At this Minnesota golf course Players take time to smell the roses

An exceptional array of flowers and well-groomed ornamentals awaits golfers at Creek's Bend Golf Course, a family-oriented golf course located 3 miles northwest of New Prague, Minn., population 4,000. First-time visitors could easily wonder if they haven't strayed into a landscaper's display garden.

Actually, that's pretty close to the truth. The course's part-time horticulturist, Jean Sticha, and her husband, David, have been in the landscaping business since 1980. They founded and built the daily-fee public course in 1994 on 230 acres, 150 of which had been the family dairy farm.

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According to Sticha and her husband, approximately three-fourths of the course's golfers come from the Twin Cities, 30 to 40 minutes away by car. To some it is a farm and country outing, she says. Ask for directions to the golf course and most anyone in the area will advise you, “Just look for the big, white dairy barn” (now a spacious and comfortable clubhouse and pro shop). Along with its nameless creek, the flowers, butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, ducks and geese add to the country charm and character of the place.

Creek Bend's showiest landscape design is a matrix of flowers, evergreens and other shrubs, giant stones and cascading waterfalls. The rock falls have a 6-foot drop overall, and the water is recycled by two pumps lifting a total of approximately 17,000 gallons per hour. Conceived as a whole design, installation began in the summer of 1999 and was completed the following spring, except for aquatic plants and fish. They were added in the summer of 2001.

Displays of this type are most often built at a property's front entrance, the Stichas acknowledge. They decided instead to put their “living welcome mat” near the clubhouse. It was built as an oversized median in the road with the Sixth Hole's back tee (20 × 40 feet) on one side and the rest devoted to the landscape beds and waterfalls. By car or on foot, virtually anyone who comes to the golf course goes by it.

“Many players and visitors comment how much they enjoy the flowers,” Sticha points out, “and some do take time to smell the roses.”

There are a total 45 to 50 different species of ornamentals growing at the course, ranging from shrub roses, geraniums, petunias, asters, daisies and coreopsis to rudbeckias, gaillardias, astilbes, Fragaria and sedum. There also are many varieties of daylilies, Asiatic lilies, and iris plus ornamental grasses such as Calamagrostis, Festuca, purple Pennisetum and Miscanthus.

Another highly visible display is a 20- × 50-foot bed planted in wildflowers the year the course opened. Placing this contoured garden near the first tee was a practical move. It conceals the septic tank mound. But players waiting for their turn at the tee always seem to enjoy the wildflowers. The mix includes cornflower, black-eyed Susans, lilies, Monardia (bee balm), golden margaritas and balloon flower, among others. New plants are added each year.

Because some wildflowers, such as cornflower, tend to spread and dominate, hand thinning is occasionally necessary. Annuals are also planted to fill open spaces, add a variety of colors and plant heights and maintain blooms all season. Annuals include dahlias, zinnias, hardy hibiscus, dianthus, butterfly plant, coralbells, Shasta daisy, Russian sage, moss rose, creeping phlox and lamb's ear yarrow.

In addition to Osmocote slow-release fertilizer, Sticha sprays MiracleGro twice a season. “The formulation for promoting blooms has worked well,” says Sticha, adding that she doesn't like to feed the weeds. Clover, creeping Charlie (ground ivy), thistles and nutsedge are the worst broadleaf pests, she says, requiring pulling and sometimes careful spraying. Since little mulch is used in wildflowers, this garden is vulnerable to weeds. “Grassy weeds like crabgrass were very bad in parts of the bed last year, although Preen seemed to help last season,” Sticha says. “Next season, I plan to try Ornamec post-emergent on grassy weeds because it can be sprayed over the top.”

Getting the desirable plants established quickly is one of the best weed defenses, she believes. It enables the flowers to compete better against emerging weeds. “Getting up a bigger foliage canopy sooner helps reduce weed seed germination, too,” she explains.

Double-dipping transplants

A transplanting treatment with “top-to-bottom” benefits for annuals was tried by Sticha in 2000 and repeated last spring. As they are being transplanted, bedding plants are turned upside-down and dipped foliage-first into a pail of Transfilm antitranspirant solution. Then the plant is turned right-side-up so its root section and pot soil can be dunked into another pail, which contains a solution of Launch Biostimulant.

Dipping the transplants in the antitranspirant coats the leaves with a clear glossy film that reduces water loss from transpiration. The objective is to reduce transplant shock, wilting and plant losses. Dunking the root portion of the bedding plant in the biostimulant as it is set into the ground places a growth enhancer in and around its rootzone. Other regular fertilizer practices needn't be altered.

“When I first used this double-dipping in the spring, 2000, I left some transplants untreated as a check,” Sticha explains. Within 2 to 3 weeks the difference in the plants appeared to be quite dramatic, but because she knew which plants had been treated, Sticha thought perhaps she could be biased. “As customers and staff people walked by or stopped while I was out there, I asked several of them for their opinion,” Jean recalls. “Some of these flowers were started in a new and different way,” she explained, adding “Can you see any difference in them?” Her judgment was confirmed: Others fingered the treated groups as bigger, healthier looking plants.

The horticulturist says she learned about Launch through the golf course superintendent, John Betchwars, who has used it since 1998 on tees, the driving range, etc. “Creek's Bend lost a lot of grass that summer because of washout rains and flooding,” Sticha explains. “John was very impressed with how fast and vigorously the new grass came up where the biostimulant was sprayed after slit-seeding.”

Hal G. Dickey is an advertising associate with PBI/Gordon Corp. (Kansas City, Mo.), www.PBIGordon.com.

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