May is a great month; the sun is bright and shining high in the sky, the threat of frost is all but gone and flowers are in full bloom all around us. But while May is one of my favorite months, there is a down side during this time period that I must deal with every new season, Poa seed heads. For many, the term poa seed heads means nothing, but for those that do know the term you are probably already aware of how this little grassy plant can cause you headaches. Simply put, if you’ve been putting on greens in New England, you have been affected by the dread full poa seed head.
In one form or another all plants, including grasses, sprout a flower and attempt to produce a seed. The process can vary dependent upon surrounding conditions and animal activity but for the most part plants are pretty darn good at producing seed, after all they’ve been doing it for millions of years! It just so happens there is a particular grassy plant that can survive at an eighth of an inch of height and produce copious amounts of seed… Annual bluegrass, otherwise known as Poa Annua or simply poa, is a pest among golf course greens. While there are many negative effects to having Poa Annua in a green, none are more annoying than the massive amounts of seed heads the plant can produce; creating a bumpy ride for that little white ball on its way to its home.
The best way to deal with poa seed heads is the obvious one; don’t get Poa Annua in your greens! That is much easier said than done, and for those of us maintaining older greens the reality of managing poa and its seed heads are undeniable. To begin management, you need to understand poa’s life cycle. Poa Annua is a winter annual, meaning it survives the winter as a mature plant and produces seed in the spring; though it will produce seed all season long. The plant than dies off in the summer heat and seeds produced earlier in the season germinate in late summer to start the whole process over again. Though listed as a winter annual many strains of Poa Annua, like the ones managed at Candia Woods act much more like a perennial; surviving year after year.
Superintendents use a variety of methods to smooth putting surfaces, mowing, rolling, brushing, grooming, and sanding are all important components to a solid plan, but when it comes to poa seed head control, chemical warfare is needed. Applying a growth regulator at the proper times helps keep Poa Annua from producing seed, thus keeping greens smooth and helping to conserve the plants energy for the summer stress ahead. Proper timing of application is a tricky business; poa has been known to produce seed all season long however its main push to seed is in the spring. It is well known that applying regulator too late means you can miss the boat, which is why the first application for spring control takes place the previous fall.
Poa Annua is perhaps the most glaring difference between old and new green construction. These days’ superintendents with bentgrass greens have many tools in the tool box for controlling poa, while those of us managing courses of the past must accept our fate of nurturing a weed. Here at Candia Woods we will likely never be rid of Poa Annua but with a good plan, correct timing and two eyes on the weather, our poa greens will remain smooth and true.