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Physical Problems Of Coarse-Textured Soils

Awareness of the problems inherent in a particular type of soil is an important step in the development of a sound management program.
andy or coarse-textured soils, whether they are natural or constructed, are used on many high traffic sites because they exhibit better soil physical properties than do soils with appreciable silt or clay (or both). Of course, one would expect a root zone medium developed to USGA Green

Section specifications for golf greens to resist compaction and have ample macropores for water movement, gas exchange and root penetration.

Robert N. Carrow, Ph.D.

University of Georgia

R.N. Carrow is a professor of turf

science in agronomy. the department of

However, sandy soils vary considerably in their physical properties, so certain soil physical problems can occur on them. Many physical problems on sandy soils

are caused by one or more of several factors that will be discussed in this presentation. Awareness of specific problems on a site is prerequisite to development of sound management programs. Although this discussion will focus on soil physical properties, problems due to adverse chemical or biological soil properties also can occur. Adverse chemical and biological problems will not be
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Calf Course Management

/ February


Understanding Soils


Concrete sand - usually contains a wide particle size range of sands and fine discussed but are listed for reference in gravel. an accompanying table. Mason's (mortar) sand - similar to a concrete sand but without the fine gravel. Soil Classification Dune sand - obtained from a wind or water deposited sand dune. Often has Soil scientists classify soils in 12 differ- a fairly narrow particle size range. River sand - can vary from very unient texture classes based on their percent sand, silt and clay. The three texture form sand to sand with considerable fines, classes with the highest quantity of sand derived from rivers. Thus, general sands are not named by are sand, loamy sand and sandy loam. Obviously, a soil can be called "sandy" well-defined particle ranges but by source but still contain considerable silt and clay. or construction use. They mayor may not Physical properties can vary dramatically be good for root zone mixes. - even between two soils within the same texture class. The classification of sand separates is Common Physical Problems based on the diameter of the particles. Sand particles range from 0.05 to 2.00 mm in diameter - a 40-fold range. Low Water Holding Capacity Therefore, a very coarse sand will not The most common problem with have the same properties as a very fine coarse-textured soils is low water holding sand. capacity. Available water for plants in General names are often used instead sands may range from 0.4 to 1.5 inches of the official separate classification of water per 12 inches of depth when (USDA system) to identify a sand. organic matter content is less than 1 perBecause these names have no legal cent (by weight) and there is no perched meaning, the terms are general. Some water table. As a result, drought stress common general names for sand types occurs unless frequent irrigation is include: practiced.
from p. 28

Sand, silt and clay contents of sandy soils Composition {Percent by Weight} Texture Class Sand Loamy sand Sandy loam Sand 85-100 70-90 45-85 Silt 0-15 0-30 0-50 Clay 0-15 10-30 15-55

Sand separate classes compared to silt and clay Particle Diameter -mm2.00 - 1.00 1.00 - 0.50 0.50 - 0.25 0.25 - 0.10 0.10 - 0.05 0.05 - 0.002 Below 0.002

Separate Sand Very coarse sand

Number of Particles Per Gram

Surface Area per 1 Grama -inches22

720 5700 46,000 722,000 5,776,000 90,260,853,000

Coarse sand Medium sand Fine sand Very fine sand

Silt Clay


14 35 70

A common approach to improving water holding capacity in coarse-textured soils is to add 5 to 15 percent by volume of well-decomposed organic matter. Excessive moisture retention and low aeration can occur if too much organic matter is used. Many different organic sources can be used if they are well-decomposed, have a good particle size for mixing and do not contain excessive fines. Common organic sources used on turf sites are various peats, decomposed rice hulls and composted sewage sludge. Addition of silt or clay or both will enhance water retention. However, too much can easily seal the macropore channels. In high sand content media more than 80 percent sand - particles are in direct contact with other sand particles. This produces a rigid matrix that resists compaction. Relatively small quantities of silt and clay can accumulate at points of sand particle contact and begin to seal off pore channels necessary for water movement. Silts are especially effective in sealing and decreasing pore continuity. For this reason, the USGA Green Section specifications limit silt to less than 5 percent and clay to less than 3 percent by weight. Soils with sand content between 65 and 85 percent are especially prone to poor water movement. These sandy soils have considerable silt and clay to seal many pores but too much sand to allow good structure formation. Structure develops when clay, silt, organic matter and sand particles start to aggregate into structural units that open up new macropores. High sand content inhibits formation of strong aggregates. Due to the presence of smaller pores, very fine sands retain more water than do coarser sands. However, adding very fine sand to a medium-to-coarse sand is not recommended. Although it would help increase water retention, infiltration and percolation rates would decline as the smaller particles filled the macropores. Inorganic amendments - calcined clays, expanded shale, processed vermiculite mica and porous ceramics - are sometimes used to enhance water retention. To be effective these amendments should: Retain water in pores within the particles that are large enough to then
Continued on p. 34
Golf Course Management / February 1992

1 lb. soil

454 grams.





from p. 32

release the water to the turf plant. Not accumulate salts in internal pores. Retain their physical structure and not deteriorate. Be cost competitive with various organic amendments at application rates

above the interface will drainage occur. Once drainage starts, it is rapid through the large pores.Thus, this unique type of barrier enhances water retention while maintaining good drainage. The Purr-Wick construction system uses an enclosed ceil method system to prevent drainage until water reaches a certain level. This level can be adjusted as needed. This is essentially a method

Primary chemical and biological problems on sandy soils Soil Chemical Problems 1. Nutrient deficiencies and imbalances.
2. Low CEC (cation exchange capacity), which contributes to low nutrient retention, low buffering capacity and high leaching potential. 3. Improper soil pH affecting nutrient availability. 4. Salt-affected. Saline - most serious on sands. Sodic. Saline / sodic. 5. Presence of free CaC03 that acts as a buffer system in alkaline sands and contributes to nutritional problems. 6. Toxic compounds from heavy metals, allopathic substances, herbicides, etc., are potential problems due to low buffering capacity of most sands.

are not new types of compounds, although particular chemicals are continually being developed because polymers can be formulated in many different lengths, co-linked, and be formulated in conjunction with other substances. In fact, several PAMs and one PVA were evaluated in a USGA supported project for influence on moisture retention of sands in 1978 (Agron. Journal 70:p.317-321) and no influence was found. Limited additional research with polymers has been conducted until recently. As more results are published, the potential for these materials may become clearer. However, important questions still must be answered. They concern the following:

Water is retained around the coarse sand by adhesioncohesion, while few water films exist between the coarse and gravel layer ..
Effective application rates. Total and plant-available water retained. Longevity of the materials. Influence of soil solutes on actual versus potential water absorption. The potential for salt accumulation. Other procedures can be utilized to influence root zone water content or availability . Careful overhead irrigation that does not increase the ability of the sand to retain water but does allow for frequent addition can be used. Sub-surface irrigation has been attempted but is especially difficult on a sandy medium. This is because capillary rise in sands is less than in a soil with appreciable amounts of silt or clay. As a result, very careful placement of water emitters is required. Sands have slow, unsaturated water flow through water films around sand particles. This may limit water availability during high demand periods, although sands do have very high saturated flow rates. As a result, if output is increased
Continued on p. 38
Golf Course Management / February 1992

Soil Biological Problems

1. All soils, fine-textured or coarse-textured, can contain weed seeds, disease organisms, and harmful insects, small animals, and worms. 2. Low microorganism population. Sands are likely to contain fewer microorganisms than fine-textured soil. 3. Less diversity of microorganisms than fine-textured soils. This creates the potential for microorganism population balances to be easily shifted from beneficial to pathogenic. 4. Nematodes. Many nematodes prefer sandier soils. sufficient to achieve comparable water retention. Barriers that inhibit drainage increase water retention in sands. In the USGA Green Section specifications for golf greens, a distinct interface is formed between the coarse sand (1-2 mm dia.) and pea gravel (6-10 mm dia.) layers. This interface impedes drainage, thereby increasing water content in the root zone. Water is retained around the coarse sand by adhesion-cohesion, while few interconnecting water films exist between the coarse sand and gravel because of the distinct differences in particle sizes. Only after water "ponds" a few inches of water table control. Other procedures to adjust water table level to allow capillary rise of water to the roots have been used in flat sod fields but not on golf courses. In recent years, water absorbing polymers have been promoted to enhance water holding capacity in turfgrass soils. Polymers are formed by combining two or more smaller molecules into a larger chain-like molecular structure. Examples include natural polymers such as starches, and synthetic polymers such as polyacrylamides (PAM), polyvinyl alcohols (PVA) and polyacrylates. Contrary to popular belief, polymers




ing salt build-up. When leaching, the quantity of water required depends upon by emitters to create saturated conditions, the water quality, existing level of salts the water rapidly drains downward out of present in the soil, salt tolerance of the the root zone. turf and the amount of water that goes Finally, any management practice per- toward evapotranspiration versus leachformed to enhance rooting depth pro- ing (Le. arid climates require more total vides more water to the plant, even water). though soil water content is not altered. Layers High Salt Content Presence of fine-textured layers within High salt content in sandy soils dra- the sand root zone is another common matically influences plant water availabil- soil physical problem. As previously menity. Solutes reduce plant water availabil- tioned, even small quantities of silt or clay ity by attracting water films by adhesion can seal a zone within a sand if the partiforces - primarily hydrogen bonding. cles accumulate at a microsite. Layers can result from many sources but common ones are from installation of sod, use of a topdressing medium with fines, and wind and water deposition. Sometimes a clay lens (an area of silt or clay deposition) is present deeper in the sand soil profile because it formed as the soil developed. Calcite formation at the soil surface due to irrigation water with high calcite (calcium carbonate) content is another type of layer. This can seal the surface and reduce infiltration. Acidification of the irrigation water to dissolve the calcite layer is effective, but the soil should be observed so that the The different layers of a USGA specifilayer doesn't form at the bottom of roucation green result in the development of tine irrigation water penetration depth. a perched water table at the coarse sandSalts of various types can accumulate pea gravel interface. on the surface of soils in arid regions This can occur even though total soil when sufficient capillary rise occurs. As the water moves to the soil surface it carwater content remains unaffected. High sodium content is detrimental in ries solutes that are precipitated out as the sands primarily because it adds to the water evaporates, forming a layer. Management of layers is accomplished total salinity. Although few structural aggregates are present in sands, high primarily through prevention of layer forsodium causes dispersion of any silt and mation and routine cultivation. Other clay present. This material may then methods such as leaching of solutes or migrate to the depth of routine irrigation acidification of irrigation water may be and re-form as a mini-layer. By contrast, appropriate in certain situations. the major effect of high sodium in a finetextured soil is the destruction of structure. Reduction of water availability is a Managing Sandy Soils secondary consideration. Leaching with excess water and the use of better quality irrigation water are Hydrophobic (water repellent) sands the primary cultural methods of alleviat- can be a major problem on very high COARSE SOILS
from p. 34

sand content sites, where the surface area of the sands is limited. Organic coatings form on sand particles that become highly water repellent. Typically, the hydropobic zone is 1 to 4 inches in depth and erratically situated on a site with affected and unaffected areas side by side. Wetting agents are used to rewet

High salt content in sandy soils dramatically influences plant water availability.
hydrophobic sands. Core aeration for creation of areas for water to collect and rewet adjacent soil is frequently used in conjunction with wetting agents. Normally, wetting agent treatment must be repeated because the organic coatings are not eliminated. Keith Karnok of the University of Georgia has been refining some treatments that may allow for dissolution of the coatings for a more permanent solution. As in any soil, a high water table can be present in a sand and result in excessive moisture. Each site should be evaluated to determine whether the water table is naturally high or whether a perched water table has occurred due to a layer impeding drainage. Improper contouring that channels water to low spots can lead to two problems on sand: a wet area on which water stands and a dry site from which water came. Many times improper contouring enhances other problems such as layering or a high water table. One common example of poor contouring is golf greens with "pockets" that have no surface drainage. These pockets often collect fines over time and become susceptible to scald and intracellular freezing. Proper contouring is best achieved prior to turf establishment. "Hard" sands are a frequent complaint of turf managers for the first 1 to 3 years after turf establishment. The problem also
Continued on p. 40
Golf Course Management / February 1992


Understanding Soils

... A surprising variety of soil physical problems can still occur on what we classify as sandy soils or sandy root zone media.


from p. 38

can occur on older sites. These sands do not have much resiliency, exhibit high ball bounce, and when on an athletic field they have little "give." Hard sands occur for several reasons. On new greens, organic matter added does not provide the same degree of resliency that occurs after turfgrass roots have grown. Bentgrasses especially develop a high mass of roots in the surface inch. Also, new greens do not have thatch, which contributes to resiliency. Sands that are more angular than rounded in shape tend to fit together to form a rigid matrix. This matrix has less pore space than one formed with rounded sands. As a result, water movement is not as good. Construction specifications for high sand root zone mixes normally indicate the use of sands with a narrow particle size distribution. For example, sands with 75 percent of the particles in two adjacent particle size ranges are preferred. This ensures good pore space distribution as long as very fine sands are avoided.

The wide range of particle sizes classified as sands contributes to a number of physical problems.

on golf greens and athletic fields that have high sand content root zone mixes. Sands that are round and in a narrow particle size range - such as one with 70-80 percent of particles in one size range - feel soft and do not provide good traction. These sands do not have enough fine particles to limit particles shifting. Other problems can contribute to soft soils, but they occur primarily on finetextured soils. These include waterlogged conditions and slippage zones. Obviously, high traffic and sharp tuming create more Water holding capacity of sandy soils can be increased with the addition of organic surface stability problems on any soil materials. On-site mixing, however, may regardless of texture. result in incomplete integration of Solutions to working with soft sands materials. include: Avoiding sands that are too They plug many of the macropores uniform. formed by a medium-to-coarse sand. Adding organic matter to aid in Sands with wide particle size distribustabilization. tions are harder because the particles fit Promoting good root development. together into a more dense media. This In special situations, using root zone occurs whether the fine particles are very stabilization materials such as VHAF (verfine sand, silt, clay or a combination. Many concrete and mortar sands are hard tical, horizontal and angular fibers) or if they are used for growing turf because Netlon mesh. Maintaining good moisture during of their wide particle size ranges. times of high traffic. Moist but not satuOrganic content, whether it is achieved by the addition of organic rated sands have appreciably more rigidmatter or by roots helps soften hard sands ity than do dry sands. to some extent. Thatch development of % to Y2 inch also will create resiliency. In conclusion, we often think of sandy However, hard sands that are the result soils as possessing good soil physical of a wide particle size distribution or the properties. They do in comparison to presence of excessive fines continue to fine-textured soils subjected to traffic. exhibit poor water movement and remain However, a surprising variety of soil physhard when dry. Topdressing with a ical problems can still occur on what we rounded sand in the medium-to-coarse classify as sandy soils or sandy root zone range improves conditions over time if media. performed in conjunction with core Management of sandy soils has its aeration. challenges. Turf managers will continue "Soft" sands that have a tendency to to find that sands and sandy soils can be shift create another problem, especially extremely variable growing media. 0
Golf Course Management / February 1992


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