Reduce Your Turf's Stress in 2016
By Philip Nye
Philip H Nye III is a graduate from the University of Illinois with a BS-Agriculture and MS-Forestry. Philip is the Eastern Missouri Branch Manager (Specialty Turf and Ornamental Division) for Helena Chemical Company. Philip can be reached at 314-280-2055.
We are on the tail end of another non-typical Missouri year with respect to keeping turf healthy and stress free. Frankly speaking, in my 20 years working this market, the only finite thing I have concluded is that no one has any idea what’s the definition of a typical Missouri year. This spring was one of the wettest springs in recorded history which provided the spark for a vast assortment of turf problems. The summer was humid, further intensifying the stress and causing more problems. Pre-emergent failure, yellow nutsedge, dollar spot, rhizoctonia, and even pythium on turf type tall fescue was observed. Now 2015 is winding down with the driest fall in recorded history from September 1st through late October. Hopefully winter will be kind.
Coping with stress in 2016 seemed a relevant topic for this article, and now that turf managers are slowing down, we can all attempt to learn from 2015. I won’t bore you with mowing heights, water management, or number of rounds of golf per year, mainly because you already know more about this topic than I. Products and ideas contributing to stress reduction are the topic of this blog.
A very important and often under mentioned natural stress reducer, for both cool and warm season turf, are plant-based amino acid extracts. Every turf manager should have a product from this class in their arsenal. Amino acids are building blocks for chlorophyll synthesis. Higher chlorophyll content in the plant leaf enables a plant to covert a significantly greater amount of sunlight into useable sugars/carbohydrates, which are used to combat stress through a number of biochemical processes. A stressed plant needs to manufacture amino acids to start this recovery process, so when highly available plant-based amino acids are introduced into this complex model, turfgrass can begin to overcome stress more quickly. More specifically, amino acids increase plant-metabolic activity, visually show a greener plant through the increased chlorophyll content in the leaf, and are excellent carriers for fungicides and nutrients. Amino acids derived from cold water sea kelp exhibit even greater anti-stress responses from turfgrass compared to animal based amino acids. Sea kelp grows in an extremely stressful environment, which is often very dry during low tide. Other times it lives completely under water during high tide creating a very anaerobic environment. Salt water creates added stresses, and the temperatures fluctuate from very hot to extreme freezing conditions. This plant thrives in a stress-environment and therefore amino acid extracts taken from sea kelp triggers similar anti-stress responses in turfgrass when applied by stimulating a gene response for these stress conditions. Valagro, the manufacturer of Helena’s amino acid extract, Renova, has taken this gene response study further and seeks plants besides sea kelp living in other stressful environments, with the intention of manufacturing a highly effective stress reducing mix. Gene responses to stresses such as physical damage, excessive salt, drought, cold, heat, disease/insects and even flooding are being mapped. The next 10 years concerning plant extracts into the turf industry will be very progressive. Besides Renova, Helena distributes similar products which would fit into this class. Products like Kendal and Utilize, are similar in some capacities. Please consult your local Helena Chemical sales representative for information about the correct product for your turf needs.
Humic acids (organic acids)
Here I define organic acids as acids that are either humic or fulvic in nature. The better sources of these products are derived from leonardinte coal deposits. More specifically, deposits in New Mexico are thought to contain the highest quality organic acids. Organic acids trigger low organic matter soils to mimic high organic matter soils in a number of capacities. If one studies the complex biology of the soil, microbes break down organic matter (carbon) into humus, and then covert humus into organic acids. These products are not only economical, but highly efficacious. The benefits of humic acids are numerous and include enhanced fertilizer efficiency, decreased nutrient tie-up and leaching, increased metal cation absorption, improved phosphate availability and a increased available water content in the soil. Probably the greatest benefit of organic acids is the potential to reduce fertility inputs, saving money on your budget. Organic acids are produced in both liquid and granular form, and should be an addition to all turf programs for reducing stress, in my opinion. Hydra-Hume is an excellent source of organic acids from Helena Chemical. It comes in both a liquid and granular form, is economical to apply, and highly effective.
Turf stress and fungal diseases often go hand-in-hand. Stressed turf is more susceptible to disease and disease causes more stress to the plant. Our industry has not experienced new modes of actions recently in terms of fungicides; however new products from the basic manufacturers are being marketed. Synenta, Bayer, and BASF all have released products over the last couple years which are fungicides combined with stress reducing agents. The stress reducing components are either pigments that filter out ultraviolent light, or systemic acquired resistance (SAR) products that trigger a natural defense response in turf.
In addition, combining modes of action into a single product for ease of application is becoming more prevalent in the market. For example, several products combining the strobilurin and DMI classes are now available. Also, chlorothalonil is being combined with both the strobilurin and DMI classes to make both a contact and systemic all in one product. The end result is fungicides that cover a broad spectrum of turfgrass diseases while the prices have stayed relatively the same.
Nutrients (N, P, K, Ca, and micros)
Limit the use of the nitrogen on cool season turf June through August. A major application of nitrogen may increase stress during these months. Small amounts are fine, spoon feeding a foliar is great, but applying significant amounts of nitrogen should be a spring and fall practice for cool season turf. Also, applying a percentage of ammonium sulfate in the blends (15-25%) offers another release curve/source of nitrogen, diversifying the application and providing some sulfur.
Phosphorous, potassium and calcium all are also very important nutrients that must be considered. Ensure your soil levels are adequate through regular testing, and apply as needed. I prefer monoammonium phosphate (MAP) as a phosphorous source, and sulfate of potash (SOP) as a potassium source.
Micronutrient applications assist with stress tolerance and increase color. Generally they are economical to apply so addressing micro shortages is easy. Selecting chelated micronutrient sources will ensure positively charged micronutrients do not tie up with negatively charged soil particles, and will remain available to the turf longer. Chelated sources such as EDTA (Axilo), EDDHA (Ferrilene - for Alkaline soils), and LPCA (Brexil - for foliar applications) are very effective sources that can make a difference concerning both stress and color for an economical price. Axilo and Brexil have several different formulations available. Please consult your local Helena representative to steer you into the correct micronutrient product.
Hopefully, 2016 will more than likely be a typical Missouri year……meaning at some point stresses will develop. If you observe a stress situation occurring, I am confident that the topics and products mentioned in this article will have a positive impact as you combat the dilemma. Good luck in 2016, and please contact your local Helena representative for further information regarding our stress reducing products.