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.
April sees the start of the new bowling season with many bowlers desperate to get on the greens and get some much-needed practice and matches. Green speeds are likely to be slow to start with due to the fact that many greens are wet, lush and bumpy.
A combination of several factors is contributing to the above problems. The recent spell of poor weather - rain, sleet and snow has saturated soil profiles. Soil and air temperatures have been low, restricting any grass growth.
Some greens 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 in the sward.
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. 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.
We would hope soil and air temperatures will rise substantially in April to stimulate some much needed grass growth and activate any applications of fertilisers or worm suppressants.
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 cold temperatures. However, now we are receiving some better weather, these applied fertilisers 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.
Final Pre-season Tasks
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 3.5 mm 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, and 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.
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 is 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 catalysts 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 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 the Pitchcare 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, removes weak grasses, helps the sward to stand up vertically and encourages 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).
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. 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 topdressing and seed as well as your chosen fertiliser. Possibly some wetting agent and any chemical controls that could be needed at short notice.
A range of products ( topdressings, seed and fertilisers) are available in the Pitchcare Shop