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Monthly Turfgrass Roundup: September 2015

Energy for growth, and weeds

Two things today are kind of related to this topic. One is this -- Jim Brosnan mentioned, and showed photographic evidence, that "weed pressure on Oahu never ceases to amaze."

And I had a conversation with a golf course designer about fine fescue as an infrequently mown rough, in what climates that species can work, and what happens when it is too hot for fine fescue. And I mentioned that one can plant a number of species other than fine fescue in a warmer climate, but the problem becomes one of "how can we find a ball" because there is a lot of energy for growth. Of course there are various techniques turf managers can use to solve that problem, but then the turf will be alive, but thin. It must be if one is going to find a ball in it.

Once there are voids, weeds have an opportunity to grow. Turf managers can solve this problem too, with herbicides, or with manual removal of weeds. But now comes another problem. That is erosion, in locations with substantial rainfall.

Anyway, it must be that the growth of plants (desired species, and weeds) is related to the energy available for the plants to grow. In general the hotter it is, the more energy there will be for weeds, so when one thins a low maintenance rough, the energy for weed growth or invasion is going to be more in a hotter climate than in a cool one. I looked up some data from Japan -- hour by hour data of temperature and global irradiance for 2014 at Sapporo, Tokyo, and Naha. Then I converted the irradiance to photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) using a factor of 2.04.

I looked only at day time, when the sun was above the horizon. And I arbitrarily cut the data to look only at those hours when the temperature was greater than or equal to 20°C. Then I added up all the light, and all the hours. This is a very rough index of how much energy there is for growth, especially for the weeds that will grow when it is hot. And it is a conservative estimate, because the night temperatures influence growth too, and so does the actual temperature. This is just a quick way to note the differences between locations.

At Sapporo in 2014, the cumulative sum of PAR for hours when the temperature was greater than or equal to 20°C was 3,781 mol m-2. Tokyo has 5,844, and Naha was 9,124. Oahu is considerably warmer than Naha, so it almost certainly would have more PAR than Naha at this cutoff value.

Just looking at the time, how many hours were there for weeds to grow well in these different locations, by looking at how many hours there were with a temperature at or above 20°C? At Sapporo, there were 1,365 of these hours; at Tokyo there were 2,503; and at Naha it was 3,805. Again, locations in Oahu would almost certainly be more than Naha.

That is a real quick estimate of how much energy there is for weeds to grow, or more specifically how the energy is likely to differ in magnitude from location to location.

And one more thing -- in Scotland where a fine fescue rough actually works well, how much energy would there be for weeds? I don't have the exact irradiance data for Scotland, so I won't try to compare it to exact measurements. But I can give some idea of just how much lower the energy is, or how much lower the duration of time would be for weeds to grow rapidly. Huge disclaimer is necessary here, because the species are different, so a C3 weed like Poa annua might grow relatively rapidly in Dornoch but I am considering more the C4 weeds like Paspalum dilatatum or Cyperus rotundus.

It still makes an interesting comparison. Of Naha, Tokyo, and Sapporo, Sapporo is by far the coldest. And in the hottest month of the year in Sapporo, the average low temperature is 19.1°C, and the average high temperature is 26.4°C. How about somewhere in Scotland where fine fescue grows well? I picked Leuchars, just north of St. Andrews. In the hottest month of the year in Leuchars, the average low is 10.8°C, and the average high is 19.2°C.

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