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Cold throughout the Northeast

I just returned from a trip to the British International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA) meeting in Harrogate, England and can say that I was unpleasantly surprised by the extreme cold temperatures upon my return. I never thought that I would have to go all the way to the UK in the winter for better weather.

Back in the Northeastern United States, snow fell throughout much of the area while I was gone and now we are in the midst of another potential major snow storm starting this week and lasting for a few days. Not that anyone puts any faith in the weather reporters, but it looks as though we are getting more significant accumulation.

Ice forming on annual bluegrass putting greens and lasting for an extended period of time can spell "death" to the Poa. (Photo courtesy of Iestyn Jones of Norway)

One of the things that is a concern for golf course superintendents is the survival of their annual bluegrass under the snow when cover is expected for a extended period of time. While this snow cover is probably looked at as a great thing considered the extremely low temperatures throughout the region, the presence of ice under the accumulated snow may be a big problem for some. Over in England, I gave a talk on preparing for and recovering from winter damage (a topic that I am first to admit not an expert in AND thanks to Michelle DaCosta of UMASS for sending some slides of her own). However, during my preparation I pulled a lot of useful information about winter damage. In some of the literature, it appeared clear that fewer days of ice cover were needed to cause winter injury to annual bluegrass relative to other common species such as creeping bentgrass. Some of the data suggested 45-60 days of ice cover was a problem, while others reported damage in as few as 15 days of cover.

Part of the problem with giving a definitive length of time required for death to occur has to do with the conditions prior to the ice cover. If plants were given sufficient time to harden off during the progressively colder temperatures in the fall, the plants seemed to hold up better for a longer period of time. Having said that, in my experience in the Northeast and dealing with superintendents in other areas, much of the damage to the Poa actually occurs in the spring when snow melts, forms puddles and then refreezes on ground that not frozen. In these instances, temperatures can quickly decrease and plants can die quickly.

The bottom line for those of you concerned about the potential damage, it is important to monitor your snow cover to make sure that ice has not formed underneath. If ice has formed, you should track the time period that it covers the turf and potentially be prepared to remove ice that has been in place for several weeks. In most cases in the Northeast, this is not a problem. For those who are concerned in the spring, it is important to pull samples early and conduct a glasshouse test to see if your turf is actually going to grow once the weather improves. Simply pulling a sample and putting on your windowsill is often sufficient to determine plant health. Additionally, getting water off of the surface in the spring via squegeeing or pumping (if severe) will be another important component of preventing additional damage.

We are a long way from the end of winter, but it's never too late to start forming your plan for dealing with potential problems.

6 Responses to “Cold throughout the Northeast”

Paul said...

Question - If there had been several weeks of ice build up and the decision was taken to remove it, how would you then protect the turf from the freezing air temperatures?

John Kaminski said...

That's a good question Paul and I hope others chime in as well. My understanding is that while the cold temperatures can cause problems, the crowns of the plant are "usually" protected in the soil/sand. Desiccation may occur, but the plants generally will make it through. If the plants had enough time to acclimate to the cold prior to the ice, that would help as well. If you are dealing with non-frozen turf (which is not likely) then there would be problems. The big deal would be if you were uncovered or unprotected and then got some warmers temps.

Like I said, I hope others chime in. Perhaps Jim has some experience with his few years in Wisconsin?

Anonymous said...


I'd actually use a grow light vs. a window when assessing plant greenup from a plug. It might only make a slight difference if you have a few days of sunlight but cloudy conditions vs. a grow light is hands down better.

As for Paul's question if you have a decent snow pack on other parts of the green complex, you could basically cover the bare turf with snow from another, less important area for an insulating layer. Poa rapidly loses cold hardiness under ice (and as winter progresses) so it becomes more sensitive to colder temperatures. Snow pack is always safer on turf vs. ice encasement. In the worst situations though, ice cover may be better than bare turf exposed to night temps of < 5 F.

Adam Moeller
USGA Agronomist, NE Region

Jim said...


I am not familiar with what is normal for the Northeast, but I do agree with Adam that turf under snow cover is better "protected" than uncovered turf. So if there is residual snow around place it back on the turf.

Is the ground frozen and how deep? Typically what I have seen in my few short years in Wisconsin, is we see problems during late winter when thawing and refreezing occurs. Also areas of poor drainage or extremely shaded in the spring will struggle because annual bluegrass starts taking up water before creeping bentgrass. Check out this link, I think it does a nice job with winter injury problems:

Bottom line I would cover the area with snow, especially if more low temperatures have been forecasted.

John Kaminski said...

Adam and Jim,

Great points about adding snow after removing the ice. Unfortunately as you more farther south in the "Northeast" there is often barely any snow around once things have melted and turned to ice so this often times isn't possible. Also, I'll have to post a pic on FB from a club that had ice in a low spot and exposed mounds...the mounds desiccated but survived while the iced areas were done.

Do any of you superintendents remove ice and then put temporary covers on?

Jim said...


Good point about southern areas of the "Northeast". If there isn't any snow around then I think temporary covers would be a good option. As long as they do a good job of keeping water out. If water gets underneath the covers, it makes for nice area of death and stench!

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