Spring Begins: Cold Again, First Mowing, Controlled Burning, Fairy ring?, Greenhouse Research

7 min readMar 24, 2023

Spring. It has officially begun on the calendar. And although it is temporarily cold out there again, we are seeing (and hearing) more signs of spring. For example, American robins (Turdus migratorius) have now returned to northern Illinois. If your eyes were on the ground, I have that habit, you will see them foraging for food (earthworms). Increasingly, you’ll hear their distinctive, persistent and, shall we say, argumentative chirps. The progression of plants returning from dormancy has slowed down though due to cool temps. But things like tulips, daffodils and daylilies continue to wake and push up in places you may have forgotten they were! Nevertheless, we’re still waiting — no blooms yet.

Image 1. First mow of a SR1119 plus L93 creeping bentgrass green on the first day of spring. Different genetic clones in different stages of semi-dormancy in early spring give it a patchy look. Greens are still not growing. That will come later as we warm in April and May. Black Sheep Golf Club, Sugar Grove, IL. Settle, Mar 21, 2023

Golf course maintenance personnel are still preparing for opening day. It’s a long list. It’s kind of like the spring clean up of your lawn only on a much larger scale. Oh, and there’s a great deal of attention to detail. In a week, one additional item was added to the list = 1st mowing of greens. On social media many would share a photo to mark the occasion. Looking at those pics, it was obvious winter 2022–23 was good to turfgrass. Greens are about to be in play and April 1st is the target date for some. That’s no April Fools.

Controlled Burning

Maintenance of out-of-play areas requires methods to address biomass accumulation as well as weeds. One way to do that is to mow down fineleaf fescue areas each spring, but then additional work is required to haul away and discard debris.

One solution, where permitted, is controlled burning. Besides eliminating the need for clipping and removal, regular burning provides a level of weed management which is necessary in “tall grass areas”. Burning then allows for the reduction of herbicides when applied as a spot-treatment on weeds (scouting and identification required). For an in-depth article on controlled burns at a course in Michigan Click Here. Courtesy GCSAA/GCM Online.

Image 1. Burning of out-of-play fescue and/or native grass areas in the early spring is a helpful maintenance practice for golf courses. Black Sheep Golf Club, Sugar Grove, IL. Settle, Mar 21, 2023

Fairy Ring — various soil-borne basidiomycete fungi

At first green up in spring, you begin to notice the effects of fertility by various means. In this case it is fairy ring caused by a group of fungi that can use things for food that most cannot — turfgrass thatch for example. In early spring what we are likely seeing is just the residual effects of nutrients which are a bi-product of fairy ring activity. The additional fertility provides a jump in green-up the following season.

Summer is important for fairy ring. Fairy ring causing turfgrass loss is typically only a problem when it’s hot (July and August). The concern is greens but sometimes fairways too. In 2021, I returned to Chicago and wrote about fairy ring causing one of those golf course superintendent headaches. Right on time too, it was hot — the third week of July. Click Here

Spring is important for fairy ring. It is still worth talking about fairy ring now because spring is the time for prevention. We use fungicides which are watered in immediately after application to the depth of the mycelium A spring timing is used to prevent summer damage (based on research/soil temperature model by Lee Miller et al.). As it turns out, this approach integrated nicely to prevent several other fungal diseases (root rots like take-all patch and summer patch) which also had similar weather-based predictive models. Soil temperature timings for soil-borne diseases generally start at 55–60 degrees, daily average at 2 inch depth.

  • Fairy ring — spring 1st app. (soil temp, 2 inches, 55–60 degrees F)
  • Take-all patch — spring 1st app. (soil temp, >55 degrees F for 5 days)
  • Summer patch —spring 1st app. (soil temp, 64 degrees)

All you need is a broad-spectrum fungicide. Historically, DMI fungicides were hard to beat when reviewing fairy ring research in golf greens and fairways (multiple fungi = causal agent). Today, newest DMIs are best given they work with little to no deleterious plant growth regulation effect(s).

Image 1. Opal helps diagnose a type 2 fairy ring (green rings/arcs) in a creeping bentgrass fairway at Aurora Country Club, Aurora, IL. Settle, Mar 21, 2023
Image 2. Sometimes fairy ring is associated with golf course roughs where a tree once grew. These soil-borne basidiomycete fungi have a rare ability to digest cellulose found in wood. Story goes that only termites, with helpful bacteria in their gut, have this similar ability. Rich Harvest Farms, Sugar Grove, Settle, Mar 21, 2023
Image 3. Ralphie shows us that dogs can provide a fairy ring look-a-like. This is dog patch caused by number 1. The final effect is the same = extra nitrogen provides early spring green up of Kentucky bluegrass, Evanston, IL. Settle, Mar 23, 2023

Research — Greenhouse Study 3: Evaluation of chewings fescue seed for growth parameters in different rootzone mixes by Shehbaz Singh, MS

Rationale. Results of a CDGA divot study indicated chewings fescue seed as a possible addition that resulted in a divot mix with speedy recovery.

Objective. Observe the growth of chewings fescue in different kinds of rootzone materials primarily used for routine golf courses management.

Material and Methods. A greenhouse experiment lasting four weeks was conducted at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, IL using 2-inch diameter cone-tainers. Six different treatments (rootzones) were used in this experiment in a randomized complete block design with 6 replicates.

1. Compost (yard waste)

2. 8–1–1 Mix (80% sand, 10% soil and 10% compost)

3. Round Sand

4. White Bunker Sand

5. Experimental Sand

6. Round Sand with Biochar (10% by volume)

Image 1. Rootzone mixes in cone-tainers at start of the greenhouse study. Singh, Feb 21, 2023

Fifty seeds of chewings fescue seed were counted and placed in each cone-tainer. Watering occurred immediately after seeding on Feb 21, 2023. Thereafter, overhead watering occured weekly to ensure growth. Cone-tainers were kept in metal-tray so that tube ends were submerged in water to ensure optimum germination. Twice per week, data was collected for seed germination (plant number) and shoot growth (plant height). At study end, data was collected for root parameters (root length) and plant biomass (dry plant weight).

Greatest Plant Height. Chewings fescue plant height in compost was greater than other rootzone mixes on most evaluation dates. A soil analyses (Dr. Doug Soldat, Univ. Wisc.) indicated greater nutrient content in compost (Table 1.).

Moderate Plant Height. Regular round sand and 8–1–1 mix showed moderate plant height for chewings fescue; reaching approx. 6.5 cm at the end of study. An experimental sand showed a plant height of 4.5 cm at the end of study.

Reduced Plant Height. Interestingly, the round sand with biochar showed lower plant height on most rating dates. Longer decomposition time may be needed for biochar and is why poor chewings fescue growth occurred in this short study duration (4 weeks). The angularity of bunker white sand and experimental sand may have negatively impacted the chewings fescue growth.

Figure 1. Chewings fescue plant height (average of 6 replicates) on rating dates over the course of the study.

Greatest Plant Number. The number of chewings fescue seeds germinated for round sand was more than other rootzone mixes on most rating dates. The compost provided the same plant number at the end of study (43 seeds germinated out of 50). Better moisture retention and nutrient content in compost would have supported better germination. Round sand also showed better germination.

Intermediate Plant Number. Both the 8–1–1 Mix and the experimental sand were intermediate with germination of approximately 38 chewings fescue seeds.

Reduced Plant Number. The round sand with biochar and bunker white sand showed poor germination. Longer decomposition time may be needed for biochar and is why reduced chewings fescue seed germination occurred in this short study duration (4 weeks).The angularity of bunker white sand very likely had a negative impact on chewings fescue seed germination.

Figure 2. Chewings fescue plant number (average of 6 replicates) on rating dates over the course of the study.

Root Length. Tendency of longest root length (10.8 cm) occurred in compost and shortest root length occurred in experimental sand (2.5 cm). Also, short root length was observed in bunker white sand (4.5 cm). Bunker white sand and experimental sand are artificial man-made sands which are angular. Sand angularity is a factor that inhibits root growth and these types of sand should not be used in divot mixes.

Figure 3. Chewings fescue root length (average of 6 replicates) across treatments at study end on Mar 20, 2023.
Table 1. Soil analysis of divot mix material used by University of Wisconsin, Dr. Doug Soldat.
Image 2. Photos taken a week after study start on Feb 27 (upper) and at study end on Mar 20 (lower) of chewings fescue across six different treatments (in an evaluation of materials for divot mix use) in a greenhouse study at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, IL. Singh

Final Images

Blue flag or Iris verisolor in bloom during early spring. Evanston, IL. Settle, Mar 22, 2023
More purple Crocus. Go K-State! Elite Eight! Chicago, IL. McCune, Mar 23, 2023




Written by Derek Settle, PhD & Shehbaz Singh, MS. Mission: Provide science-based turfgrass research and diagnostics to 400+ member golf courses/superintendents.