January was yet another mixed bag from a weather point of view, and I don't envisage February being much different. It is likely to remain changeable with unsettled, milder spells interspersed with colder interludes. The most unsettled and windy weather is likely to occur in the north and northwest whilst the south and southeast should see somewhat drier conditions overall, though even here, some rain and strong winds are likely. Despite milder conditions dominating, some overnight frost and fog is quite probable.
Spring renovations are four to six weeks away, so ensure you have ordered your top dressing and seed requirements, along with any specialist machinery you may need to hire in for the tasks ahead. Get your orders in early to avoid disappointment.
Key Tasks for February
During February the following activities are usually undertaken:
- Dragbrushing when dew is present
- Clean out the ditches and repair surrounds
- Tip the grass with the mower if it grows above 12mm (1/2 inch)
- Aerate, if and when possible, and only if conditions are right (not on frozen or waterlogged greens)
Mowing the sward, preparing surfaces for renovation. Grass growth will be influenced by soil and air temperatures. Once we begin to see temperatures rising consistently above 8 degrees centigrade, grass growth will be stimulated and mowing will be required to maintain sward at between 8-12mm.
Fertilising. Soil temperatures should and will begin to rise towards the end of February/early March, enabling the grass plant to make use of any fertilisers being applied. The grass plant's transpiration/respiration rates need to be active to initiate movement of soluble solutions from the soil into and through the plant's tissue. To ensure you are applying the correct amount and balance of fertilisers for your turf, it would be useful to have a soil analysis undertaken, which will give you a full nutrient analysis of your soil's requirements. Based on these results, an appropriate fertiliser programme can be initiated for your facility.
Aeration. Over the winter months, and weather conditions permitting, you should be spiking the green 2-3 times per month, using 1/2" solid tines to a depth of 4".
February can be a month of two halves, as the early part sees out winter and the end heralds the oncoming spring. Warmer periods of air flow coinciding with an increasingly higher and brighter sun can illicit periods of growth, particularly if night time temperatures don’t fall too far. Conversely, cold air flow, short damp days and persistent rainfall can place stress on the grass plants whilst also actively assisting fungal pathogens.
Operational windows are equally affected by the weather, and often the periods which place pressure on surfaces are the ones which also restrict a turf manager’s ability to undertake preventative or curative maintenance.
Management of soils is a prime function of managing turf grass. No more important factor is the successful management of water. Too little and the soil food web, of which grass plants play a part, breaks down. At this time of the year, the problem tends to be too much water, leading to saturation which again breaks the balance of the soil food web as microorganisms essentially drown.
In this instance, keeping abreast of weather forecasts so that you are prepared to strike when ground or wind conditions are favourable for maintenance means you can act quickly.
In regards to soil water management, vertical deep tine aeration undertaken in the autumn will still be facilitating passage of water through the soil and hopefully into drainage systems. Maintaining a passage for water away from the surface is vital in allowing deeper fissures and tine holes to draw water. As a result, taking any opportunity to aerate with pencil, slit, star or sarel tines is an important priority.
The use of wetting agents in conjunction with good old fashioned aeration should also be considered at this time of the year. A penetrant type will break water tension allowing it to flow from the surface more efficiently. Conversely a high quality block co-polymer, sometimes referred to as a residual, will help to regulate the balance of water in the soil, by holding onto or releasing water through the profile. The ideal ratio being 50% solid, 25% water, 25% air.
Similar to fertilisers programmes, it is advisable to implement a wetting agent programme which formulates your surfactant applications thought the year. The high quality block co-polymer chemistry works as a preventative in the soil, actively balancing the soil water matrix as it builds up over time. Single applications will not be successful in overcoming evidence of hydrophobic soils as evidence by dry patch. Like many things, once you see the symptoms, it is indicating you should have acted much earlier to prevent them appearing. Block co-polymers take 3-4 months to build up in a soil to a point where the chemistry is working optimally. For this reason, in the UK applications, should start no later than March with frequencies as recommended by the manufacturer to avoid a drop-off in soil concentration, and thus positive effects.
Somewhat erroneously, wetting agents have had a bad reputation in certain quarters in respects to negative effects upon soil biology. Such perception should be reserved for curative wetting agents which, by necessity of their action, are designed to strip away the organic acids coated around soil particles. Being designed to work preventatively, block co-polymer wetting agents are not formulated in ways which have these effects. Research has even shown that they can have a beneficial effect on soil biology leading to increased fertiliser efficiency, improved fungicide effect, better drought tolerance when used with trinexapac-ethly, and reduced incidence of anthracnose disease.
The aim of high quality preventative block co-polymer wetting agents is to facilitate even distribution of water throughout the soil profile. Where this is not taking place, a lack of uniformity can facilitate ‘finger flow’, which is to say isolated preferential paths for water to move throughout the profile. During months such as February, this will not cause a problem on the surface as the baseline for soil moisture is so high. Once the summer months come around however, the spaces between these preferential paths will be the first to dry out and show up as dry patch.
Penetrant wetting agents can be used to break surface tension and aid the flow of water from the surface and through the soil; whether that be aeration holes or a freshly applied hydrophobic top dressing. Testing your top dressing for hydrophobicity by dripping droplets of water onto a sample is a prudent exercise. Anything more than 5 seconds to soak in signifies some level of hydrophobicity.
Nutrition requirement may pick up as the month progresses. Where the forecast is for cold and harsh or warm and damp, foliar applications of calcium and silicon will help the plant to stand up to the resultant biotic and abiotic stresses. Chelated iron should always be the option when attempting to elicit a green up, however the end of February or early March is the best time to apply iron sulphate. Aside from the green up, it will help to knock back moss which may have encroached over the winter and the sulphur will help to facilitate early season plant metabolic function.
Warm, damp, still days are perfect conditions for microdochium nivale activity. When temperatures are cold then make the most of those last applications of iprodione before the withdrawal from sales on 5th March 2018 and withdrawal from use of stocks on 5th June 2018
As soils warm, chafer grubs and leather jackets will begin to rise and pecking of surfaces may well begin. There are no treatments for the grubs at this time of the year, but monitoring and recording problematic areas in anticipation of nematode treatments in the summer is a key part of any integrated management plan.
Finally, take the guess work out of fertiliser programmes by investing a few pounds in a broad spectrum soil analysis. Remember, no one nutrient is more important than the other; it is only the quantity of each which the plant requires for health which varies. Obtaining a report now gives you a guideline and insight, both of which allow you to address deficiencies and balance out ratios through the oncoming season such that your turf surfaces are at their best.
It is important to maintain machines by carrying out regular servicing and repairs.
Remember to check the condition of your machinery, and plan to get it repaired/serviced during the winter months.
- Service and sharpen mowers ready for the new season; it is well worth the money investing in a winter service.
- Keep machines overhauled and clean.
- Inspect and repair any watering or irrigation systems; many bowling clubs now have pop-up irrigation systems, so ensure they have been drained down for winter. Organise an inspection, re-commissioning and calibration of the system in late February.
Our Lantra Accredited Bowls Green Maintenance Course is now available as an online course.
You can learn about maintaining a bowls green in the comfort of your own home and in your own time. This newly developed course consists of a number of videos with assessment questions, and an accompanying hard copy Course Manual. The Online Course is Lantra accredited and provides you with all the basic knowledge required to maintain a green over a 12 month period.
Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Bowls Greens. More information
We can also arrange Lantra accredited training on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Carol Smith for information.
The Course Manual at just £30 is available for purchase separately.
- Check and service floodlighting systems; ensuring they are ready for the new playing season.
- It also important to replace any worn tines on your aeration equipment.
- Most bowling green facilities are enclosed by fences or hedges and now is a good time to tidy these up.
- Carry out any repairs to ditches, paths, gates and other building features.
- If the frosty weather persists over a number of days, it could lead to a number of problems within your irrigation systems, hose pipes and outside taps. Ideally, any water carrying pipe work should be lagged or protected from frost damage, as this will lead to burst pipes and joints; make sure you keep an eye open for these leaks.