As with most natural grass playing surfaces weather plays the dictating role in what your maintenance regimes will involve and the frequency of these operations.
Soil and air temperatures in May tends to warm up significantly resulting in the need to water your greens. If soil profiles, particularly sandy soils are allowed to dry out too much they often become water repellent (hydrophobic) a state when soils can become difficult to re-wet. Often the first areas to suffer on greens particularly crown greens are the high spots on the green. You may need to spend more time hand watering these problem areas.
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 and the surface can become bumpy. Different grass species will respond differently under drought conditions, growth rates will vary 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.
Once soils become hydrophobic they can deny adequate water movement to other areas of the root zone - often resulting in water deficit stress with symptoms that include a general decline in the biological health of the plant which in turn effects shoot and root growth.
You may need to consider using wetting agents to aid recovery or help prevent these problems occurring in the first place. Many greenkeepers now utilise wetting agents on a monthly basis to keep the root zone in good condition.
The movement of nutrients in the soil is also dependant on the moisture state of the soil; dry root zones will slow down or even prevent nutrients being assessable for the plant. Which again will result in plant health decline.
If you do not have adequate watering facilities it may be beneficial to raise the height of cut by 1 mm to keep a bit more grass on the green during these dry periods. It may slow the game down a bit but will help sustain your green through these difficult times.
It is important to water correctly; under or over watering will have a detrimental affect to plant health. You need only to apply enough water to replace what has been lost by evapotranspiration. Depending on the aspect of your green, soil type and herbage cover you could be losing anything between 3-5mm of water per day. This will need to be replaced by watering .
It is important to ensure you water evenly and to depth , you want to ensure the water gets down beyond the rooting profile at least between 100-150mm. This will encourage deeper rooting as the green dries and the roots go in search of the descending water..
Also check your water quality, what pH is it? is it suitable for your green? Check filters on recycled water systems. Poor water quality will affect plant growth and sustainability.
Most greenstaff will have already applied a spring/summer fertiliser, perhaps something like a 9/7/7 and will be looking to apply a summer fertiliser, reducing the N and P inputs to maintain a balanced growth during May. At the end of the month an application of a slow release fertiliser will see you through June and July.
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.
The sward will be actively growing due to the increased soil temperatures, coupled with the stimulation of fertiliser applications. Regular mowing will be required to maintain sward height at around 4-5mm. Verticutting/grooming fortnightly can be carried out to help speed up the green and help improve the health of your turf.
With the development of mowing technology, most fine turf mowers have cassette fitting attachments that offer additional maintenance operations such as grooming and verticutting. These are both operations that effectively remove thatch and side shoot growth enabling the promotion of an upright plant and denser turf growth.
Aerating with micro tines or sarrell rollers helps keep the surface open, allowing gaseous exchange and good surface drainage.
Some clubs now use turf irons (rollers) to prepare surfaces for play, these are specially designed ride on turf rollers that apply even pressure over the surface. However, rolling can have a detrimental affect on your turf if done at the wrong time or too often. There will be a need to increase the frequency of aeration techniques to counter balance the practice of rolling.
Seeding sparse or bare areas can be continued. Any rise in soil or air temperatures will help germination. Use germination sheets to aid this process but remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless. Ensure you use new seed as old material may not give you the required germination rates.
Irrigation systems need to be checked, inspect installations for leaks and check that the sprinklers work. There will be a need to irrigate during May as air temperatures rise and daylight hours are getting longer, increasing the likelihood of the ground and surfaces drying out.
It is always important to keep a diary of what work you have carried out, stating times of operations and amounts of materials used. Also, keep weather records. This information can be very useful in the future, especially if problems arise.
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.
An application of topdressing will help restore surface levels. The little and often approach is ideal, applying between 1and 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.
Fertiliser 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 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 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.
Weekly Maintenance Regimes
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: Soil and air temperatures will continue to rise in May 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.
Drainage channels/gullies: Inspect and clean out drain outfalls and gullies. Replace and level up drainage ditch materials.
Other jobs to consider
Verti-cutting: Fortnightly. Verti-cutting helps to thin the sward, removes weak grasses, helps the sward to stand up vertically and encourages tillering.
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.
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. Mmeasuring 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 topdressing and seed as well as your chosen fertiliser. Possibly some wetting agent and any chemical controls that could be needed at short notice.