Friday, April 27, 2012

Hand Watering

Golfers often seem surprised to see members of the maintenance staff hand watering with a hose at times when one might think there's plenty of moisture in the soil.  There are a number of reasons why we may need to be doing this, and can't rely solely on the sprinkler system to get the job done:

·         Water Conservation--Hand watering allows us to put the water exactly where it's needed.  Soil moisture levels can vary greatly within just a couple of feet, and a sprinkler will apply the water indiscriminately to the entire area. 

·         Soil texture differences--Over one million cubic yards of material were moved during the construction of the golf course.  Picture a marble cake-like mixture beneath the surface composed of materials ranging from the densest clay to the best draining sand, then capped with a layer of topsoil as the icing.  The water retention abilities of these different soil types varies greatly.

                Greens and tees are constructed of 80% sand.  This is great for drainage, but can lead to soils that become hydrophobic, or water repellant.  If you've ever had a house plant become extremely dry and then watched the water just run off as you tried to water it, you can understand what can happen.  Hand watering is the best way to address what are called "localized dry spots."

·         Sprinkler Coverage--Our sprinkler system has heads spaced 80' apart throughout the golf course.  Sprinkler performance is never uniform, even in a test chamber, and when factors such as wind, mounds and swales are added, hand watering is a must to fill in the holes in coverage.

·         To Cool Plants That Are Under Stress--Long summer days, combined with high heat and wind, can cause a plant to stop functioning properly, resulting in wilt.  Lightly misting the air above the turf canopy can temporarily lower the temperature in this micro-climate, allowing the plant to transpire, or breath.  This type of hand watering is referred to as "syringing." 
Both a soil probe and a test instrument (which measures volumetric water content), can be used to check soil moisture.

Spring is often a time where we can allow the soil moisture level to drop, resulting in firmer conditions.  With moderate temperatures, and the plant having the longest root system of the entire year, the turf can handle this stress without concern of long-term injury.

However, allowing soils to dry out is something of a balancing act, and can create big challenges.  As mentioned above, once dried down, soils can become hydrophobic.  We recently saw a great example of this in late April.  From April 21-23 we received over 2" of rainfall...and yet, as you can see in the pictures, soil samples taken from a fairway show soil that is still so dry that it crumbles.  Clearly, if 2" of rain over 36 hours doesn't re-wet this soil, sprinklers will be of little use.    In situations like this, hand watering alone can't solve the problem, and other cultural practices must be incorporated.  Solid tine aerification is used to help create pore space by slightly heaving and fracturing the soil.  In addition, wetting agents are needed to increase water penetration into the soil, by reducing the surface tension of the water.  
This soil remains bone dry even after 2" of rainfall.

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