Most bowls clubs should be now undertaking or, better still, have completed their end of season renovations. If you are still renovating, try and complete the work as quickly as possible, making good use of the warm air and soil temperatures to aid seed germination. The use of germination sheets are becoming increasingly popular and may be the only way of ensuring seed germination at this time of the year.
The longer you leave your renovations, the less likely you will obtain favourable germination rates. Air temperatures tend to drop in October, thus slowing down grass growth. Many greens will have been extensively over played, resulting in plenty of wear and compaction.
The aim of the renovations is to repair and rejuvenate the greens, repairing all worn areas, reducing thatch layers, restoring surface levels and re-introducing some finer grasses into the sward. Once the renovations have been completed, the greens usually remain closed until next spring.
Do not skimp on your end of season renovation work. It is important to clean out unwanted thatch, reintroduce new seed material and top dress to restore levels.
It is imperative to get on with your renovations as soon as possible. Most bowling clubs rely on volunteers to help with the work, so it is important you plan and co-ordinate and ensure all your volunteer workforce are briefed about the work expected of them.
Ensure you have got all the necessary equipment and materials to do the job. It does not need to be seen as hard work, if you get a good team of helpers together, it is surprising how quickly you can get all the work completed.
Also ensure you source the best quality products on offer. Buying cheap seed or not doing a thorough renovation programme is false economy.
Once the renovations have been completed, look to keep your team of volunteers working to help finish other necessary tasks down at the club - cleaning out the ditches, cutting hedges, painting/staining seating and fences.
Also, look into getting your mowers serviced ready for next year. Obtain a few quotes and get them booked in.
The success of the renovations will be down to effectiveness of the work undertaken - appropriate scarification, aeration, topdressing and overseeding.
It is inevitable that during the growing season you will get a build up of thatch. It is important you control the amount you have; rule of thumb is to keep it below 10mm (one finger's width). Generally, any more than 10mm of thatch will lead to turf problems in the following year.
It is important to monitor this build up, the taking of regular core samples is a good way to keep an eye on what is happening in your soil profile. You will need to ensure the scarification blades are set to eradicate unwanted thatch material.
Effective scarification removes unwanted thatch debris that has built up over the growing season. Ideally, you need to scarify the green in three passes, increasing the depth of penetration on each pass. The green should then be aerated to a depth of between 100-150 mm using solid tines.
The green is then oversown, ensuring the seed makes good seed to soil contact. The green is then topdressed with a 70/30 or 60/40 sand soil dressing, usually 2-4 tonnes per green.
The topdressing is then worked into the surface using drag mats/brushes/lutes.
Diseases, particularly fusarium, are often prevalent during the autumn, mainly due to the heavy dews that are present at this time of the year. Moisture on the leaf will allow diseases to move and spread easily. Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the moisture from the leaf is an important maintenance regime to deter an attack of disease.
Fusarium starts in the autumn as small orange to red-brown circular spots 1-2cm in diameter. When the fungus is particularly active, the patches have a brown ring at the outer edge. The centre of the patches may become pale brown/yellow. White/pink mycelium may be observed on the outer edge of the patch, matting the infected leaves together; this is often used as an indication of high activity.
In the spring, fungal activity first starts at the edge of the Fusarium scars. If cool, wet weather conditions persist in the spring, new patches may occur. Because spores and fungal mycelia are spread by water, machinery and foot traffic, Fusarium can appear in streaks or even linear patterns as the fungus is carried by surface drainage, footprints or wheels.
Fusarium is naturally present in soil and thatch as spores and mycelium even during the summer, although it is not active at temperatures exceeding 20°C or when there is insufficient moisture. Like most fungi, it requires suitable conditions before it starts to germinate or spread and damage other grass plants. Mycelium spread into adjacent plants or spores are carried on the wind or in moisture. These conditions are generally met in the autumn, although if summer temperatures become cool and sufficient moisture is available this can trigger Fusarium at any time.
Fusarium initially attacks the exterior cells of the grass plant; older plants growth contains more lignin and is less vulnerable to Fusarium, whereas young growth is more susceptible. This has implications for timing of fertiliser applications to minimise flushes of growth when the disease pressure is high.
When approaching autumn, it is advisable to use slow release forms of fertiliser. Routine and sequential applications of phosphite, as part of an integrated disease management programme, significantly reduces the incidence and severity of the disease. This alternative to the use of iron as a turf hardener is becoming more popular. Use iron prudently to harden plant cells and make them less susceptible to disease.
Care must be taken when applying iron in the form of iron sulphate, as swards that are dominated by Annual Meadow-grass tend to have received an abundance of fertilisers that contain a high proportion of ammonium sulphate. High levels of sulphur can lead to 'black layer'. Black layer is a deposit of metal sulphides caused by the activity of anaerobic bacteria. The anaerobic bacteria produce hydrogen sulphide which is highly toxic to turf.
Because Fusarium can survive within the thatch layer, it is good cultural practice to minimise this layer through aeration. Monitor thatch levels and aerate to achieve desired levels of oxygen within the sward. Air flow over the turf can also help reduce the incidence of disease. Drainage will help facilitate the flow of moisture away from the surface. Regular topdressing can help dilute existing thatch levels however heavy applications of topdressing are to be avoided as this can engender stress which can lead to an outbreak of Fusarium.
A large array of fungicides has historically been used although this armoury has been reduced in recent years as products have been taken off the marketplace. There has also been an increase in disease resistance due to the over reliance upon specific groups of fungicides. Therefore it is useful to adopt a strategic approach when utilising fungicides to derive the best use for what is a relatively expensive resource.
Consider utilising good cultural practice to minimise reliance upon herbicides, the code of practice states that you should 'ask yourself whether you need to use a pesticide or whether there is another method of control or combination of methods you could use.' Appropriate use of the correct fungicide at the most effective time will minimise the potential damage done by Fusarium. Fungicides target Fusarium at different stages and use different modes of action.
The practice of mixing different fungicides together to improve efficacy is a subject that deserves separate consideration. Suffice to say that pesticide labels aren't merely guidance but a legal document. It is an offence not to follow the statutory conditions of use of a pesticide. Broadly. fungicides can be categorised in the following way:
Preventative fungicides are particularly effective at inhibiting Fusarium before it becomes firmly entrenched. Where a history of disease exists and the potential for disease is high preventative fungicides can be used to prevent Fusarium becoming a problem. This can reduce the overall use of fungicides by tackling the disease when relatively low populations exist. These operate within the plant using various different modes of action. Preventative fungicides would include: Heritage Maxx, Instrata, Banner Maxx, Dedicate and Throttle. Medallion is a fungicide that unusually targets the presence of Fusarium on the leaf, in the thatch and in the top of the soil and therefore can be used to break the cycle at many points.
A curative fungicide is a fungicide that whose specific mode of action makes it particularly effective at arresting the progress of the disease quickly. Fungicides applied when the first symptoms of disease are evident have been shown to be more effective in disease control than allowing the disease to become established. Treating effectively with an appropriate fungicide will reduce the potential for future outbreaks and limit the need for further applications. Curative fungicides would include: Interface, Chipco Green and Medallion.
Some fungicides provide a blend of active ingredients and therefore can be viewed as both a preventative and a curative. These include the following fungicides: Instrata, Banner Maxx, Dedicate and Throttle.
With the season finished and the green closed down for the winter, mowing will only be required to maintain a winter height of cut at 8-12mm. Some clubs are now using rotary mowers to keep the greens mown through the winter months, this methods does two jobs in one, it keeps the grass topped and hoovers up any surface debris, such as twigs and leaves.
Brushing/switching of the playing surface keeps the green clean and removes any dew or surface water. Keeping the surface dry will aid resistance to disease.
A Sweepfast Cleansweep/Greensweep is ideal for keeping the surfaces clean; it not only removes the dew but collects any surface debris at the same time.
With autumn leaves beginning to fall, keep the playing surfaces clean and tidy. Remember to inspect and clean out drain outfalls and gullies.
Useful Information for Mowing and Brushing
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Aeration will be a key activity going into the winter months. The use of different tines will be more beneficial rather than continuing to use the same tine at the same depth. There are many different aeration techniques available for use.
Sarrel rollers are widely used to open up the top 5-8mm, keeping the surface free draining and thus helping to reduce the incidence of disease.
Aeration techniques using solid micro tines and knife tines, between 75mm-150mm, can be used for deeper penetration. However, with the development of new technologies, we now have available a range of even deeper penetrating aerators that offer alternative methods of aerating the soil profile.
These come in the form of linear aerators such as the Earthquake that produces narrow slits to a depth of 200mm at 200mm apart. Also, SISIS and Toro have manufactured a spiker that can inject air into the soil profile.
Whichever aeration method is used, it should be undertaken when the soil conditions allow clean, deep penetration without disturbing the playing surface; ideally, when there is sufficient moisture in the profile.
It will be important to know the depth of your soil profile. Many old greens have been laid on clinker ash bases. You do not really want to disturb these.
The frequency of aeration will also be dependent on weather conditions and the aeration method being used. It is not uncommon to keep aerating on a monthly basis throughout the winter.
Carry out any repairs to ditches, paths, gates, floodlights and other building features.
Keep an eye on your material stocks, remember to replenish as required.
On the machinery front, the winter period is an ideal time to book your mowers and other machines in for their annual service.
Hedges, cut and keep boundaries tidy.