Problem Areas in Athletic Turf and Golf Greens

Ronald Strahan, Koske, Thomas J.  |  4/21/2006 12:07:52 AM

Black layer in golf green sample.

Layers below impede water percolation even if it's a sand layer.

Soil compaction and lack of aeration (anaerobiosis) are death on turf.

It all starts with something slowing down the movement of water through the soil. That could relate to construction errors; it could be the result of an aerification program that includes improper sand selection. Prolonged rainfall could be the culprit. Average heavy soils may percolate at 0.3 inches/hour or less. Older golf green recommendations were for percolation rates of at least 2.5 inches/hour.

Perc > 7 inches/hour

Excellent drainage

2.8 - 7.0 inches/hour


1.5 - 2.7 inches/hour


0.7 - 1.3 inches/hour

Very poor

0.2 - 0.6 inch/hour

Almost impervious

< 0.2 inch/hour


The pores become filled with water, and the anaerobic bacteria begin to take over. When they grow, they develop a mucus mass on the soil particles. When this mass gets large, it is called biofilm, and it will actually plug the soil.

You're probably most familiar with anaerobiosis as black layer -- an anaerobic condition that sometimes ends up with a blackening of the soil. This is most prevalent in sand-base root zones.

Anaerobiosis is characterized by the death of plant parts and also by the formation of a distinct black layer. In an anaerobic condition, the microbes that fix sulfur will increase and actually cause the layer to be black, but they really have been just sitting there waiting for their turn. The dirty deed has been done before they take part. Drainage is the real culprit.

To further aggravate the condition, as roots die from suffocation or disease, an organic "gel" forms from their remnants to further reduce infiltration and aeration of the soil pores.

Monitor compaction on athletic fields. When compaction rises, aerify. Also, monitor water infiltration; when infiltration falls, aerify. All playing surfaces and greens should have an absolute minimum of 2 inches an hour percolation rate. When percolation is high (more than 10 inches), nutrient management becomes more difficult.

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