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Another Difficult Summer For Growing Grass 

John Kaminski, Assistant Professor of Turfgrass Pathology
University of Connecticut

In 2005, the life of a New England golf course superintendent was difficult. Much of the difficulties were contributed to the cool wet spring that was immediately followed by temperatures routinely reaching 90F. These conditions favored poor spring root growth that left turf stands with little chance of surviving the record breaking summer heat. Although temperatures were more favorable for turfgrass growth in 2006, growing grass proved to be just as difficult on many golf courses throughout the region. Based on samples sent to UConn and visits to various golf courses throughout New England, it was apparent that a combination of factors contributed to this years declining turf.

Unlike last year in which turf simply could not stand up to the heat, 2006 was a year in which turfgrass pathogens were more prevalent. Beginning as early as March, anthracnose basal rot was identified on several golf courses, and controlling the pathogen this early in the year proved difficult. Despite the occasional outbreak of Microdochium patch, April and May was relatively mild period for disease activity. As temperatures began to warm in mid-May, however, several outbreaks of a new species of Rhizoctonia appeared simultaneously throughout states in New England, the Mid-West and along the West Coast. Although symptoms of this unusual disease mimicked cool-temperature brown patch (aka, Yellow Patch), disease activity occurred at warmer temperatures and generally was limited to annual bluegrass. Other diseases that made an impressive appearance in 2006 included bacterial wilt, brown patch, dollar spot, fairy ring, Pythium blight and root dysfunction, red thread, and summer patch.

Lack of internal drainage and high levels of organic matter often spell trouble for golf course putting greens for a variety of reasons.

If dealing with a cornucopia of diseases wasn’t enough, many golf courses were dealing with the same abiotic and cultural problems from the previous year. As many of you now know, 2005 was a litmus test that exposed areas in need of various cultural improvements. In particular, the lack of internal drainage on native soil putting greens and/or the build up of organic matter has emerged as one of the biggest factors in declining turf. In the past two years, a common denominator of poor greens has been compacted native soil underlying an inch or two of sand topdressing. In addition, many of these putting greens supported an equal thickness of thatch or mat. Without the internal drainage to move the water through the profile, water bridged at the soil-sand interface, resulting in poor root growth, conditions favorable for pathogen development, and plants vulnerable to excessive heat. In many cases, this intermediate phase of a sand topdressing program is a difficult one to get past and the true benefits of topdressing native soil greens often are not realized until a sand cap of several inches is built up.

We all know that the demands to maintain tournament conditions during the heat of the season or for an extended period of time are unrealistic. Even preparation for a U.S. Open begins years in advance and the course maintained to peak over a 4-day period. It is important to recognize what your course can and cannot handle throughout the season. During the summer months, take steps to determine the underlying cause of weak turf and take the necessary steps to correct the problem once conditions become favorable for turfgrass growth. Remember, the time to fix your golf swing is on the practice range and not in the middle of a round.
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Karl Guillard Wins Faculty Excellence Award in Undergraduate Teaching 

Basic to the greatness of the university is the quality of its faculty. The purpose of this award is to provide an incentive to encourage excellence in classroom teaching and thus to assist the University in its continuing efforts to attain the highest academic recognition.
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Turfgrass Disease Diagnostic Center Now Open 

By Bud Gavitt

Golf course superintendents, sports and recreational field managers, and commercial lawn care operators can now submit turf samples showing signs of pest damage and physiological disorders for analysis at the Department of Plant Science’s Turfgrass Disease Diagnostic Center. Established last year by John Kaminski, assistant professor of pathology in turfgrass science in the Department of Plant Science, the center is housed in room 110 of the W.B. Young Building.

A substantial grant to purchase equipment and supplies, including microscopes, for the center was given by the New England Regional Turfgrass Foundation. This private foundation funds to research and advancement of the region’s turf industry.

The center is open daily year round but most of the diagnostic work is done during the turfgrass growing season. Kaminski makes every effort to diagnose the disorder and give recommendations on what to do to address the problem within 24 hours.

In most cases golf course superintendents and others are able to identify the problem but want it to be confirmed by Kaminski. Once the problem is identified, recommendations may include changing a cultural practice, such as increasing turf mowing height or using plant protectants to control a turf pest.

Sometimes Kaminski visits the site to see what’s going on with a difficult problem. He says problems may occur that aren’t related to disease but still may cause turf to decline. For example, there may be too much shade, too much water, or not enough nitrogen fertilizer in the soil.

Samples can be sent to: Turfgrass Disease Diagnostic Center, Department of Plant Science, UConn, 1376 Storrs Road, U-4067, Storrs, CT 06269-4067. Samples must be submitted Monday through Thursday in order to provide diagnostic services the following day. If you like, you can also contact Kaminski at (860) 486-0162 or email him at john.kaminski@uconn.edu. To cover costs, there is a fee of $50.00 for Connecticut samples and $100.00 for out-of-state samples.

Kaminski expects to have a Web site by the end of the year that will include updates on the department’s turfgrass programs and new and ongoing pest control problems.

“My goal,” Kaminski says, “is to assist turfgrass managers throughout the region with whatever agronomic problems they may have.” “An additional benefit of the Center is that learning about the problems in the field provides ideas for future turfgrass research projects.”

Homeowners can get answers to their turf and lawn care questions from the Home and Garden Education Center at (877)486-6271 or by email.
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UConn Professor Nabs Musser 

John Kaminski, Ph.D., a recent graduate from the University of Maryland in plant pathology, has been chosen to receive the Musser International Turfgrass Foundation Award of Excellence for 2005. The annual award is presented to an outstanding doctoral student of turfgrass science who has made significant and innovative contributions to turfgrass science research. This year’s award winner also received a $20,000 cash award.

A native of Upper Marlboro, Md., Kaminski earned a bachelor’s degree from Penn State University in 1998 and earned his master’s and Ph.D at the University of Maryland, where his work involved the investigation of the biology of Ophiosphaerella agrostis and epidemiology of bentgrass dead spot.

Kaminski is currently an assistant professor of turfgrass pathology at the University of Connecticut. His appointment is 70 percent extension and 30 percent research and he serves as the director of the UConn Turfgrass Disease Diagnostic Center.

Since 2000, Kaminski has published 60 peer-reviewed scientific papers, progress/field day research reports, abstracts, extension publications and popular articles. His speaking activities included various guest lectures at the University of Maryland as well as invited speaking engagements at the 2001 International Turfgrass Research Conference and Rutgers Annual Turfgrass Management Symposium.

Kaminski began working in the turfgrass industry as an intern at Desert Mountain Properties in Scottsdale, Ariz. While attending Penn State, he also interned at Congressional Country Club and the Valentine Turfgrass Research Facility.

During his graduate studies at the University of Maryland, Kaminski worked under the direction of Dr. Peter Dernoeden. His involvement in the turfgrass science program included conducting basic and applied research, assisting in turfgrass disease diagnostics and guest lecturing in the areas of turfgrass science and plant pathology.

His initial work defined the geographic distribution of the pathogen and various aspects of the pathogen’s growth and reproduction. The final phase of his research involved a closer look at the environmental conditions favoring disease development. In addition to his applied research, he conducted studies to assess the genetic diversity of O. agrostis and also developed a molecular technique that allows for the rapid detection of the pathogen within infected plants.

“John has been the most remarkable graduate student that the U. of Maryland turfgrass program has ever experienced,” Peter Dernoeden, Ph.D. at the University of Maryland says. “He has a superior intellect, he is self-motivating and an intense researcher, and he has an outstanding work ethic. His accomplishments as a graduate student have been truly exemplary.”

Kaminski’s career goals are to:
Develop a productive and successful turfgrass pathology research program at the University of Connecticut;
Elucidate unknown biological and epidemiological aspects of important turfgrass pathogens and their respective diseases;
Develop improved chemical and cultural techniques for managing turfgrass diseases; and
Standardize and simplify the methods used to identify turfgrass diseases.

Named in memory of turfgrass scientist professor H. Burton Musser, the Musser International Turfgrass Foundation is dedicated to fostering Turfgrass Management as a learned profession.
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The Art and Science of Growing Grass 

By Jim Smith

Spring in New England is an unpredictable thing. Jack Frost is usuallly slow to relinquish his grip. In February, occasional days of spring-like temperatures send hopes soaring. But it's only a tease. Snow nearly always follows.

However, once snow is finally gone, an army of professionals in landscaping and golf course management emerges in full force.

Many of these experts knowledgeable in how to turn landscapes lush after the thaw, and keep the fairways and greens challenging, are graduates of the turfgrass science program in UConn's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

By mid-April, Matt Bagshaw, '03 (RHSA), accounts manager at E. A. Quinn Landscape Gardening, in Glastonbury, Conn., is upon the land in earnest, setting things right in the aftermath of the glacier's retreat, redirecting his crews from snow removal to landscape installation, mulch blowing, lawn maintenance and the construction of walls and patios.

Things are no less busy for Dan Gilbert, '00 (CANR), an assistant superintendent at the Ellington Ridge Country Club, in Ellington, Conn. All but the most relentless golf enthusiasts pack it in once the snow starts to fly, but turf maintenance is a year-round job at golf courses. All winter he supervises equipment maintenance and by mid-March, his crews are starting to prune trees, put the sand traps in order, edge the traps and mow the greens for the first time.

It may come as a surprise that UConn has an entire program devoted to the management of grass. But the turfgrass program is one of UConn's most successful, growing consistently over the last two decades and finding that it cannot provide enough graduates annually to meet marketplace demands. Every turfgrass graduate is highly sought after for a variety of positions.

"Within the field of agronomy, UConn has always had programs devoted to plants and soil science," says Karl Guillard, professor of agronomy "The focus was on economically important crops."

It still is, but as economies have changed, so have the crops. When UConn was much closer to its agricultural roots, plant and soil science students focused mostly on the staples of traditional farms: corn, grasses, forage and silage. By the 1970s, though, as Connecticut's population became increasingly urban and suburban and the role of farming in the state's economy declined, the College began adding classes on turfgrass — the grasses used for lawns, parks, golf courses, athletic fields and other managed landscapes.

More and more students lost interest in traditional farming, but interest in horticulture and the emerging field of turfgrass management grew, especially as it became clear that there was likely to be a growing demand for professionals equipped to service this new, "recreational" form of agriculture.

In 1998, for the first time, turfgrass was offered as a degree program at UConn. Two years later, Guillard was joined on the faculty by Steven Rackliffe, extension instructor turfgrass science, who brought with him years of on-the-job experience in golf course management. The program's trajectory has been onward and upward ever since.

"This program is an enormous source of pride," says Mary Musgrave, head of the department of plant science, who joined the UConn faculty in January 2003. "The demand for professionals in the turfgrass field has grown significantly over the last quarter of the 20th century, and I'm very impressed with the foresight the agronomy program demonstrated in adapting to offer the education needed to prepare students for this burgeoning new agricultural economy."

By way of demonstrating how significant turfgrass management is, she points to the fact that Connecticut currently has more than 180 golf courses, and more are being planned all the time. "It's a huge value to the state," she says, "and we're playing an important role preparing the workforce needed."

Some 60 percent of the program's graduates end up working in the golf industry. Another 30 percent take jobs in grounds-keeping, recreation field maintenance and other sports-related field management. A few are employed in sod production, conservation and natural resources. But the program doesn't come close to meeting demand, says Guillard. Requests for graduates to fill jobs and undergraduates to work in internships outstrip available students by four to five times.

Although people who are unfamiliar with the industry may have a mistaken view of turfgrass as simple, the propagation and successful management of turfgrasses is, in fact, an extremely complex process. Courses offered at UConn cover such diverse issues as soils and soil fertility, plant diseases, integrated pest management, landscape design, environmental law, pesticide safety, business management and golf course design and management. And the University maintains greenhouses, a teaching nursery and a 150-acre teaching and research field facility to support the program.

"My education has been really useful," says Bagshaw. "I had a small landscaping business while I was in high school, so I went to UConn with an interest in this field. I had a lot to learn, though, as I found out in the turfgrass program. On the job, I use what I learned at UConn all the time."

Gilbert echoes that sentiment. "I grew up as a golfer, loved the game, played on UConn's golf team," he says, "but I didn't think there was a way I could have a career in golf." Then he signed up for the golf course management class and, he says, it changed his life.

The range of courses offered, Gilbert says, accurately reflects the variety of skills he needs to be successful on the job, wearing several hats. He manages a crew of 20 who are constantly at work.

He is an agronomist, keeping grasses and accent plants rich and robust throughout the summer. Additionally, he needs to know about plumbing, mechanics and electricity.

"It's an exciting career but a very complex and demanding one," he says. "There's not a day when my UConn education doesn't pay off."

The quality of the program and its students is impressing experienced professionals such as Greg Wojick '78 (CANR), course superintendent for the Greenwich Country Club in Greenwich, Conn., who earned a degree in agronomy, and Cindy Johnson, '78 (CANR), course superintendent at Tumble Brook Country Club in Bloomfield, Conn., who earned a degree in horticulture.

Johnson has hosted UConn students from Rackliffe's classes in turfgrass irrigation at Tumble Brook's 27-hole course, which is undergoing renovations. "The students ask good questions and are interested in what I show them," she says. "I think it's wonderful that UConn has this program. It's what the state of Connecticut has needed."

Wojick hired one of the program's early graduates, Josh Satin '01 (CANR), as one of his assistant superintendents and for the second consecutive year has a UConn student, Justin Barry '05 (CANR), doing an internship in Greenwich. He says the requirements for success in golf course management demand a broad educational background as well as the hands-on science for turfgrass management.

"Because of the high standards for entry into UConn, you receive a well-rounded education. The demands of the job require good communications skills, good management skills, technical knowledge, plus interpersonal skills when you meet the captains of industry at social functions," Wojick says. "I think that's what UConn offers. We've hit home runs on all of our UConn students. Why not have the epicenter for learning in turfgrass and landscaping at UConn?"

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