Hydro-seeding and Hydro-mulching are well-known techniques for establishing seeded varieties of turfgrasses, wildflowers, and groundcovers in all parts of the United States.
“Hydro-Sprigging” is a variation of the technique that is quietly revolutionizing golf course planting of warm season grasses in the desert Southwest and the Hawaiian Islands. At last look, the trend was headed South!
Once sprayed in place, the hydro-sprig technique produces superior results. Coverage is more uniform and the course comes into play quicker than when tees, greens, or fairways are mechanically sprigged. Because more of the sprigs survive, operators report that they can get the same coverage as a mechanical planter with fewer sprigs, or get better coverage with the same amount of sprigs. The familiar “row-planting” look and blotchy coverage areas are NOT a characteristic of a hydro-sprigged course.
Mechanical Planting Limitations
Traditionally, hybrid bermuda sprigs or, in the West, “stolons,” are harvested and then planted mechanically or by hand. The assumption is that a disc and roller is the best method of making soil contact for the sprig to root. Sprig planters and “pasture planters” abound in the South and have usually provided satisfactory results at a reasonable cost. Large, open, relatively flat areas can be planted quickly with readily available, inexpensive, tractor-drawn equipment.
Mechanical planting is not without serious limitations. If there are rocks in the soil profile, as is the rule in the Southwestern deserts or the Hawaiian Islands, the discing tends to ruin equipment and leave the stolon on the surface. Clay soils gum-up the discs when wet. Higher stolon planting rates are often necessary to assure survival rates of only 40-60% in harsh environments. Too many sprigs are either buried too deep or dry out, resting unprotected on the soil.
Mechanical planters are not effective when planting near slopes, cart paths or bunkers, necessitating some hand planting or spot sodding to fill in these areas. Irrigation systems almost always suffer damage, no matter how careful the operator.
Poor soils, rolling terrain and extreme temperatures have propelled the search for better methods in the West. As a result, mechanical sprigging is steadily being replaced by the more effective hydro-sprigging method.
To plant golf courses efficiently, $80-100,000 U.S. of specialized hydraulic planting equipment is required. A truck-mounted tank, an agitation system, and a pumping system are the basic components. Water, fertilizer, sprigs (or seed) and wood fiber mulch are mixed in the tank, then applied to the site with a hose or the tower-mounted spray gun. Agitation keeps the slurry uniformly mixed until it can be sprayed, fully hydrating fiber and sprigs in the process.
Success Credited to Mulch
The introduction of mulch to the process accounts for a great deal of success. The mulch retains soil moisture and holds the sprig in place until it roots-in.
Intelligent middle ground between the two techniques is a process called “capping.” A hydraulic planter follows closely behind a mechanical planter, installing a blanket of nurturing mulch on top of the planted sprigs. Since most Southern contractors do not have the specially modified equipment to mix or pump sprigs and mulch all in one step, capping is the next best solution.
“Several times I have installed a mulch cap over a mechanically stolonized fairway or a hand-planted green, because the landscape architect or the superintendent was not familiar with hydro-sprigging,” reports Micke Santoro, owner of Southern California Hydroseed & Hydromulch, Inc. in Temecula, CA. “I think it’s a waste to do two steps when you can get better results in one complete pass with the hydro-mulcher. I’ve demonstrated this so many times that very few courses call for mechanical sprigging any more.”
“The big thing in the West is the use of ‘rotor-stator’ type pumps that handle the sprigs with minimal damage and maximum productivity. These pumps can push through as much as 1,000 feet of 1 and 1/2 inch hose, allowing the applicator to move freely about and minimize the distances traveled by the heavy equipment on prepared surfaces. Even the largest green can be sprayed-on from the perimeter without the workers ever setting foot on the finished grade,” continues Santoro.
Typical hydro-sprig rates call for an average of 6-12 bushels of stolons per 1,000 square feet. Heavier rates mean quicker fill-in times. The ideal quantity depends on several factors, including the variety and size of sprigs as well as the time of year. Wood fiber is the only consistently reliable mulch to use. The wood fiber is applied at 2,000 lbs. per acre. When desired, 300-400 lbs. of fertilizer per acre is added to the mix.
West Coast Turf in the Palm Springs, CA area prides themselves on the quality of their sprigs. Fresh, clean (no rocks or sticks) and correctly sized sprigs assure a quality job. Micke Santoro says, “Field-fresh sprigs root much faster than sprigs that have been stored in a cooler. West Coast Turf cuts my sprigs in the afternoon; by the following afternoon, everything that they brought me is planted and has probably been irrigated twice.”
Refrigerated sprigs have been air-freighted all over the world and used (at slightly higher rates) with very good results. Refrigerated storage causes thesprigs to go into dormancy. Moisture levels can be critical, however. Wet Sprigs or sprigs that have been left in the bag in the hot sun usually do not do well in the cooler.
Not As Easy As It Looks
“On a good day, we usually shoot 1,500-1,700 bushels of sprigs for our customer,” remarks Santoro. “It’s not nearly as easy as it looks,” he cautions. “That little stolon is alive and won’t perform for you if it’s not treated properly. Breakdowns and delays are bad news. Unlike a bag of seed, live sprigs require care and sometimes can’t wait to be planted.” Keeping the sprigs cool and moist and rotating the pile of bags on the jobsite can make all the difference.
Southern California Hydroseed has three custom planters, each with a 3,000 working gallon capacity that translates to about 1/2 acre sprayed per tankload. Coverage rates are almost exactly 1/2 the area that would be covered when seeding with the same machine, due to the bulk and friction of the sprigs in the tank. Micke Santoro prides himself on planting every square foot of each course with a hand-held spray hose.
Selling Finished Results
Southern California Hydroseed & Hydromulch is proud to have had the opportunity to stolonize and seed such top-rated western courses as PGA West, Mission Hills, La Quinta Mount, Tustin Ranch, Marbella, Dover Canyon, Oak Valley, Mt. Woodson,Pelican Hills, Temecula Creek, Del Webb, Aviara and Carlton Oaks, among many others who have found lasting success with the hydro-sprigging technique.
The “hydro-sprigging” technique has application beyond championship golf courses. Bermudagrass has long been a favorite for parks, athletic fields, schoolyards, flood plains, and diversion channels (which sometimes double as recreation areas). In these applications, everything common bermuda does, hybrid bermuda does better! Its fine texture, brilliant color and disease resistance make it the clear warm-season choice for the 90’s and beyond.
Southern California Hydroseed & Hydromulch, Inc.
42396 Rio Nedo Street/Temecula, CA 92590
Tel: (951)676-8270/(760)747-1166 Fax:(951)699-5018