April Bowls Diary 2012

Laurence Gale MScin Bowls

The recent spell of warm, sunny weather will have stimulated some early seasonal activity for the bowling fraternity, with many club bowlers eager to get out on the greens. This exceptional warm March has stimulated some early seasonal growth. Some clubs are even experiencing drought conditions - parts of the country have only had 3-4mm of rainfall compared to their normal average of 30 plus mm for the month.

There may even be a need to water your greens if this weather front continues; also some parts of the country are coming under hose pipe bans as from the 5th April. You may need to consult with your Local Water Authority to check what these restrictions mean to your club.

The speed and smoothness of your greens will be influenced by the condition of the playing surface in terms of sward quality, which will be influenced by many factors - amount of grass cover, weed content , pest and disease and the amount of input undertaken by the clubs greenkeeper.

Some greens may have not received enough attention through the winter months in respect of essential maintenance regimes such as aeration, brushing and cutting, coupled with the fact there is probably a considerable amount of moss, weed and thatch found in the sward.

Early in the Month 1st - 15th April

Clubs should now be ready for the onslaught of another bowling season, mowers should have been serviced and ready for the off.

Having a machine in good condition and fit for purpose is essential when maintaining bowling greens. Nothing worse than having a mower that is difficult to start or, worse still, not set to cut cleanly and at the correct mowing height for your green.

Spring renovations should be at the forefront of your mind with the aim to lightly scarify the green, solid tine spike, topdress, overseed and apply a spring fertiliser.

Later in the Month 16th April - onwards

Increase the mowing frequency, adjust the height of cut to suit your green, look to verticut to remove straggly growth.

Apply some wetting agents if required to prevent dry patch and monitor your watering requirements.

Check your sprinkler heads, ensure they are working properly, conduct a calibration of the amount of water being applied.

Key Tasks for April
Brushing and Mowing

Brushing/switching: keeps the green clean and removes any dew or surface water. Keeping the surface dry will help stop the spread of disease. There are a number of drag mats or brushes that can be used. See the Pitchcare shop for details - brushes/ drag mats.

Mowing should be more frequent now, at least 2-3 times per week. These frequencies can often be dictated by budget and the club's level of play. The height of cut should be decreasing until the optimum cutting height is achieved for the standard of play, usually between 4 and 5mm.

Do not be tempted to cut any lower, especially if members are complaining the green is too slow. Cutting below 3.5mm is really asking for trouble. Cutting off too much leaf material will put the sward under stress. The grass plant needs its leaves to manufacture energy for growth.

Mower blades should be adjusted and checked before use, mowing too low and with blunt blades will affect your sward in many ways, leading to uneven surfaces and scalping, this can leave your turf grass susceptible to disease.

The bowling green playing surface will benefit from some light rolling in April. This is usually achieved whilst mowing, using the weight of the mower to achieve the desired results. Motorised turf irons (fine turf rollers) can also help prepare final levels on the playing surfaces.

The condition of the green will dictate what remedial works need to be carried out as part of your spring renovation programme. In most cases the Greenkeeper will be looking to aerate, topdress and feed his green prior to the season commencing.

Verticutting: fortnightly. Verticutting helps to thin the sward, removes weak grasses, helps the sward to stand up vertically and encourages tillering.

Useful Information for Brushing and Mowing

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Outfield Aeration

Aeration is important to improve the surface and subsurface drainage capacity of the green. Aeration also increases gaseous exchanges in the soil. It is important to use the right aeration equipment as you do not want to disturb the surface too much prior to the playing season.

Do not carry out aeration when there is the likelihood of smearing or causing damage to the surface. The condition of the green and what budgets you have may decide what type of aeration programme can be achieved.

Useful Information for Aeration

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Fertiliser application and use of turf tonics can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you don't have a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results.

Most groundstaff will be applying a spring/summer N P K fertiliser, perhaps something like a 9:7:7 which will effectively get the grass moving during April. Then, towards the end of the month or early May, apply a slow release fertiliser to see you through to June/July. However, the choice of feed and how well it works can be dependant on many factors - soil type, weather, with moisture and air temperature being the catalysts for growth.

Some Greenkeepers are resorting to using compost tea products to improve the microbial activity in the soil profile, applying a soil drench every 3-4 weeks.

Useful Information for Fertilisers

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Weeds / Pests / Diseases
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The only control for moss now is an application of iron sulphate, which is traditionally applied as a lawn sand or in a liquid format made from soluble iron powder. More recently, granulated high iron products have become available which can be more convenient to handle and apply. Care should be taken when applying these chemicals as over dosing will lead to sward damage. Once the moss has been killed you will need to remove it by scarifying, brushing or verticutting. However, do not over do it, we do not want to scar the surface too much and affect bowl roll.

Disease: Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.

Useful Information for Weeds / Pests / Diseases

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To help keep a dense sward it is essential to oversow the green, particularly any worn areas, applying at a rate of around 30g/m2, less if you are using all bent seeds. There are a number of approved seed mixtures now available for bowling greens. It is important to get a good seed/soil contact to ensure the seed germinates. Germination sheets can be used to promote quicker germination rates.

Useful Information for overseeding

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Other Tasks for the Month
  • Drainage channels/gullies: Inspect and clean out drain outfalls and gullies. Replace and level up drainage ditch materials.

  • Litter pick: Inspect and clear away any litter or debris (high winds may blow debris onto greens).

  • Floodlights: Inspect and ensure your lights have been checked and approved for use. Light quality can be affected by dirty lenses and the fact that some bulbs may have gone. Replace with new bulbs and keep lenses clean.

  • Machinery: Keep machines overhauled, serviced and clean.

  • Soil tests: Ideally once or twice a year, or as required. April is still is a goodl time to obtain a soil analysis of the green, measuring for soil Ph, nutrients levels and organic matter content, which are seen as good indicators of the condition of the soil. Once you have this information you will be in a better position to plan your season's feeding and maintenance programmes.

  • Repairs: Carry out any repairs to ditches, paths, gates, floodlights and other building features.

  • Irrigation equipment: Inspect installations for leaks. There may be a need to irrigate during maintenance programmes. As air temperatures increase and daylight hours are getting longer there is the likelihood of the soil and turf surface drying out. Longer growing days mean more evapotranspiration takes place, removing moisture from the soil.

  • Materials: Ensure you have organised and ordered the appropriate materials from suppliers, don't leave it too late! There should be a supply of topdressing and seed as well as your chosen fertiliser. Possibly some wetting agent and any chemical controls that could be needed at short notice.

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