Over the last several years, many golf courses have established "no mow" naturalized areas in an effort to reduce expenses, as well as to increase the environmental benefits a golf course can have. Having wrestled with issues in our Fescue areas for years, I would say that the question as to whether or not these areas can achieve both of these goals is certainly debatable.
With regard to naturalized areas being "low maintenance," it sure doesn't seem like it. Weeds are an on-going battle in these areas, and have to be dealt with throughout the growing season. In the picture below, there are four different weeds amidst the Fescue.
For each of these, a different selective herbicide would be used to control the undesirable plant. With the weeds being scattered throughout the area, it would be wasteful to make a blanket application of herbicides. Therefore, we may need to make four separate applications, each targeting a specific kind of weed.
These applications will have to be made with anything from a one quart spray bottle, to a mop, to a hose and nozzle. Sound labor intensive? It is.
You may wonder why we don't just drive through the areas with a sprayer and use a boom for the application. In the summer, driving through these areas will have a lasting impact--and not a good one. Not only will driving crush the Fescue seedheads, but it can actually kill the Fescue we're trying to grow. Secondly, as mentioned above, the weeds are scattered, thus making an application with a boom type sprayer will waste material, and unnecessarily use herbicide.
This sounds like a lot of time and effort. How does it compare to the "higher maintenance" Bluegrass Rough? Well, the Bluegrass does have to be cut one or two times per week. However, this task can be handled by one person.
As far as weed issues, in contrast to the Fescue, the vast majority of the golf course's Bluegrass Rough requires no post-emergent herbicide treatment throughout the entire year.
So, do these naturalized areas live up to the name "low maintenance," and are they environmentally better than an area that gets mown on a regular basis? Despite the need for frequent weed treatment, these areas do provide excellent habitat for wildlife, and slow run-off even more than closely mown turf.
However, from our experience, the low maintenance moniker for naturalized areas gets a thumbs down. At the end of the day, if given a choice of which turf to maintain, the Bluegrass Rough is much easier, and in many ways, it is actually the lower maintenance area.