As autumn sets in and winter approaches in the UK, Europe and other areas of the World, maintaining the health of your surfaces becomes a crucial task for turf managers. The colder seasons present unique challenges for the turf, but with proper preparation and nutrition, you can ensure that your playing surfaces remain in excellent condition.
The turf suffers from additional environmental stresses at this time of year:
- Decreased light
- Lower temperatures
- Increased moisture on the leaf
- Decreased growth and recovery
As temperatures drop and daylight hours decrease, grass plants receive signals to prepare for winter. One of the key changes is the breakdown of chlorophyll, the green pigment responsible for photosynthesis. Chlorophyll molecules are sensitive to cold temperatures and become less efficient at capturing and converting light energy into sugars. As the chlorophyll breaks down it is common to see the turf change colour, with more brown and yellow shades seen in the sward.
The breakdown of chlorophyll reduces the plants’ ability to photosynthesize, slowing the metabolic activity of the plant down significantly during the winter. This reduced metabolic rate presents itself as slowed growth, and a focus on conserving resources to help withstand adverse winter conditions. Energy reserves will be redirected and stored in the roots and crown of the plant.
Key factors in preparing turf for winter
We can focus on the following aspects when preparing turf for winter:
- A strong root system
- Storage of carbohydrates
- Adequate nutrition
Wetting agents for root development
A good wetting agent programme can help to maintain a healthy root system throughout the year. Switching between penetrants and triple action wetting agents to suit the weather conditions will help manage the moisture levels in the rootzone.
- Penetrants will allow for faster drainage in times of heavy rainfall, preventing shallow rooting as the roots grow deeper to follow the water – consider the use of Magnum Forty-Four and Magnum Forty-Four OneShot
- Triple action wetting agents like Magnum 357 Calibre will distribute air and water more evenly in the rootzone during dry periods, creating a favourable environment for root development
Seaweed products for root development
Seaweed acts as a bio-stimulant, promoting plant growth and health:
- Seaweed products stimulate root growth, resulting in thicker, longer roots with more root hairs.
- Improved root growth helps plants thrive in stressful conditions.
- Seaweed extract is rich in alginic acid, mannitol, amino acids, minerals, and plant hormone-like molecules
These benefits collectively contribute to healthier and more resilient plants.
By developing the root system with the use of wetting agents and seaweed products it gives the plant the storage space for the essential carbohydrates that will be stored to enable it to survive the stresses of winter.
Storing carbohydrates for winter
- Timing: Early autumn is ideal for fertilisation as turfgrass begins storing carbohydrates in its roots for winter
- Nutrient Availability: Fertiliser supplies nitrogen and potassium, crucial for carbohydrate production and storage
- Carbohydrate Accumulation: Nutrients support ongoing photosynthesis, enabling the grass to store carbohydrates, primarily in the roots
- Winter Resilience: Carbohydrate reserves in roots serve as an energy source during winter, aiding survival and spring recovery
Timely and suitable fertiliser applications encourage ongoing photosynthesis and carbohydrate build-up in the roots. Apply fertilisers in autumn to align with the plant’s carbohydrate storage phase. It is important to avoid fertilisers which produce/encourage flushes in growth.
Using plant growth regulators for winter resilience
Applied in late summer or early autumn, PGRs slow growth, reducing the demand for resources during winter. PGRs promote root growth while limiting shoot growth. They also enhance the turf’s ability to withstand stressors like temperature fluctuations and moisture changes, preventing winter damage and aiding spring recovery.
Turf disease resistance
Increased leaf moisture during the autumn and winter, coupled with slower growth and recovery, make the turf much more susceptible to diseases. Fortunately, there are products available to aid the plant in fending off these pathogens without reaching for the bottle of fungicide.
Essential oils and organic acids
Plant-based essential oils and extracts contain natural compounds that hinder fungal growth – phenolic compounds and terpenoids (tannins, lignin and essential oils). These compounds disrupt fungal membranes and nutrient uptake, inhibiting disease development. Organic acids are naturally occurring compounds found in plants. They play a pivotal role in activating the plant’s defence mechanisms against diseases. They act as signalling molecules, triggering the expression of genes responsible for defence responses in turfgrass. These responses include the production of antimicrobial compounds. Diamond Green has shown significant success in assisting in disrupting the conditions in which disease can thrive, both in trials and with real world applications.
Chitosan, derived from crustacean exoskeletons, is a natural antifungal compound. It strengthens plants to resist pathogens, pest damage and drought. Chitosan also disrupts fungal cell membranes, hindering growth and colonisation making it an effective product in the fight against fungal pathogens. Consider the use of Asset Chitosan, our high strength Chitosan product derived from natural ingredients.
Hardening the plant
Ultimately, we want to ‘harden’ the plant for winter. Focus on:
- Nutrition – Use winterising fertilisers with higher potassium (K)
- Root Enhancement – Consider root stimulants for resilience
- Anti-Desiccants – Strengthen cell wall/membranes
- Plant Health Enhancers – Trigger the plant’s natural defence response
- Anti-Fungals – Disrupt pathogens to reduce their spread
Getting the basics right is just as important as selecting the correct products to help your turf as you head into winter. Suitable cultural practices form an important part of your integrated disease management plan:
- Dew Removal – Minimises leaf moisture, reducing disease risk
- Brushing – Enhances air circulation, mitigating fungal issues
- Improved Winter Survival – Healthier grass withstands cold stress
- Sustainable Approach – Reduces reliance on chemicals
- Cost-Efficient – Low-cost practices with long-term benefits
Preparing your turf for autumn and winter is a multifaceted task that involves providing proper nutrition, promoting a healthy root system, ensuring carbohydrate storage, and enhancing disease resistance. By following these guidelines and utilising the recommended products and techniques, you can maintain the health of your surfaces year-round.