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Flying By The Numbers: Soil Temp Edition

Dave Wilber


finger-lick-monkey-150x150.jpgSuperintendents amaze me sometimes at the way they lick their finger, put in in the air and declare the weather is, well, something. If that's you, Captain Windfinger, then we have some work to do. Because in the world of plant growth there are critical decisions to make based on actual data.


I was on a site visit a few days back and when this kind of keen observation began, I started to ask some questions. In this case I was asking about soil temperatures. Oh, pretty cold, was the scientific declaration. And that's when I asked if we could go check and what his historical soil temps really were and how this year compared to last year. Of course, he couldn't produce a soil thermometer, didn't have a soil thermometer, couldn't remember ever seeing a soil thermometer and therefore no record of soil temps or any kind of history to go by.


Baffled, I find my Instant Readinstant-read-150x150.jpg in my truck and out we went. Turns out that for this time of year, the soil temps at his place were up higher than usual and were not at all Pretty Cold. Yes, the air temps that AM were a little low, but the soil temps were staying up.


So many decisions can be made based on simple number evaluations. Over time, something like soil temperature can tell so many stories and give large amount of planning about when, why and how things are happening. I call this flying by the numbers. The expression comes from the aviation world, where ignoring key data can produce a crumpled heap of scrap metal. No room for guesswork.


In my book, every Turfhead should have an Instant Read Soil Thermometer (about $14) with them or near their grasp every day. They should know the cold greens and the warm greens and the same with tees and fairways. They should know the daily highs and lows and maybe even the in-betweens. The info is recorded and used to track the trends. Don't have time? Really? How about your assistant or an intern? Don't have an assistant or an intern to do it? Then look in the mirror and give the intern you see a basic turfgrass job.


And to go one step better, a good IR Surface Temp Thermometer (I happen to like the ones from Fluke at about $165 each) can also be an amazing tool for recording and tracking hot and cold spots and the changing data. Point and shoot.



If you don't have a soil thermometer, get one. If you have one, use it. If you get on the phone or in the field with me to complain about your greens or your botched overseeding job or why your pre-emerge didn't work, expect that I'm going to ask what your 10am and 2 pm temps are on your warmest and coldest areas and what the recent trends are and what that means against last year.


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