By Laurence Gale MSc
Most Greenkeepers will be playing catch up, trying to get their bowling greens ready for the new season. The recent run of poor weather, particularly the cold temperatures has virtually put a stop to any decent grass growth, with most facilities nearly three weeks behind schedule. We are all waiting for soil and air temperatures to raise above 12 degrees to stimulate some reasonable grass growth.
Some Greenkeepers may have already fed their greens with a spring fertiliser product some weeks ago, but will not have see any benefit due to the constant cold temperatures prevailing. However, once we recieve some decent weather these applied fertilizers will begin to kick in and promote some much needed growth.
Many clubs start their league matches mid month. Final preparations and last minute remedial work should be well underway. Pre-season preparations usually consist of a number of operations to prepare the green for play.
These involve a number of operations to prepare the sward for the new playing season, and may include:-
Many greens, particularly through the winter, have suffered heavy infestations of moss. Applications of Moss killers, Super Mosstox (active ingredient dichlorophen) or similar approved chemicals will be essential in controlling moss. Other control methods included the well practiced method of applying lawn sand, a mixture of sand and Sulphate of Iron. Care should be taken when applying these chemicals as over dosing will lead to sward damage. See article on Lawn Sand
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 down to between 4-5mm.
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, top dress and feed his green prior to the season commencing.
Aeration is important to improve 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. The Hurlingham Club for example have this year hollowed cored their greens and top dressed with a Rufford CH45 sand to help improve surface drainage and increase green speed, they applied around 7 tonnes of sand per green (40m x 40m size greens).
Some parts of the country, mainly in the north, have experienced prolonged periods of rain, which has left their greens rather wet and saturated, the opportunity to aerate using sarrel rollers or a set of micro solid tines will certainly help improve the drainage capacity of the greens.
An application of top dressing will help restore surface levels. The little and often approach is ideal, applying between 1-2 tonnes per green on a monthly basis, this rate of dressing will hardly be noticed. but it important that the dressings are well brushed in. Also ensure you are using approved materials that are compatible with your existing soil profiles.
FeedingFertiliser treatment and turf tonic 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 grounds staff 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 material and how well it works can be dependant on many factors, soil type, weather, with moisture and air temperature being the catalyst for growth.
To help keep a dense sward it is essential to oversow the green, particularly any worn areas, applying at a rate of 35g/m2. There are a number of approved seed mixtures now available for golf and 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.
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 shop for details Brushes/ drag mats.
Mowing: Soil and air temperatures will continue to rise in April and this will stimulate further grass growth. Regular mowing will now be implemented to develop an even sward. It is important to lower the height of cut gradually until reaching the optimum height for match play at the start of the bowling season. Mowing height should be maintained at around 4-5mm. Ensure your mowing cylinders are kept sharp and set to the correct height.
Verti-cutting: Fortnightly. Verti-cutting helps to thin the sward, remove weak grasses, help the sward to stand up vertically and encourage tillering.
Drainage channels/gullies: Inspect and clean out drain outfalls and gullies. Replace and level up drainage ditch materials.
Other jobs to consider
Litter pick: Inspect and clear away any litter or debris (high winds may blow debris onto greens).
Disease: Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.
Machinery: Keep machines overhauled, serviced and clean.
Soil tests: Ideally once or twice a year, or as required. April is still is an ideal 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 any 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 top dressing and seed as well as your chosen fertiliser. Possibly some wetting agent and any chemical controls that could be needed at short notice.