M University.