With recently extended hours of daylight and the 'unofficial' start of a new playing season, April is the main month for transition from winter to summer conditions. However, it does pay to remind ourselves of the old 'Punch' saying that 'Spring has arrived with its usual severity'.
Apart from in 2000, when it poured with rain endlessly, recent Aprils haven't been too bad; being a fairly typical mix of wet and dry months but with temperatures slightly above the long term average.
Soil temperatures should be steadily on the increase, although a late overnight frost cannot be ruled out. Growth will be steady, winter rules over and by the end of the month, playing surfaces will be settling down to regular mowing routines with both playability and presentation improving on a weekly basis. This, however, is unlikely to match the exceptional standards set at a well known televised venue in warmer climes in the US, and which has often led to past heated debates at clubs within the UK.
There are few real comparisons to be made, so this one is best left as a viewing spectacle and to admire what can be achieved when presented with an almost unlimited budget, minimal and restricted play and considerably warmer temperatures.
Any major planned renovation work, such as coring or deep tining, should be completed as soon as possible in order to maintain and present a suitable playing surface. For those who have completed this work in March, a follow-up micro-coring programme may be all that is required, and this can be completed fairly quickly with minimal surface disturbance.
Once top dressed, cut and rolled, recovery will be fairly quick. For those opting to deep scarify for thatch removal, then best left to the end of the month or even early May, since this is a far more disruptive process and, for good recovery, soil temperatures really need to be around the 10° Celsius level.
Immediate sand topdressing should follow and, if the environmental conditions favour the introduction of new seed, then go ahead at the recommended rate prior to topdressing in order to get as much seed as possible into the open grooves. If thatch levels remain high then over-seeding is unlikely to be successful.
As mentioned last month, a light spring start-up feed applied in advance will just give that extra benefit for recovery. For general over-seeding work, this can be achieved either via a slit seeder, sarrel roll type seeder or just broadcast over the surface, but following a tining operation that has left thousands of open holes, albeit at shallow depth. Buried seed at great depth will not germinate.
It can also be completed following a light scarify or deep verti-cut but, as always, much will depend on individual circumstances and what are the planned objectives. April is generally the month for applying the main pre-season or base feed, usually in a granular form and supplying the plant with a small amount of Nitrogen and Potassium.
Other ingredients in the mix likely to be included are Iron and seaweed extracts, but no two courses are alike and feeding requirements must be based on the plant's needs, supported by soil analysis which is usually carried out in March. It is worth remembering that you cannot manage what you don't measure! Reducing mowing height should be treated with caution and with a regular check on soil temperatures and impending weather forecasts.
Depending upon the grass species present, growth may be 'patchy', therefore avoid the temptation of mowing too low. Best to brush, groom and topdress to achieve a consistent surface and be patient! For most, mowing at around 4.5mm by the end of the month should be the norm. As far as irrigation is concerned, the least applied the better since water will be very cold at this time of year.
However, if faced with a cold and dry month, then small amounts of water will need to be applied in order to prevent surfaces from drying out. Watering high spots, ridges and shoulders by hand with a cold east wind blowing is not for the faint hearted, but may be the best option. Wrap up well and take turns!
Main teeing areas will now be in play and any main pre-season work such as tining and dressing completed last month. Where separate winter tees were used, these can now be fully renovated, over-seeded and left 'out of play' until fully recovered. A general granular compound fertiliser should be applied, and here one of the many slow release products may prove to be the best option and in line with the desired objectives.
Good root depth and turf density are key requirements and the choice of product used must reflect this aim. With playing levels now on the increase, marker change, divot filling and attention to detail issues re. bins and ball washers etc. will now be part of the routine daily/weekly programme. Watering on a limited scale may be required if dry weather persists, but best left for as long as possible to avoid creating a wet or soft surface.
Mowing height should now be nearing the summer norm, generally somewhere between 10 and 15mm, and preferably with clippings being 'boxed-off'. Towards the end of the month, a follow-up over-seeding may be required, but probably more on an 'as need' basis as opposed to all tees. An all too often situation is for little used back and front tees to be more fibrous with varying levels of moss.
In these circumstances, a more aggressive approach will be required, whereby a combination of deep scarifying, coring and dressing will be required. A suitable moss control product can be applied from around mid-April followed by scarifying to remove as much of the decaying moss as possible.
Any remedial work to areas around the greens should have been completed last month but, if recovery is weak, then further dressing and seeding will be required. Where ground conditions are poor and quite stoney, use a compost mix to give more 'body' to the soil. If required, apply a fertiliser, probably similar to that used on the tees, but only if turf density and vigour are weak.
Mowing will now be on a weekly basis with collars being cut at least twice per week at the same mowing height as the tees. Traffic control measures should be relaxed but only when turf density is good.
Playing surfaces should be improving each week as the frequency of mowing intensifies. For most, this will start with weekly mowing at a height of between 12mm and 17mm. By the end of the month, and with reasonable growth, many will be mowing twice per week. Avoid mowing too short, since this can lead to drought stress and moss invasion, therefore best to leave sufficient grass cover which most golfers prefer.
Whether or not to fertilise will largely depend upon individual circumstances such as soil type, grass type, turf density, fibre content and so on. If a more 'cosmetic' approach is required then a WSP (water soluble product) mix of Urea and Iron will suffice, costing around £200. Should a more general feed be deemed necessary to give the required stimulus of growth and density, then a more general outfield product can be used.
Here the choice can be the coated slow release types giving varying degrees of longevity or the more general granulated types, often high in sulphur and giving up to 3 months of reasonable growth and colour. The former is cleaner, longer lasting but more expensive and can lead to fibre build-up.
The latter can prove 'messy' to apply, but is cheaper and can give good results, as well as acidifying the fairways, thus encouraging the more desirable grasses. If temperatures are warm enough and growth is good, then thoughts can turn towards weed control, usually on a more selective or spot treatment basis, unless infestation of broad-leaved weeds is high.
Where clover is present in any large amounts, it may be due to poor nutrient retention, therefore a feed and weed mix may be appropriate. Generally, weed control starts in May but there are always exceptions.
As mentioned last month, the emphasis should be on presentation and playability now that the season is fully underway. Other than raking, regular tasks such as brushing or blowing of sand from banks, trimming, tidying and sand replenishment around the bunker will be part of a regular programme of maintenance. If growth remains weak, then fertilise as per the greens surrounds. Recently re-turfed areas may require additional topdressing to fill any cracks or gaps, otherwise playing conditions should be consistent.
Paths: Following on from last month's actions of filling in pot holes and applying path dressing where it is required, it should now be a case of completing work to any remaining sections of path and ensuring that any edging, fence rails or similar are in an acceptable condition. Path ends should have recovered by this month, although odd areas may need further over-seeding, feeding and dressing to combat high wear.
Trees: April is a good time to treat the base of trees with glyphosate to prevent weed and grass encroachment in competition with trees for moisture and nutrients. It also helps to reduce lost ball searches, as well giving a more tidy appearance.
Disease: Low risk at this time of year unless conditions are particularly moist and warm, but growth would be strong in any case which would tend to overcome any possible outbreak.
Pests: Leatherjacket activity may be noticeable, especially on greens, and where this is most noticeable is turf showing a lack of vigour and poor colour. The other tell-tale sign is old core holes that remain open. Closer inspection will reveal the tops of the holes being eaten, a sure sign that a grub is feeding on this during the hours of darkness and then slipping back under cover at the bottom of the hole. Fortunately, this pest can be easily controlled using the active ingredient Chlorpyrifos, and then mixed with a suitable penetrant to give maximum effect.
Turf Disorders: The first signs of dry patch may be apparent towards the end of the month if conditions are dry and windy. For greens that do suffer, then best to apply a suitable wetting agent at full strength, then follow-up each month at half rate applications. This needs to be supported by light aerification to ensure the product penetrates the root-zone. Not all wetting agents are the same so best to check on the extent of the problem and what exactly is required. The supplemental use of a hand held hose with wetting agent gel will be a must for key areas.
All equipment should now be fully operational as the season gets underway and mowing frequencies intensify. The main attention should now be with irrigation and the need to ensure that the system is fully operational. Once the pumps are primed and tested and the main line checked for any leaks or bursts that have occurred over the winter, then the next phase is to manually check all sprinklers, albeit for just a couple of minutes each to ensure rotation and shut down. This work may have been completed in March, so good and well but, if not, then a sense of urgency is required in case of a dry spring. Also see last month's comment on irrigation.
Now more a case of ensuring that supplies of sand, seed and fertilisers are replenished as required. and that a check is made on products that will be required over the next two months. such as wetting agents and selective herbicides. Records need to be updated, bags and cartons disposed of properly and the compound maintained in a tidy and organised manner.
Any outstanding appraisals need to be completed as soon as possible and training records updated. Where seasonal staff are hired, then both induction and training are essential to ensure worker safety, especially when using equipment. Risk assessments need to be in place and all staff fully aware of what and where these risks are.
Laurence Pithie MG
Turf Master One Ltd