Key Tasks for April
With restrictions being lifted, hopefully we can start getting back to some sort of normality; however, syill follow the guidelines. From a maintenance point of view, it's all systems go:
Mowing. Greens should be mown at least three times a week, with some grooming, verti-cutting or brushing being undertaken on a weekly or twice weekly cycle to improve air movement and reduce thatch levels building up in the sward profile.
The sward will be actively growing due to the increased soil temperatures, coupled with the stimulation of fertiliser applications. Regular mowing will be required to maintain sward height at around 4-5mm. Verti-cutting/grooming fortnightly can be carried out to help speed up the green and help improve the health of your turf.
Aeration should continue, using a mix of micro, needle or star tines which give maximum effect and almost zero turf disturbance.
Regular use of a sarrel roller will be beneficial and the use of micro tines to aerate the green will help reduce soil compaction, 'vent' the root-zone and to allow water to move quickly from the surface and into the root-zone, thus encouraging the turf to root deeper.
Irrigation: Soil and air temperatures usually increase in April, often bringing on the need to irrigate. If soil profiles, particularly sandy soils, are allowed to dry out too much they often become water repellent (hydrophobic), a state when soils can become difficult to re-wet. Often the first areas to suffer on greens, particularly crown greens, are the high spots on the green. You may need to spend more time hand watering these problem areas.
When you do water, ensure you go to a depth of 100-150mm to encourage the roots to go down to find the water.
Looking back to last April, when we were starting off on the journey we have all been on over the last 12 months, thoughts were very much towards the unknown. Which seems in stark contrast to the current situation, certainly for those who manage sports surfaces. Since the announcements were made detailing the plans for a gradual lifting of restrictions and the commencement of some outdoor sports from the 29th March, turf managers up and down the country have been working tirelessly to get facilities into excellent condition for the return of their sport. The level of work which has been undertaken has been phenomenal and so have been the standards produced. Everyone has had their own set of circumstances, regarding staff levels, budgets etc… but the sheer level of professionalism to provide the best possible conditions is a credit to everyone in the industry.
Looking ahead to the long-term forecast, the predicted temperature increases for the end of March (mid-twenties in some southern regions) unfortunately don’t look set to continue long into April. Temperatures throughout April appear to be fairly conservative with only 2 days predicted to be 15° or above, a further key factor here is that night temperatures are also remaining low, with 23 out of 30 days at 4° or below. This is reflected in the daily growth potential sharply dropping off from around 75% to below 25% from the 1st up to April 7th. This contrasts with last year, at the beginning of the first lockdown, where we experienced excellent weather for the time of year.
The cold nights forecast around this point in the month will mean soil temperatures remain relatively modest and will not make a huge jump forward. Towards the end of the month, the night-time temperatures are predicted to rise, with the last 6 days all around 8°. This will have a positive impact on growth potential and, dependant on the forecast for May, could be the start of consistent growth.
With this is mind, plant stress is going to be a key part of turf management this month; particularly for those who have increased maintenance practices over the last month in preparation for the commencement of play, cultural aeration and top-dressing work followed by fertilisation to encourage recovery. The added stress of wear on top of the changing temperatures will lead to plant stress. The cooler temperatures indicate that growth will be moderate and therefore nutritional inputs need to follow on from this information. Trying to force continued growth is not recommended as it can lead to further issues. Instead, look to support the existing growth by applying small inputs of nutrition when conditions are suitable and additional inputs of plant health promoting products, to alleviate some of the added stresses.
Keeping disruption to a minimum over the coming weeks will be a focus for many turf mangers not wanting to have too much of an impact on playing surfaces. However, when thinking about the additional stresses the plant will be put under, continuing to carry out some light maintenance is recommended. Light aeration work will allow for the gaseous exchange and will also aid the movement of water down the profile. This will be most beneficial should there be a period of dry weather, which in recent years has not been un-common for April. Wetting agents can also be a useful tool in this regard, to ensure even distribution of moisture through the profile. They can be used periodically, but prevention can be better than the cure, and starting early in the season ahead of any prolonged dry periods can have a positive effect on plant health.
Given as of the 28th March we entered British Summer Time (BST), temperatures increase (maybe not until towards the end of the month) and daylight hours increase. This gives the plant more opportunity to carry out photosynthesis; more photosynthesis means more growth. Applications of simple sugars and carbohydrates can provide the plant with a readily available supply of energy, which can be much needed at a time when growth is commencing and can assist in reducing any additional stress. As can choosing an appropriate fertiliser with a suitable nitrogen source for the time of year. If growth is not strong because of environmental conditions, applications in small amounts of readily available nitrogen can be used to keep a constant but low supply of nutrition, which supports healthy growth. Alternatively, a granular application with a portion of slow release technology could be used, which will provide nutrition gradually over a longer period, depending on the environmental conditions. Typically, part of the formulation will depend on microbial activity to break down the technology to urea which, once converted via further processes to ammonium and nitrate, can be taken up by the plant.
Biostimulants applied at the right time will be beneficial to the plant and soil. Applications of seaweed will elicit important beneficial defensive and stress responses in the plant and associated micro-organisms, when applied ahead of disease activity, before conditions favour its development. Amino acids play an important role in abiotic stress tolerance, helping plants to prepare for and cope with additional stresses such as varying changes in temperature and volumetric water content. As the level of nutrient applications increase, as we head into the growing season, applications of Humates can assist in maximising nutrient availability as well as stimulating and providing habitable zones for beneficial bacteria.
Pests such as leather jackets and chafer grubs will continue in their life cycles. Therefore, maintaining observations as part of your Integrated Pest Management plan will be crucial for timing operations later in the season. If damage is currently an issue, sheeting can be used to draw the pests out of the ground, which can then be physically removed. This method is being deployed by many turf managers as a method to reduce pest populations, whilst chemical control methods are restricted.
- Keep machines overhauled and clean.
- Inspect and repair any watering or irrigation systems.
- Continue to check and service your floodlighting systems.
- Replace any worn tines on your aeration equipment.