Enhancing late-fall nitrogen on greens
Complement late-fall nitrogen with a plant growth regulator to improve winter hardiness and nutrient sufficiency of greens.
Chase M. Rogan and Max Schlossberg, Ph.D.
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turfgrass consumes nitrogen under optimal growing conditions, the cells in leaf
and shoot tissue become hydrated and nonstructural carbohydrates are depleted
(3). This highly typical response to nitrogen was the probable impetus for
early discouragement of substantial fall nitrogen applications to turfgrass
(1). However, several more-recent field studies in cool-season turfgrass have
shown that fall nitrogen fertilization has not increased the turf’s
susceptibility to biotic and abiotic stresses in winter (11,12,13).
The study site was Penn State’s Valentine Turfgrass Research Center
in University Park, Pa., where Penn G-2 creeping bentgrass
annual bluegrass was maintained as a putting green.
Photo by Brad Bartlett
early 1990s in Wisconsin, the timings of fall nitrogen fertilizer applications
were compared within a standard annual program of 4 pounds nitrogen/1,000
square feet (19.5 grams/ square meter) (5). Season-end nitrogen delivery (1.5
pounds urea-nitrogen/1,000 square feet [7.3 grams/square meter]) was applied to
a Penncross creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera L.) putting green in mid-September, mid-October or
mid-November. Although root-growth was unaffected, response to the mid-October
and mid-November applications included enhanced winter color and spring
green-up, and delayed (to late May) spring nitrogen fertilizer requirements. Mid-October
nitrogen application fostered significantly greater spring growth than the
mid-September timing, but less growth than the mid-November timing (5).
Excessive growth in early spring in response to fall nitrogen application(s)
remains a significant concern for superintendents.
Adding a plant growth
Trinexapac-ethyl is a foliarly absorbed plant growth regulator
commonly used in turfgrass management. Greenhouse results indicate
trinexapac-ethyl improves canopy color and reduces vertical shoot growth of both
cool- and warm-season turfgrass species for weeks (14). Likewise,
trinexapac-ethyl has been shown to positively influence freezing tolerance of
cool-season turfgrasses (8,10).
Repeated trinexapac-ethyl applications to hybrid
bermudagrass [Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers. × C. transvaalensis Burtt-Davy] have
also decreased nutrient concentration in leaves while increasing nutrient
concentrations in rhizomes by 8% to 36%, resulting in a net increase in
bermudagrass nutrient retention (7). Similar trinexapac-ethyl-induced reduction
in nitrogen requirements has been reported for creeping bentgrass putting greens
The objective of this study was to determine how timing of fall
applications of trinexapac-ethyl and/or nitrogen influence subsequent growth, nitrogen
status and spring canopy density of creeping bentgrass/annual bluegrass (Poa annua L.) putting greens.
Materials and methods
Studies were initiated in September 2009 and 2010 at the
Pennsylvania State University Valentine Turfgrass Research Center (University
Park, Pa.). The site was a mature, push-up putting green with a 3-inch
(7.6-centimeter) sand cap overlying a Hagerstown silt loam.
Grass clippings were collected in fall 2009 and 2010, and spring 2010 and 2011 to measure clipping
yield, an indicator of turfgrass growth and vigor.
Photo by Derek Pruyne
Maintenance and fertilization. The Penn G-2 creeping bentgrass and annual
bluegrass putting green was irrigated to prevent wilt. Throughout the 2009
season, the green was mowed six days/ week at a height of 0.126 inch (3.2
millimeters) and clippings were removed.
In early September, granular urea, potassium sulfate and magnesium
sulfate fertilizers were applied to deliver nitrogen, potassium, sulfur and magnesium
at rates of 0.57, 2.56, 1.35 and 0.23 pounds/1,000 square feet (2.78, 12.49,
6.59 or 1.12 grams/square meter), respectively. Leaf clippings were collected Sept.
28 and analyzed. Following clipping collection, soil was randomly sampled to a
depth of 4 inches (10 centimeters) and analyzed.
Design and treatments. The experimental design was a randomized
complete block with 72 plots (3 feet × 6 feet [0.9 meter × 1.8 meters]). On
Sept. 30, 2009, three treatments were applied to each of the six blocks. A CO2-pressurized, single-nozzle (Tee-Jet TP11008E) wand-sprayer was used to
apply soluble nitrogen (1:1 urea– N:NH4NO3–N at 0.61 pound/1,000 square feet
(2.97 grams/square meter) in a tank-combination with Primo Maxx
(trinexapac-ethyl, Syngenta) plant growth regulator at 0, 0.1, or 0.2 fluid ounce/1,000
square feet (0, 0.31, or 0.63 liters/ hectare). Plots initially treated with
Primo Maxx at the 0.1 fluid ounce/1,000 square feet rate were re-treated with
an equal application of Primo Maxx eight days later. Thus, all plots treated
with Primo Maxx received a total of 0.2 fluid ounce of Primo Maxx/1,000 square
feet in either a full- or split-application regimen.
This procedure was repeated on randomly selected plots remaining
within each block on Oct. 10, Oct. 21 and Nov. 1, 2009. These four initiation dates,
each 10±1 days apart and centered on Oct. 15 (the 30-year average date of first
frost in University Park, Pa.), are the four experimental timing levels.
Fall clipping yield. Measures of turfgrass growth and vigor were
first collected from treated plots on Oct. 9, and repeated every 10±1 days
through Nov. 12, 2009. Thus, fall clipping yield data represent a single collection
from plots treated Nov. 1 and cumulative collections from plots treated earlier.
Clippings were immediately oven-dried, cooled in a desiccator and weighed.
Mowing was discontinued in late November 2009, and plots were left uncovered
over the winter.
Spring canopy reflectance and clipping yield. Multiple canopy reflectance measures were collected from all plots
on March 25 and April 1, 2010, using a Crop Circle ACS-210 (Holland
Scientific). The reflectance values were used to calculate the green normalized
differential vegetation index (GNDVI).
The GNDVI nondestructively estimates the quantity of chlorophyll
between the sensor and soil and thus quantifies turfgrass canopy density in
place (9). A strong correlation of GNDVI and chlorophyll content has been
reported in bermudagrass and creeping bentgrass systems (2). GNDVI values, describing spring turfgrass canopy density of each
plot, were averaged over both collection dates for statistical analysis.
April 6, 2010, clippings were collected from all plots at a 0.126-inch mowing
height. Subsamples of repeated (fall) or single (spring) clipping yields were
analyzed, for leaf tissue nitrogen concentration.
Figure 2. Mean spring canopy density (GNDVI) by fall treatment and year of study
(pooled fall application dates). Treatment means with overlapping error bars
are not significantly different.
Maintenance and fertilization. The putting green was irrigated to prevent wilt,
fertilized at typical maintenance rates and mowed six days per week, with
clippings continually removed, in 2010. Soil and clipping samples were
collected and analyzed for baseline nutrient concentration and soil fertility.
On Sept. 8, 2010, the putting green was fertilized with granular potassium sulfate
to deliver 1.04 pounds potassium (5.07 grams/square meter) and 0.43 pound
sulfur/1,000 square feet (2.09 grams/square meter).
Design and treatments. A second study was initiated in fall 2010 using
a 48-plot design within a separate section of the same putting green.
Treatments were applied as described for the first year on Oct. 1, and the
plots remaining in each of four blocks were treated on Oct. 10, 20 and 30,
2010. These four initiation dates represent the four experimental timing
Fall clipping yield. As in 2009, fall clippings were collected every
10 days and processed and analyzed as described. Mowing was discontinued Nov.
11, 2010, and plots were left uncovered over the winter.
Spring canopy reflectance and clipping yield. On March 30 and
April 7, 2011, canopy reflectance was measured for all plots as described. On
April 14, clippings were collected, and clipping yield samples were processed
and analyzed as described.
Results and discussion
Conditions in the fall were typical of a cool, humid region in
both years of the study. Mean September, October and November monthly
temperatures were 62 F (16.6 C), 50 F (10 C) and 45 F (7.2 C) in 2009 and 65 F
(18.3 C), 53 F (11.6 C) and 41 F (5 C) in 2010. Rainfall over this period totaled
7.7 inches (19.55 centimeters) in 2009 and 9.5 inches (24.13 centimeters) in
2010. First frost was later in 2010 (Nov. 2) than in 2009 (Oct. 14), but
November 2010 was colder and had more rainfall. Likewise, December mean air
temperature was lower in 2010, and January, February and March were colder in
2011 than in 2010.
Routine soil analysis showed a neutral soil pH and suggested minor
recommendations (which were followed) to optimize nutrient availability. Analyses
of putting green leaf tissue collected immediately before the experiments were
started indicated sufficient nutritional status (data not shown).
Canopy reflectance was measured to calculate the green normalized
differential vegetation index
(GNDVI). A radiometer was held at waist height
and carried the length of the center of each plot. The
device measured canopy reflectance
of 590- and 880-nanometer wavelength radiation.
Photo by Max Schlossberg
Fall tissue nitrogen
Fall tissue-nitrogen concentrations were significantly affected by
application timing and the year. In 2009, plots treated before the first hard frost
(Oct. 14) maintained 4.0%-4.2% tissue-nitrogen levels (Figure 1). Plots treated
on the last two
application dates of 2009 showed significantly lower tissue-nitrogen
concentrations (3.2%-3.3%). The drastic drop in tissue nitrogen for the latter
two application dates is attributed to lower temperatures and a reduced rate of
physiological assimilation by plant leaf and root tissue following the first
same effect was not observed in fall 2010, when the first hard frost occurred
after all treatments were applied (Nov. 2). Thus, the plants remained more
physiologically active throughout the fall and showed a slight linear decline
in nitrogen assimilation over the application timings (Figure 1). Regardless,
leaf tissue-nitrogen concentration was greater in fall 2009 than in 2010; this is
likely the residual effect of yearly variation in summer fertilization
canopy density and growth
normalized differential vegetative index (GNDVI) is a measurement of
chlorophyll content and thus quantifies turfgrass canopy density. Figure 2
shows the mean spring canopy density by treatment and year (Figure 2). Over all
fall 2009 application timings, Primo Maxx treatments yielded greater spring
GNDVI relative to nitrogen alone (Figure 2). In spring 2011, differences in
canopy density by treatment were less pronounced, perhaps due to lower winter
temperatures and a comparatively delayed spring green-up.
spring vigor is analogous to shoot growth and is a sure sign that mowing is
about to resume.
Although early spring vigor is sometimes perceived as beneficial,
and welcomed by the maintenance staff, it may increase turfgrass susceptibility
to crown hydration injury (1). Continued regulation of growth, particularly
when putting greens break dormancy with sufficient canopy density and nitrogen
status, may reduce the likelihood of deacclimation injury caused by rapid
onsets of freezing temperatures in early spring.
Early spring clipping yield
data were pooled over both seasons to best illustrate the interaction of
treatment and timing (Figure 3). Application timing had little effect on spring
growth response to the fall nitrogen-alone treatment. However, applications of
Primo Maxx made later in fall (after the first hard frost) reduced putting
green spring growth by as much as 20%. In contrast, early spring growth of
plots receiving early-October Primo Maxx treatments (before the first frost) exceeded
that observed in plots treated at the same time with nitrogen alone (Figure 3).
Spring growth in plots receiving early Primo Maxx treatments was as much as 13%
greater than spring growth in plots treated with only nitrogen. This difference
is likely a manifestation of post-regulation growth enhancement (6), also
called the rebound effect. It is important superintendents recognize the
sensitive nature of late-fall Primo Maxx application timing when considering
such putting green treatments.
Figure 4. Mean spring leaf tissue nitrogen by fall treatment and year of study
(pooled fall application dates). Treatment means with overlapping error bars
Spring tissue nitrogen
Nitrogen levels in spring putting green leaf tissue were
unaffected by application date, which came as a surprise considering the effect
on leaf nitrogen levels in fall (Figure 1). Spring leaf-tissue- nitrogen level
was significantly enhanced by fall Primo Maxx treatment, regardless of timing or
application regimen (split or full) (Figure 4). Thus, the late-fall Primo Maxx
treatment resulted in greater nitrogen status compared to plots treated with
nitrogen alone, yet also reduced early spring growth (Figure 3). This observation
is in agreement with reports of nitrogen preservation within turfgrasses
recently treated by Primo Maxx (4,7).
Applying nitrogen and Primo Maxx in late autumn can enhance the
spring density and tissue nitrogen concentration of greens-height turfgrass systems.
Application of Primo Maxx in late fall suppresses growth in early spring, even
when tissue nitrogen is high. In fact, Primo Maxx significantly preserves
tissue nitrogen, which can be beneficial for spring growth after Primo Maxx is no
longer active and weather patterns stabilize. Conversely, Primo Maxx can be
used to stimulate growth in early spring when applied up to two weeks before
the first hard frost, but this is not recommended because early growth may
Spring density was significantly improved by the combination of
Primo Maxx and fall nitrogen in the first year of the study. Results show
tissue nitrogen levels >4.0% mass at the onset of dormancy did not have
detrimental effects in early spring. When striving for such a high
concentration late in the season (September or later), nitrogen should be
applied with a plant growth regulator such as Primo Maxx. This will restrict
top growth and improve density going into winter. In theory, a plant that is
photosynthetically active but not growing will synthesize carbohydrates, contributing
to energy reserves and winter hardiness. Where winter injury threatens the health of a turfgrass system,
maintaining a dense turfgrass canopy may ultimately reduce turf loss and aid in
accelerated spring recovery.
authors thank The Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council for their financial support of
this research, and Brad Bartlett, Sarah Fishel and Derek Pruyne for their
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Chase Rogan was a graduate student conducting this research in fulfillment of his
M.S. degree requirements at Penn State University. He is currently GCSAA’s
field staff representative for the Mid-Atlantic region. Maxim J. Schlossberg is an associate professor of turfgrass nutrition and soil
fertility in the Center for Turfgrass Science at Penn State University,
University Park, Pa.