February Bowls Diary 2012

Laurence Gale MScin Bowls

bowls-1.jpgFebruary sees the beginning of a number of activities; brushing, verti-cutting, mowing, light rolling and fertilising to prepare the sward/grass surfaces for the forthcoming playing season. The key to these activities is timing as each operation is weather dependent. Disease may also be prevalent during mild spells, so spraying of fungicides will also be required.

Plant growth will enter February in a dormant state and likely to remain that way for much of the month. However, there may be circumstances where there have been sufficient milder days for slight signs of growth as day time temperatures rise.

In these circumstances, and after probable leaching of nutrients in previous winter months, a light 'turf tonic' can do wonders for surface condition and presentation. This involves applying a small amount of Nitrogen, Potassium and Iron, possibly mixed with amendments such as seaweed and humic acids. This should be more of a 'trickle' feed to meet the plant's needs, since a number of colder days and overnight frosts will inevitably continue for several weeks to come.

Depending in which part of the country you are situated, the weather will be influencing what work you can achieve this month. Many areas are currently experiencing a cold weather front where temperatures have remained close to freezing. This has resulted in a number of ground frosts occurring. No work should be undertaken on the greens when they are in a frosty condition.

If the frosty weather persists over a number of days, it could lead to some problems with your irrigation systems, hose pipes and outside taps. Ideally, any water carrying pipe work should be lagged or protected from frost damage. Frost damage will lead to burst pipes and joints. Keep an eye out for these leaks.

Spring renovations are four to six weeks away. Ensure you have ordered your topdressing and seed requirements, along with any specialist machinery you may need to hire in for the tasks ahead. Get your orders in early to avoid disappointment.

Early in the Month 1st - 15th February

February is a good time to carry out some aeration works (when conditions allow, but not during frost), thus opening up the soil profile, alleviating any compaction problems and, at the same time, keeping the surface free draining.

Later in the Month 16th February - onwards

Soil temperatures should and will begin to rise towards the end of February/early March, enabling the grass plant to make use of any fertilisers being applied.

The grass plant's transpiration/respiration rates need to be active to initiate movement of soluble solutions from the soil into and through the plant's tissue.

To ensure you are applying the correct amount and balance of fertilisers for your turf, it would be useful to have a soil analysis undertaken, which will give you a full nutrient analysis of your soil's requirements. Based on these results, an appropriate fertiliser programme can be initiated for your facility.

Key Tasks for February
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You, should have already had your mower serviced and sharpened ready for the new season; it is well worth the money investing in a winter service.

Some clubs are now using a rotary mower with rear roller for the first few cuts, to help clear off surface debris and help stand up the sward.

Grass growth will be influenced by soil and air temperatures. Once we begin to see temperatures rising above 8 degrees Centigrade, grass growth will be stimulated. Mowing will be required to maintain sward at between 10-12mm.

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We have seen in recent years a dramatic increase in aeration technologies being brought into our industry. This has enabled bowling clubs with any deep seated compaction pan problems the opportunity to rectify them using a wide range of tines, with some offering hydra jet and air jet methods of breaking up the deep pans.

Sarrel rollers should be used to aerate the playing surface (top 30mm), and a deeper tined aerator to relieve compaction to the base of the rootzone layer. Care should be taken not to go too deep. Some bowling greens have been constructed with shallow rootzones, often less than 200mm in depth. You could do untold damage or begin to bring up base debris or, even worse, damage sub surface drainage systems if aerating too deep.

Useful Information for Aeration

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Pests and Disease
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Keep an eye on fungal disease attack and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Fusarium has been quite prolific, with some surfaces getting severely scarred.

Use appropriate fungicides to control any further outbreaks, however, with the grass soon beginning to grow, it won't take long for these scars to grow out.

Fairy rings are also quite prominent on greens at the moment. A dose of feed or liquid iron will stimulate some grass growth and this will help mask the fairy ring/ patches.

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Fertilising and Brushing

Fertilising: Generally, no fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some groundstaff may apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant.

Brushing/switching of the playing surface keeps the green clean and removes any dew or surface water. Keeping the surface dry will aid resistance to disease.

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Machinery and sundries: Keep machines overhauled and clean. Arrange the servicing of your machines ready for the new season. Keep an eye on your material stocks (seed, topdressing, petrol, oil), remembering to replenish as required.

It is vitally important clubs put aside an allocation of funds for the maintenance of their greens. I see far too many clubs whose greens are in a poor condition due to the fact not enough work is done on them.

At the end of the day, there is a basic cost for materials and specialist operations. A typical end of season renovation using a competent contractor will cost between £1600-£2000; this would usually include the cost of the materials and labour (scarification, aeration, topdress with three-five tonnes of rootzone material and overseeding).

Some contractors also offer a yearly maintenance programme which will allow for end of season and spring renovation work, plus a number of other relevant cultural practices - aeration, fertiliser applications, wetting agents and fungicide applications to keep the green in good condition; this might also include some winter mowing regimes. However, the contractor, unless asked, will not normally carry out the regularly mowing duties during the growing season.

The cost for this would be in the region of between £6000-£9000 depending on circumstances, location and condition of the green. All of the above costs are only a guide.

Obviously, many bowls clubs do the work themselves, using dedicated, committed volunteers. In those cases, the clubs annual maintenance costs will be greatly reduced, having only to pay for the cost of the products/materials used.

At the end of the day, it is important clubs fund these operations with effective membership charges, or find the money by promoting activities that can earn an income which can be used towards the green's upkeep.

Once a club is aware of the annual costs for maintaining a green, they should effectively be able to generate the money to pay for it via subs and other activities. Most bowls clubs may well have 50 plus members. If you were to charge them £100 pounds a year membership (£2 per week), that would raise £5000 a year - a substantial sum that would make a great difference to the condition of your green.

Useful Information for Machinery

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Other Tasks for the Month
  • Perimeter fences and hedges: Most bowling green facilities are enclosed by fences or hedges. February is a good time to complete any tidying up of these features. Hedges can be pruned and cut to maintain their shape and form.

  • Repairs: Carry out any repairs to ditches, paths, gates, floodlights and other building features. Ideally, you should have your floodlights serviced on an annual basis to check that they are safe and operating to the correct lux values. Also, check that the lights are correctly positioned, thus preventing unwanted light pollution.

  • Irrigation systems: After the recent frosts it will pay to inspect your watering systems and check for any leaks or damaged pipe work. Also remember to organise the recommissioning of your automated watering systems with the aim to have it ready before the end of March.

  • TRAINING - start getting ready for your pre-season renovations. Consider getting yourself or one of your team on one of our Lantra Awards accredited 1-day Bowls Green Maintenance Training Course. More details www.groundsmantraining.co.uk

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