It would seem the weather front has finally changed, for the better in terms of promoting grass growth on your bowling greens. The recent downpours have replenished the greens adequately to stimulate some much needed growth.
Many greens will benefit from a feed during these conditions, as the moisture will activate any granular applied fertiliser products.
This spurt of growth will initiate the need to mow the green more frequently, maintaining your desired height of cut. However, beware, there are still too many clubs cutting their greens too short. I still see many bowling greens that have been put under undue stress by the mere fact that the greenkeeper has, in most cases, been pressurised into cutting the green much shorter (below 4mm) and rolling more frequently to increase green speed.
These practices 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 into the roots.
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.
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.
Useful Information for Aeration and Brushing
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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 slow release granular base feeds top upped with some organics / liquid feeds are becoming a popular method of feeding bowling greens.
The slow release, will generally last around three months, while the liquids can be applied every 4-6 weeks depending on the plant's needs.
Useful Information for Fertilisers
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Mowing:- To help prevent constant wear in the same locations, it is important to move markers and rinks on flat greens.
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.
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 wear on the green.
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).
Useful Information for Renovations
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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 surface playability
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
Timing of fertiliser products can affect green speed.
Rolling the greens will increase greens speed. However, over-rolling will lead to problems. There are a number of specially designed turf irons that have been specially developed for increasing green speed.
Remember, it is important to balance the health and condition of the green when considering surface playability