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Expected weather for this month:

Mild and wet with above-average temperatures forecast for December

Up to the last week in November, many parts of the country were still experiencing spells of mild, but very wet, weather, with soil and air temperatures still in double figures, with grass still growing.

This mild weather was also exacerbating a lot of fungal disease, with outbreaks of fusarium and red thread causing the most concerns. We have also seen a lot of worm activity, resulting in lots of casts being produced.

This mild weather, if it lasts, will require the green to be mown. There is no such thing as putting the green to bed and forgetting about it until the spring. It is important to keep the sward cut (topped) at between 10-12mm, and carry out regular aeration and brushing to keep the surface clean and open to the elements. A dose of liquid iron would not go amiss, this helps harden the grass plant and maintain some colour.

It is also a good month to get some deep aeration done to the green, with the aim to get below 100mm and, if possible, down to 300mm to alleviate any deep compaction.

With most of the autumn leaves fallen, it is time to clear them from the green and perimeter ditches.

Ditch infill materials also need regular cleaning and levelling. Clubs use an array of ditch infill materials, ranging from sand, bark, corks, rubber mats and rubber crumb. Moss, algae and weed material can soon build up in poorly maintained ditches.

Temperatures are likely to plummet in the next few weeks, bringing the likelihood of heavy frosts so, to prevent any damage to irrigation systems, it is important these are drained down.

Many greens are surrounded by fences or hedges; these will need some maintenance; natural hedges may need a prune/cut to keep them tidy and manageable.

Key Tasks for December
Maintenance Regimes

With the season finished and the green closed down for the winter, mowing will only be required to maintain a winter height of cut at 10-12mm. However, there are now an increasing number of bowls clubs who are keeping their greens open for matches during the winter months; those who do will need to ensure they are carrying out the appropriate maintenance regimes to accommodate these fixtures. This will mean keeping the green cut at a reasonable height to maintain some speed, usually between 5-7mm.

Other jobs for consideration are the inspection and maintenance of machinery and irrigation equipment. Now is a good time to arrange servicing of the equipment and replace any worn or damaged parts.

Aeration should be continued throughout the autumn when conditions allow; regular use of a sarrel roller will be beneficial in keeping the surface open. Many greens may well be still recovering from the season's wear and tear. It will be essential to get some life back into the green, improving the gaseous exchange in the soil profile, whilst at the same time increasing the capacity of the green to drain more efficiently during the winter months.

This will be achieved by some frequent surface and deep soil aeration. However, care should be taken when choosing the type and size of tines to be used. Remember, you do not want to be aerating at the same depth all the time, as this will eventually cause a pan layer to form which, in turn, will cause you more problems. Ideally, you should be using a range of tines at different depths within the range of your soil profile.

Continue to clean up any leaf debris. Leaves, when wet, can be a slip hazard. Keep walkways and paths clean and tidy. Drainage ditches can be cleaned out. Inspect the condition of your ditch materials (bark /rubber sand), they may need cleaning, replacing or topping up.

Many greens are surrounded by fences or hedges; these will need some maintenance. Natural hedges may need a prune/cut to keep them tidy and manageable.

Agronomy

Soil sampling is an important part of groundmanship. The results will enable the manager to have a better understanding of the current status of his soil and turf.

There are many tests that can be undertaken, but usually the main three tests to consider are:

Particle Size Distribution (PSD): this will give you accurate information on the soil type and its particle make up, enabling you to match up with appropriate top dressing materials and ensuring you are able to maintain a consistent hydraulic conductivity (drainage rate) of your soil profile.

Soil pH: It is important to keep the soil at a pH of 5.5 to 6.5, a suitable level for most grass plants, and a balanced level of organic matter content in the soil profile.

N:P:K: Keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth.

Weeds, Pests & Diseases

Earthworms may be a problem, particularly with the recent heavy rains, so regular dragbrushing will be necessary. Brushing can be daily when conditions are right. Regular aeration to keep the surface open will aid drying. A drier surface may help towards reducing the effects of the earthworm activity near the surface.

Diseases have been widely reported, particularly Fusarium. These outbreaks have been mainly due to the heavy dews and changing climatic air temperatures we have recently experienced.

The combination of early morning dews, warm and wet weather and diminishing daylight hours increases the risk of fungal disease outbreaks. The right conditions to trigger these disease attacks are weakened or susceptible plants, a disease-producing organism (pathogen usually fungi) and weather conditions which favour the formation of fruiting bodies and spores (moist, mild wet conditions).

Most cool season turfgrass diseases spread via water droplets. Plants also release excess nutrients via their stomatas (gutation) during night hours when there is no sun and rarely any wind to evaporate it. These exudates become mixed with the dew water and become the perfect food source for disease pathogens in their early stages of development.

The majority of diseases that are occurring now have responded to the unusually warm, autumn weather conditions. Boundary layers around the leaves have stayed very moist and humid. Relative humidity is important for spore germination and penetration of leaf tissues, and constant wet conditions will allow the development and transportation of active fungi spores.

Most fungi grow well between 10°C - 40°C and function best at a pH range of 4-7pH. The current lack of cooler weather and sharp frosts has not helped in reducing these active pathogens.

The first step in turfgrass disease management is identifying the true nature of the problem. Diseases are only one cause of turf loss, and disease control measures will do nothing to alleviate damage from other causes such as management, wear or plant stress. It is therefore essential to determine whether the problem is disease, and if so, which disease.

The three disease factors: susceptible grass/host, pathogen, and environment, provide the evidence for disease diagnosis. Symptoms are the expression of the susceptible grass to the disease and can take on a variety of forms.

Symptoms may appear on the leaves as small, circular, tan-coloured lesions surrounded by brown or purple borders (leaf spotting); as yellow, red, or tan blotches over most or all of the leaf blade (blighting); stunting; wilting; or as a brown or black rot on the crowns and roots. The appearance of these symptoms will also vary depending on the type of disease, the severity of the attack and the developing stage of the disease.

Early identification of the symptoms is essential for good disease management, however the best form of management is using preventive, cultural turf maintenance methods that reduce the ideal environmental factors that these diseases require for development, e.g. regular brushing/switching of the grass to remove excess moisture, regular aeration to allow gaseous exchange and water percolation.

Over the years, we’ve developed many methods of removing dew from playing surfaces, from dragging hose pipes over pitches to switch canes on bowling and golf greens. However, these laborious tasks have been superseded with the development of brushing attachments that can be fitted to both mowers and gators to speed up operations, though hand switching also gives you an opportunity to get close and personal and keep an eye on what’s happening.

Other cultural methods to help reduce disease pressure would be removal of thatch, which harbours pathogens, by verti-cutting and end of season renovations, as well as checking mower blades are sharp to provide a precise cut of the leaf blade and reduce the potential for disease.

Identification of these diseases can sometimes be difficult in the early stages of attack. It’s often only possible to recognise the type of disease when the fruiting bodies of the disease produce structures such as spores, mushrooms, or mycelium (small, thread-like filaments produced by fungi) that can be seen without the aid of a microscope. A good example of this is Red Thread (Laetisaria fuciformis) where the distinctive red filaments can be seen amongst the grass.

Site characteristics and turf management practices have a large influence on disease management. Factors such as air movement, drainage, soil conditions, and the amount of sun or shade, slope, fertilisation and aeration programmes are important in influencing the development of turf diseases.

It is important to remember that pathogenic fungi can survive and remain in a dormant state in plant debris and soil until favourable conditions arrive again to stimulate another disease outbreak.

The pathogens that cause these diseases are always lying dormant, waiting for the ideal conditions to become active. Once these spores are activated, and have found an appropriate host, they are able to grow and reproduce themselves, spreading new spores and infections to other areas of turf. This cycle continues whilst favourable conditions prevail.

Understanding and implementing works that can break up the disease cycle will help reduce the opportunities for disease development and outbreak.

When it comes to disease identification, there is as much emphasis on you, as the turf manager, to provide appropriate turf samples for analysis as there is for the lab to accurately identify the problem. In most cases, the best place to remove a turf sample for analysis is from the leading edge of the symptoms, where the affected or discoloured plants give way to healthy turf.

It is also important for the lab to be able to see what the general composition and condition of the sward is like and what the rootzone profile is like and, for those reasons, a 90mm diameter core sample, taken to a depth of approximately 60mm using a golf hole changer (or similar) makes for an ideal sample.

If possible, email photographs of the symptoms so that the lab can get an idea of how the problem is developing - a good picture can often tell so much more than a detailed written description.

There are a number of excellent laboratories that offer disease recognition, along with some good weather services that offer disease watch forecasts. One we recommend is Syngenta’s Greencast service.

Common diseases that can be active and cause concerns at this time of the year are: Red Thread, Fusarium and Dollar Spot. Click on the following link :- Disease Watch to see information about these diseases. 

It is important to have identified the disease correctly, so that an appropriate fungicide can be selected. Using the wrong fungicide or wrong application rates can lead to a number of problems; not only would it be a waste of time and money, the effect on the disease is likely to be negative and may well exacerbate the problem by making the disease more resilient to the active ingredient applied.

 

Machinery & Materials

Remember to check the condition of your machinery, and plan to get it repaired/serviced during the winter months. Check all moving parts and ensure they are properly greased and topped up with the right recommended lubricants. With the winter weather kicking in, with heavy falls of snow and a long term forecast of cold weather in many parts of the country, many greens will be covered in frost and snow, preventing any real tangible maintenance work being undertaken. 

It will be a case of keeping off the greens and spending time doing other jobs. Some that spring to mind are winter overhaul of equipment and machinery, a good time to take stock of what you have in your shed and what condition it is in. Take the opportunity to repair and get any equipment serviced. 

Even your hand held sprayers should be checked over. Remember to protect your sprayer's spray lines, pump and pressure regulator by leaving anti-freeze in it over winter. This saves split junctions and writing off pump or pressure regulator housings, and nozzle holders damaged by expanding ice.

Training

Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Bowls Greens. It is a one day course designed to provide a basic knowledge of bowling green maintenance. The course enables the Groundsman to grasp the basic needs of a bowling green surface, either Flat or Crown, throughout a 12 month period.

Delegates attending the Bowling Green course and using the accompanying manual will be able to develop their own skills, working knowledge and expertise, by understanding the method of instruction and the maintenance principle it sets out. Included in the Course Manual, there are working diaries showing the range of tasks needed to be accomplished each month.

The Course Manual is available for purchase separately.

In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.

Other Key Tasks

Repair Structures:- Bench seats, scoreboards and any other fittings around the green.

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