Seeing is believing

How Worm Power Turf helped superintendent Mark Daniels improve his root systems and fertility program.

Mark Daniels, superintendent at Wannamoisett Country Club in Rumford, Rhode Island, doesn't usually try organic products, he says.

"I'm not really an 'organic' guy," he says. "There's been a lot of claims for organic products and stuff like that."

But he says he'll try most products that offer help with growing healthier roots or maintaining firmer greens.

"If you can do one of those two things, I'm going to try the product," he says. "We'll see for ourselves whether it works or not, but we always want more roots, and the members are always looking for that firmness."

When he was approached to use the Poa annua greens and Poa/bent tees as a trial site for Worm Power Turf, a vermicompost product, he was doubtful at first. Especially with such a low mowing height for his Poa during the season, he was used to seeing roots of only about a half-inch by mid summer.

"I went into it pretty skeptical," he says. "I wasn't expecting it to do a whole lot. But anything we can try to put roots in the bank going into the summer is money well-spent."

They started with a practice green, splitting it down the middle and doing half with, and half without Worm Power Turf. Two apps later, he had purchased product to spread it on the rest of his greens.

"We were pretty surprised, the first year we used it. It made a believer out of us pretty quickly," says Daniels.

Daniels worked with a local researcher, who came out several times during the summer to take measurements of surface growth and cuts to compare root washes. The surface growth didn't see much change, or a nitrogen response - Daniels says he couldn't tell if one side was greener or the other. But the difference of the treated to untreated roots was substantial, he says.

"Having him come along to evaluate results really proved it for us," he says. "We saw a huge difference in our rooting. We could see larger, white roots on the sides where we were using Worm Power Turf, versus the other side. It was not only an increase in depth, but also the health of the roots was just tremendous, compared to what we're used to seeing."

With stronger roots on his greens, his team was able to let the greens dry out more last season, which improved green firmness, he says.

"Come August, we always start to lose our roots on our Poa annua, but we definitely stretched the season out further last year," he says. "Also, we've cut back quite a bit on our fertility program. I don't know if the plant is more efficient in mining because it has better roots, so it's kind of mining the fertilizer out of the soil."

He also applied it at the 8-ounce rate every two weeks through the summer with newly planted trees on the course with the water bags. Despite a dry summer that should've threatened the health of the trees, he didn't lose a single tree, he says.

"Having that many new plantings, we were impressed by the way it helped out," he says. "It was a lifesaver last year helping keep those alive."

Daniels alternated between a 16-ounce spray once per month and an 8-ounce spray every other week, though when his team had time between other sprays, they preferred the 8-ounce rate, he says. "We didn't really notice a huge difference between the two rates," he says.

Though they held off on mixing it with fungicides at first, they've been mixing it alongside other applications. Recent research showed little change when mixed with other products that require watering in, he says, which makes it easier to find time to apply it.

Since starting, Daniels has been applying the product to all 18 greens and tees, and has started doing trials applying it to fairways in the last year, he says. As to the budget, finding space for Worm Power Turf for his greens and tees wasn't difficult. As he expands to include fairways, he has to do a little more work.

"I did the math this morning, and for three acres of greens only, you're spending about $1,500 per season to do this, which is kind of a no-brainer for roots," he says. "That's why we're testing it on fairways, because when you start talking 30-40 acres of fairways, that's where you have to start looking at the cost-benefit analysis."

Testing the product requires a little time and effort, he says. Before deciding whether or not to use it, make sure to check beneath the surface to see what kind of changes are happening in the turf's roots. Especially make certain to test it separately from other products, just to separate its effects from others.

"It's hard to leave half the green untreated, but you have to do that in order to prove it to yourself," he says. "For us, we've proven that it works, and it's something that'll be in our program from here on out, for sure."

About the author
Kyle Brown is a Canton, Ohio-based turf writer.
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