This exceptional dry, warm March has stimulated some early seasonal growth. Despite all the rain we had over the winter, some clubs may even be experiencing drought conditions, so there may even be a need to water your greens if this weather front continues. It is important to inspect and re commission your watering systems.
The speed and smoothness of your greens will be influenced by the condition of the playing surface in terms of sward quality, which will be influenced by many factors - amount of grass cover, weed content, pest and disease.
Some greens may 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, weed and thatch found in the sward.
Spring renovations should be at the forefront of your mind with the aim to lightly scarify the green, solid tine spike, topdress, overseed and apply a spring fertiliser.
Key Tasks for April
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. There is 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.
Increase the mowing frequency, adjust the height of cut to suit your green, look to verticut to remove straggly growth.
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 3.5mm 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; this can leave your turf grass susceptible to disease.
Apply some wetting agents if required to prevent dry patch, and monitor your watering requirements.
Check your sprinkler heads, ensure they are working properly, conduct a calibration of the amount of water being applied.
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.
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.
Verticut fortnightly. Verticutting helps to thin the sward, removes weak grasses, helps the sward to stand up vertically and encourages tillering.
Aeration is important to improve the 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.
To help keep a dense sward, it is essential to oversow the green, particularly any worn areas, applying at a rate of around 30g/m2, less if you are using all bent seeds. 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.
Fertiliser application and use of turf tonics 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.
Some Greenkeepers are using compost tea products to improve the microbial activity in the soil profile, applying a soil drench every 3-4 weeks.
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 made from soluble iron powder. More recently, granulated high iron products have become available, which can be more convenient to handle and apply.
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.
Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.
A selective weed killer will help control any broadleaf weeds, the timing of application is key, apply when weed growth is vigourous usualy late April / May
Always clean mowers after use, wash down and grease up any moving parts to ensure blades are sharp and set to the correct height of cut. Do not attemp to repair/clean machines on your green.
Keep irrigations systems serviced and ready/primed for operation.
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.
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.
Perimeter fences and hedges: Most bowling green facilities are enclosed by fences or hedges, April is a good time to complete any tidying up of these features. Be mindful that birds will be nesting in hedges so do try not to disturb them during this time .
Repairs: Carry out any repairs to ditches, paths, gates, floodlights and other building features. Ideally, you should have your floodlights serviced on an annual basis to check that they are safe and operating to the correct lux values, making sure to also check that the lights are correctly positioned thus preventing unwanted light pollution.