Expected weather for this month:

Unsettled start to the month with some drier spells at the end

The recent hot spell of weather has certainly took its toll on bowling greens with many suffering from the lack of water, with areas of the green turning brown and becoming hydrophobic.

During prolonged hot spells it important to raise the height of cut by a couple of mm in the short terms to help the grass plant cope with the conditions.

Whilst on the subject of heights of cut, there are, in my opinion, still too many bowls clubs who choose to cut their greens far too low during the summer months, mainly influenced by club members who want faster greens. Do not be tempted to cut below 4mm unless you have the expertise, resources and knowledge to support this type of maintenance regime.

Continued low cutting will inevitably stress out the grass plant. Having said that, we do see some greenkeepers maintaining greens at 3mm during the playing season, but these clubs are an exception to the rule. These low heights are usually only temporary and often the greenkkeeper has developed a strategy to do this, usually by having a top quality mower and a decent watering/feeding regime in place.

Many clubs have nether, so often relying on the weather to keep their greens watered. If you struggle with watering your green, it would pay to raise the HOC during dry periods. In the main clubs, should be keeping their greens maintained between 4mm and 8mm and, during really hot temperatures, raising the HOC by 1-2mm.

Mowing the green below 4mm will, in the short term, give the members what they want - fast greens - however, there is often a cost to bear for doing this. It generally comes in the form of the green suffering in many ways, grass cover begins to thin out, bare areas develop which allow weeds and mosses to establish. Beneath the surface, the constant rolling will have compacted the soil profile, reducing the air spaces. This leads to poorer root growth, less movement of water and resulting in flooded surfaces.

In fact, the most common cause of slow bowling greens is the presence of a layer of accumulated organic fibre, commonly known as thatch. This is found just below the surface and is caused by the accumulation of matted grass stems. This is easily detectable when you walk across the green and the surface feels soft.

Do not be afraid to cut a sample plug from the green and check to see the extent of the thatch layer. Problems start occurring when you have more than 15mm depth of thatch. This thatch layer is the main cause of many problems associated with the performance of the green. It is essential you control the amount of thatch by means of verticutting, grooming and scarification. Greens that have high levels of thatch will take longer to dry out due to the thatch acting like a sponge.

Continue to carry out the regular maintenance tasks, cutting, feeding and irrigating if required. Use wetting agents if you feel the water is having difficulty going through the surface. It is important to get the water deep into the soil profile.

A summer feed can be applied, but go for liquid rather than a granule to minimise the risk of scorching.

Begin to plan your end of season renovations, calculate your material requirements, seed, topdressing and pre-order to prevent any delays in delivery.

You may need to hire in professional equipment, scarifiers and aerators to complete your end of seasons works.

Key Tasks for August

Mowing frequency will often be dependent on the resources available to the clubs. Ideally, most clubs will be mowing daily, or at least three times a week. Regular mowing will be required to maintain sward height at around 4-8mm.

Some clubs will reduce their mowing heights further, perhaps down to 3mm to help speed up the greens for club competitions. Prolonged mowing at these heights will lead to plant stress.

The speed of greens can be affected by other factors - too much thatch is the main cause of slow greens, or the fact that the greens have not had enough topdressings to maintain levels.

Many bowlers complain about slow, inconsistent greens, often resulting in many clubs trying to speed them up by shaving off more grass. In the short term, this may increase speed but, in the long term, it will be very damaging to the green.

Remove and control the rate of unwanted vegetative growth (thatch and side growth) by regular grooming and verticutting operations.

Light applications of topdressing will restore and maintain surface levels, thus increasing green speed.

Mowing in several directions to reduce nap layering will help increase green speed.

Double cutting for matches will increase green speed.

Controlling soil moisture will help influence green speed.

Aeration is a key activity to ensure that there is a good air/gas exchange going on in the soil profile. The use of a sarel roller (depth 5mm) helps to keep the surface open without disturbing the playing surface. Deeper aeration should only be done with micro tines when moist conditions allow penetration.

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

Fertiliser treatment and turf tonics can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results. A regular feeding programme is essential to maintain colour, vigour and well being of the sward. A combination of a slow release granular based fertiliser, topped up with some organics/liquid feeds, are becoming a popular method of feeding bowling greens. The slow release will generally last around three months, whilst the liquids can be applied every 4-6 weeks depending on the plant's needs.

Remember, it is important to balance the health and condition of the green when considering surface playability

However, the long term affect of drying greens could be detrimental to surface playability. The surface could begin to break up, particularly on sand predominant greens. Sand becomes unstable when in a dry state. Also, the surface will become bumpy, different grass species will respond differently under drought conditions, growth rates will change depending on habit and root structure, thus promoting an uneven surface.

Once the soil goes beyond a certain drying stage, you are likely to encounter dry patch symptoms, whereby the soil becomes hydrophobic, being unable to absorb water. The water simply runs off instead of soaking into the soil profile.

Water will also always wash off from the high spots into the low areas, so the low spots tend to remain green and lush. This variation of dry and wet areas will affect surface playability; the bowls will fly across the dry areas and slow down on the lush green areas.

To reduce plant stress, it will be necessary to raise the height of cut, most clubs will be mowing at a height of between 4-8mm. Raising the height by just 1mm will significantly help the plant recover during dry periods. It may also pay to vary the way you turn the mower on the edges of the green. Turning on the same spot will increase wear and tear. One way to spread the weight of the mower is to use a board for turning on, it will reduce compaction and the constant wear that you see on the edge of many greens.

It would also be wise to refrain from any grooming, scarification and verticutting practices during dry periods; it adds to the plant's stress which, in turn, will cause it to weaken, be susceptible to disease and even die.

The use of wetting agents are a good preventative cure for dry patch. Many Greenkeepers and Groundsmen are now using these products regularly on fine turf situations. Wetting agents are usually applied on a monthly basis.

Water is influential in all chemical, physiological and biological processes of plant growth. The soil/plant water relationships is critical to the sustainability of any grass plant. Having an understanding of these relationships is critical. All grass plants are a continuum of water movement. Over 90% of the plant's water requirements are transported through the plant from the soil profile, via the roots and stem tissues into the leaves and out into the atmosphere. Knowledge of these relationships is important when designing and operating irrigation systems. The main aim is to achieve a water balance within the soil profile ensuring that the grass plant is able to access available water from the soil.

Irrigation scheduling by the water balance approach is based on estimating the soil water content. In the field, daily evapotranspiration (ET) amounts are withdrawn from storage in the soil profile. Any rainfall or irrigation are added to storage. Should the water balance calculations project soil water to drop below some minimum level, irrigation is indicated. Weather forecasts enable prediction of ET rates and projection of soil water balance to indicate whether irrigation is needed in the near future.

The soil water balance will be affected by a number of factors:

•              Soil type and condition; the water holding capacity of soils will vary depending on their classification. Clay soils can hold more water than loamy or sandy soils, therefore soil type will effect and contribute to the amount of water required. Soils are continually going through phases of wetting and drying caused by local weather conditions.

 •             Turf type and condition; healthy vigorous turf will transpire more water than an unhealthy turf plant.

•              Time of the year; there is likely to be more soil water present during the spring, autumn and winter months when temperatures are cooler coupled with higher levels of rainfall.

•              Weather; air temperature, daylight hours, solar energy inputs, wind speed and shading are factors that will affect evapotranspiration rates.

•              Maintenance regimes; keeping the soil open and aerated will increase the drainage capacity of the soil. On the other hand compacted soils will prevent the movement of water through soils, often creating an environment that prevents water getting down into the soil profile. By carrying out effective regular maintenance regimes that include aeration, scarifying, harrowing, brushing, top dressing all help to keep the soil in good condition.

•              Irrigation system; type, capacity, running time, calibration and efficiency.

•              Water resources; quantity and quality. The quantity of water available, and the amount licensed for use in any one year, will determine the performance of any system and irrigation capabilities.

•              Facility type; design and construction. USGA greens perform differently to pushed up soil greens, each having different water and management requirements. Modern drainage systems also effect soil water conditions. Extensive drainage systems will freely drain water from the soil.

•              Groundsman/Greenkeeper knowledge; it is important that there is someone who understands all of the above parameters and can access the water requirements of the turf and correctly implement the right irrigation schedule for the facility.

Soil water relationships are key drivers in maintaining plant health, so it is vitally important you readily water your bowling green and ensure the plant does not become stressed from the lack of water, on the other hand you do not want to be over watering, as this may bring you other problems.

In recent years we have seen the rise in demand  wetting agents to improve the soils ability to take in water, with the forecasted high temperatures to come it may well be worth looking at your current wetting agent programme to make sure you are using the right product for your surfaces in the conditions that seem  to be on the way. In most cases if the forcasters are right, holding moisture and dealing with dry patch will be the main priorities therefore the products you are using need to be suited to this end.

Wetting agents have been used for many years to improve the ability of of soils on golf courses to make best use of available water, improve the efficacy of any water absorption. In the UK, numerous wetting agents are available. Each product may perform slightly differently depending on its mode of action, dose rate and suggested programme of use.

Soil wetting agents are available in three forms  -  Residual, Penetrant and Curative.

To achieve the best from wetting agents any factors contributing to the dry patch should be addressed. Such as alleviation of compaction, removal of thatch and preventing the rootzone from reaching the critical moisture content by ensuring even and timely irrigation.

Best results are achieved by applying wetting agents in a programmed approach, starting early in the season before symptoms are observed. Blanket applications are also more effective than spot treatments.

The efficacy and longevity of each product depends on the dose rate. Therefore, subsequent applications should occur after the suggested period of effective control has elapsed for each product.

Attention should also be paid to the activity of each product. For example, a curative does not help water penetration but helps to remove the organic coatings on sand grains and flush them through the rootzone. Therefore, it should be used in a programme with another soil wetting agent that helps water distribution.

Wetting agents can be split into three categories: Residual (Polymer) , Penetrants and Curatives.

Residuals keep working over a given stated period, depending on the amount of time you require it to work they hold water near the surface.

Curatives combat the problem of dry patch by stripping off the waxy organic coating on the soil particle which renders the soil profile water repellent, but never totally alleviates the problem as, every time you topdress with sand, you add a further layer of water repellent organic coating  to your soil profile. This type of wetting agent is believed by some to also remove beneficial bacteria etc from the soil and therefore can be controversial.   One of the lesser known facts is that when using curatives your water consumption can reduce by up to 30% year on year. Product example Correct Oars by Vitax.

Penetrants help remove standing water as well as move water through the profile. Many turf managers use penetrants in a tank mix, when using other chemicals to get the product through the profile immediately.

 Available today in the marketplace are the following wetting agent technologies:

Liquids

• 7 day treatments (penetrant)

• 30 day treatments (residual)

• 30 day treatments with added kelp (residual)

• 30 day curative treatment

• 3 applications per season (curative)

• 30 day fairway treatment (residual)

• 90 day treatments (residual)

• 240 day treatments (residual)

Renovations

August is the time to plan and organise your autumn renovation programme. The level of work required will initially be governed by the condition of your green, how much thatch you have and the extent of the wear on the surface.

Generally, you should be looking at a programme of scarifying in several directions to remove unwanted thatch layers and dead matter, aerating with some deep solid tines to break up compaction, topdressing with some 70-30 topdressing to restore levels, and overseeding with some new grass seed.

Unfortunately, one of the deciding factors that often reduces the effectiveness of these planned works is the amount of money (budget ) the club has available. It can cost anything between £1200-£1500 for a contractor to come in and do all the work.

Savings can be made if the club undertake the work themselves, however, the effectiveness of the work carried out will be determined by the equipment they have at their disposal.

Savings can also be made if clubs buy materials in bulk (several clubs group buying).

The best way to balance the health of the grass plant and to achieve good green speed is to promote and carry out effective cultural practices to maintain surfa

Monitoring the performance of your playing surfaces is a key skill that should be adopted by all Groundsmen and Greenkeepers. For many years, the turf industry has promoted the use of Performance Quality Standards PQS to ascertain the standard of sports pitch maintenance.

It is important to survey and measure the performance of your facilities. With modern technologies, tools and a camera, we can now measure all manner of aspects of a pitch, green or artificial surface to ensure it meets any stated guidelines by the sports governing bodies.

These can include measuring sward height, composition of grass species, soil temperature, weed content, levels, hardness and infiltration rates (porosity) of the soil rootzone.

Soil tests will also help determine soil type, nutrient status of the soil, organic matter content, CEC capacity and soil pH.

Keeping a record of these parameters will help you have a better understanding of what is going on within your playing surface and enable you to make better decisions on what maintenance inputs you will need to undertake to maintain surface playability.

 

Regular brushing and sweeping are important tasks to keep the surface clean, open and dry. A dry surface will aid resistance to disease. Keep an eye on fungal disease attack and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.

A selective weedkiller will help control any broadleaf weeds; the timing of application is key, apply when weed growth is vigorous. With the renovations due to start in September, it would be a good practice to eradicate any weeds using a selective weed killer, invest in a professional product and choose the right active chemical ingredient to deal with the weed problem you have.

Keep machines overhauled and clean. Keep an eye on your material stocks (seed, topdressing, petrol, oil), remembering to replenish as required.

Ensure you look after your equipment and store safe and secure, it is a good idea to get into a habit of washing down and and cleaning after use.

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.

Our next course:

Friday, 14 August  West End Bowls Club, Merthyr Tydfil

Friday, 25 September   Rayleigh Bowls Club, Essex

More information

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.

Pitchcare provide a range of courses suitable for bowls clubs. In most cases, the courses can be held on site using the club's own equipment and machinery.

Some of the other courses available are:

Chainsaws - CS30 and CS31
H&S Refresher Training on Combined Turf Care Equipment; Tractors and Trailers; All Mowers (Ride-on and Pedestrian)
Machinery Courses on ATVs; Tractors: Brushcutters/Strimmers; Mowers (ride-on and Pedestrian)
Pesticide Application (PA courses)
Stem Injection of Invasive Species (Japanese Knotweed etc.)
Basic Trees Survey and Inspection

More details about all the courses can be found here, or you can email Chris Johnson for information.

Check floodlights and irrigation systems, ensuring they are working.

Keep ditches clean and relace any ditch materials.

Maintain hedge lines and shrub beds.

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