What Sort of Information is Lingering Underground?

So, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about root zone installed sensors and my perspective of their use in the golf course industry.

Similar to weather stations, root zone sensors act as data loggers that help Superintendent’s make better decisions during peak season stresses. The more expensive sensors have two sets of probes to make measurements at two separate levels, and log moisture, temperature along with salinity. A really big benefit is the wireless control and the ability to put the sensor in a location not otherwise possible when it is hard wired i.e. the middle of a green.

Less expensive sensors tend to only measure moisture, temperature or salinity on their own. They also must be hard wired back to a controller and then communicate wirelessly back to a software platform.

Sensors that measure moisture levels help Superintendent’s evaluate the effectiveness of a rainfall or an
irrigation event. For me, understanding how effective 0.25 inches of water entered and moved through the root zone is some valuable information. Also, what about the 2” rainfall that lasted just over an hour. Did it all run off or was some of it accepted?

Another measurement is the accumulated salt in the root zone. Without going through the process of
soil tests, these measurements can give you accurate data when you want it. If the sensor has the capability of measuring salinity and moisture, the effectiveness of flushing can be maximized.

And last, but not least, is the measurement of soil temperature. Soil temperature is related to proper
timing of many pesticide applications along with summer stress that result in plant decline. The real‐time data helps a Superintendent make good decisions to maximize the effectiveness of managing pests
and when or when not to syringe.

In addition to all the above benefits, one of the biggest advantages is the ability to monitor soil conditions from anywhere there is internet access. This gives the Superintendent a little more flexibility when he/she leaves the property or needs some time off. After a couple years of collecting data and understanding trends, a Superintendent will also establish benchmark readings which help with less experienced staff manage conditions when they’re offsite.

The biggest disadvantage, as with weather stations, is the data only represents a very small portion of the golf course and may not match all areas throughout the golf course. Options to overcome this include using a different co‐efficient to reflect different soil types or if you’re budget permits, purchase multiple sensors. I don’t necessarily like that idea of adding multiple sensors due to the increased management of each sensor and overloaded amount of data.

My ideal combination would be a combination of 2 two sensors in combination with a weather station.
This will provide enough baseline data above and below ground to make informed decisions. And as I’ve mentioned in past articles, I still believe in the “Art of Green keeping” and the natural feel that comes with maintaining your golf course. A root zone sensor is a tool in a Superintendent’s toolbox to help make smart decisions at the right time, but doesn’t replace good judgement.

1 Comments so far

Great article Darryl,
The guys over at Turfunderground recent covered this topic too, here's a link: http://turfunderground.com/tag/soil-temperature/