How to manage flooded turf?
We have put this together on how to manage flooded turf. With recent flooding having had a major impact on the turf production areas and sporting venues throughout NSW and VIC this will hopefully help get your turf back as soon as possible. The key to any recovery is planning. Things such as being isolated due to road damage will have an indirect effect on recovery so taking remedial action before flooding occurs can have a dramatic impact. Crucial to this is you need to know what happens when flooding happens as a lot of changes to the soil chemistry occur. The header image is courtesy of Setter and Belford (1990).
In its usual state soil contains plenty of oxygen to enable microbial respiration and organic matter decomposition. When soils become flooded, oxygen diffuses from the water into the soil surface and forms a thin layer of oxidized soil. Underneath this is a thicker oxygen deficient layer. Two by products of flooding and the subsequent oxygen deficiency are the production of Methane (CH4+) and nitrous oxide (N2O).
Effects of flooding:
- Both facultative and true anaerobes become active in the absence of oxygen;
- Nitrate losses from the soil occur as a result of denitrification;
- Organic matter decomposition slows down;
- Iron and manganese become more available and in some cases can become limiting to turf growth in flood prone areas;
- Oxygen declines and root hairs to begin to die and
- Carbon dioxide increases
Can flooding kill grass?
Soil oxygen begins to decline in submerged grass and root hairs to begin to die. Although no definitive data is available, testimonials for dormant turf indicate that most survives longer than 4 days when flooded. This can be far from the case with non-dormant turf.
As the water covering the turf increases in depth, the potential for turf injury increases. The good news is that if the leaf tissue is above the water line the turf will probably survive. In areas where the turf is totally covered the situation isn’t so good.
Within a day of flooding, high organic matter soils become oxygen deficient. Photosynthesis declines, respiration rates increase and side way rooting increases as a result of a lack of oxygen and sunlight. It is worth noting that flood waters are very good at filtering out light which is required for photosynthesis. This is a direct result of dissolved organic material such as humic acids and particulate material such as silt.
Grass will not survive as long at water temperatures above 16°C. Research shows that at cool water temperatures of 10°C or less turfgrass can withstand being submerged for up to 60 days. In contrast it can die within 24 hours at water temperatures of 30°C or higher.
If you have time there are a number of options you can consider in order to prepare for flooding and give your turf areas a better chance of recovering.
How to manage flooded turf – preparing for whats to come.
Here are a few tricks you can adopt to try and increase the chances of turf survival. The key is doing these before flooding occurs as after the event it is going to be too late. First, apply trinexapac-ethyl (Amigo® 120) at a high label rate before flooding. This slows turf growth, respiration and leaf etiolation.
Second, diseases such as pythium root rot on cool season turf and ERI fungi on warm-season turf can thrive under waterlogged soil conditions. After flooding you will not be able to spray or water in any fungicide as the soil is going to be saturated. So, it is far easier and more effective to use preventative applications before flooding using for example Grenadier® (fosetyl aluminum) or AzoForce® (azoxystrobin). Using chemicals such as these gives you around 21 days protection. This is great for your piece of mind in a very stressful period and allows you to get on with other things without worrying about these diseases.
This can make a huge difference to the chances of any turf surviving. For example, creeping bentgrass is more tolerant of flooding than either tall fescue or Kentucky bluegrass. Winter grass, red fescue, Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass are the least flood tolerant.
For the warm season and C4 grasses, the best performer is seashore paspalum. Next are couch and zoysia with buffalo grass varieties falling in the middle.
Research shows that couch still survives after 55 days of flooding, whilst in certain situations tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass are still surviving after 35 days. In fact, kentucky bluegrass rhizomes have been shown to survive flooding events and contribute to 50% of field recovery.
How to manage flooded turf – The aftermath
Removing all the rubbish and sediment off the surface is the first step to repairing a surface after a flood event. Not only is this important from a safety perspective it also helps get sunlight to the turf canopy.
Be aware that any traffic over the surface at this stage is highly likely to damage the soil structure and create future issues. Waiting to mow until flooded areas dry also reduces the risk of damaging wet, muddy areas with mowers.
Also the weakened stressed turf is highly vulnerable at this stage to pest and disease activity.
As soon as waters recede aim to apply nitrogen as this can dramatically reduce the impact of waterlogging. The correct timing of nitrogen application on waterlogged crops can also significantly increasethe speed of recovery.
Application of an ammonium-containing turf fertiliser (urea, or ammonium sulphate) or manure shortly before a wet period, suffers minimal losses. This is because saturated soils don’t undergo nitrification until the soil dries and it becomes aerobic.
Use of granular or liquid nitrogen. Liquid fertilisers supply nitrogen directly to the leaves to replace nitrogen normally supplied from the soil, and so apply at any time.
Granular fertilisers are more effective if applied immediately after waterlogging has gone.
As turf managers there is a lot to learn from the horticulture and agriculture when it comes to flood management. All of these listed below have been shown to reduce damage. All of these have been shown to reduce damage. This doesn’t mean that they will stop it but in certain situations they may help with recovery.
- Foliar and root applications of the turf biostimulant salicylic acid have been shown to improve phostosynthetic efficiency. As far as we know Vertmax Duo has the highest SA loading on the market and is safe to use on turf. See this turf pigment presentation for more information. Salicylic acid has shown to be effective in reducing waterlogging stress and this has been shown in crops ranging from corn to tomatoes.
- Using amino acids. Research has shown plants cope with oxygen starvation better when fed three amino acids: glycine, serine and alanine. So using a product with high levels of these prior to flooding makes a lot of sense. As with most things different products contain varying amounts of these amino acids so use labelled products showing their specific amino acid contents.
- Consider applying ethephon. This has been shown to reduce waterlogging stress in soybeans. The etoliated growth that occurs in submerged turf s due to ethylene accumulation. When flood waters fall back this leaf etoliation means the plant is less fit for photosynthesis. Applying ethephon increases the chances of turf to be “match ready” to phostosynthesise as soon as possible.
Download this free flood management Guide
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After Graduating from Newcastle University with an Hons Degree in Soil Science in 1988, Jerry then worked for the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) before emigrating to Australia in 1993.
He followed this by gaining a Grad Dip in Business Managment from UTS and has worked in a number of managment roles for companies as diverse as Samsung Australia, Arthur Yates and Paton Fertilizers.
He has always had a strong affinity with the Australian sports turf industry and as a result he established Gilba Solutions in 1993. Jerry has written over 100 articles and two books on a wide range of topics such as Turf Pesticides and Nutrition which have been published in Australia and overseas.