For most courses, May heralds the start of mowing intensity as average day time temperatures in the UK reach 14° - 15° Celsius. In three out of the last four years, May has been relatively wet, causing a surge in growth and minimal need for irrigation. However, the norm is for relatively dry weather, long amounts of sunshine and steady growth.
All pre-season fertiliser applications will have 'kicked-in' with key playing surfaces becoming smoother and more consistent following Spring top dressing work. For the next 8 weeks or so, UK growth reaches a peak, therefore the emphasis will be on mowing frequency as long as there is sufficient moisture within the soil.
With playing levels, competitions and matches also intensifying, customer expectations become greater and with it, the challenge to produce firm, smooth surfaces with minimal golfer disruption. With daily mowing at around the summer norm of 4mm, there will be a need to supply the turf with a 'little and often' foliar feed, consisting of mainly Nitrogen, with other nutrients and ingredients such as Potassium added to the mix as required, in order to meet the turf's needs.
Light topdressings are a must for surface preparation; again 'little and often' being the ideal practice. Aeration should also continue, using a mix of micro, needle or star tines which give maximum effect and almost zero turf disturbance.
Sarel rollers are another alternative; the main objectives being to 'vent' the root-zone and to allow water to move quickly from the surface and into the rootzone, thus encouraging the turf to root deeper. Should conditions remain dry during May, then irrigate deeply but infrequently and supplement with hand watering and wetting agent gel to any ridges, shoulders or raised areas.
The application of a 'blanket' wetting agent will be a monthly requirement if there has been a history of dry patch or drought stress. This needs to be started early and supplemented by hand to key areas. For greens with a high organic matter content (OM or thatch) this is now a good month for deep scarifying as long as drought conditions do not prevail.
With soil temperatures now well above 10° Celsius, recovery will be quicker. In order to remove as much decaying material as possible, the greens should be deep scarified using 2 or 3mm width blades. When doing so, use the 75% principle when deep scarifying. Never exceed 75% of the blade spacing when setting the working depth, ie if spacing at 30mm, then maximum depth is 22.5mm. Greater depth requires wider spacing to avoid turf damage.
Topdress immediately after in order to direct sand into the grooves, which will further dilute the level of thatch. This is also a good opportunity to over-seed since the open grooves provide an ideal seed bed. However, if a substantial amount of thatch remains, then now is not the time. Future mowing height also needs to be taken into consideration following seed germination, namely this needs to be set at 4.5mm or above otherwise the young seedlings will not survive. Routine brushing and grooming will continue as and when required along with periodic verti-cutting but avoid the latter if greens have been over-seeded.
The use of a PGR such as Primo Maxx will help to divert the plant's energy into shoot and root growth as well as suppressing poa seed head. This also has the added benefit of reduced feeding and watering albeit not in any great amount but it does help to provide a denser and tight knit sward where rolling can replace mowing a couple of times per week.
Daily movement of tee markers and regular divoting will be key to providing the golfers with a good playing surface. Mowing will be at the appropriate summer height of between 10 and 15mm with frequency at two or three times per week, preferably with clippings being 'boxed-off'.
Further feeding is unlikely during the month but an application of Primo Maxx will prove beneficial, especially if irrigation coverage is weak or water supply limited. Apart from the possible need for selective weed control, it is unlikely any further work other than the routine requirements will be in demand during May. It is more attention to detail and presentation of playing areas that are important to the golfers. Any winter tees previously renovated may need another over-seed and dressing if recovery has been slow or inconsistent.
Mowing will now be the main requirement with collars being cut at least twice per week at the same mowing height as the tees. Green surrounds are usually mown once per week but conditions may dictate that some or all receive a second cut. Cylinder or rotary ride-on triples are best suited for this work and give good consistency and presentation to these playing areas.
Mowing height for surrounds is generally between 35 and 50mm although on links courses, these areas may be cut shorter where swales and 'run-off' areas are integral features. Any traffic control measures at this time of year should be limited to essential areas only and be of a discreet nature. As per tees, an application of a selective herbicide may be required, albeit more likely to be on a spot controlled basis.
By May, any pre-season work of aerifying, scarifying and fertilising will have been completed and playing surfaces now close to being in peak condition. Mowing frequency will be at twice per week for most, although some clubs may have a need for alternate day mowing if growth is excessive. This was the case during the wet May years of 2007 and 2008 when dry mowing conditions were in short supply.
Faced with this type of challenge, and unless Primo Maxx is applied throughout (cost?), then the use of a blower may be required to disperse clippings and leave a clean surface. Obviously this is more labour intensive but if wet days become the norm, then there is little alternative although it is unlikely to last. Afternoon mowing is another alternative if mornings remain wet and this requires flexibility with staff working hours.
On fairways where stalks of ryegrass or other species prevail, then an occasional pass with a rotary mower set at around 30mm will suffice. Other than mowing, periodic divot filling may be required and there are various alternatives that can be utilised to achieve this, such as 'member' or 'junior' evenings accompanied by a welcome pizza and drink. These type of work parties can cover fairways quickly as well as creating good team spirit within the club. With regards to weed control, the same criteria applies as per tees and surrounds.
With playability and presentation being at the forefront during May, it is very much a case of regular raking and brushing of sand from the banks. Trimming and edging is likely to be a four to five week requirement although some clubs prefer to carry out this work on an on-going 'rolling' plan of tackling 4 or 5 holes each week. Either method will suffice, the main objectives being to deliver consistency of sand depth, quality of sand and overall presentation.
Regular checking of sand depth during raking will alert the need for replenishment or relocation of sand. Where wash-out damage has occurred it is a case of moving and then firming the sand back into place until a long term solution can be found to minimise this occurrence.
Growth will also be strong in most areas of semi-rough and rough with mowing frequency being adjusted to whatever is deemed necessary to keep these areas under control. Heavy or fertile sites will produce abundant growth whereas poorer soils or those courses on links or open heaths will be faced with much less of a growth challenge. Whatever the course type or set-up with roughs, it is important to maintain these 'in-play' areas in a tidy manner to avoid the annoyance of slow play through searching for lost balls.
Paths: More a repetition from the previous months whereby surfaces are maintained as smooth as possible and free from weeds and invasive grasses etc, especially in and around sleepered steps, benches and ball washers. The use of Glyphosate is the one remaining pesticide suitable for this purpose.
Trees: Any remaining work around tree bases with glyphosate should be completed this month. The same applies to any boundary fencing or walls where there is a need to maintain a tidy edge to prevent ball loss. This work should be limited to key playing areas due to the environmental impact of such work.
Ditches/Ponds/Lakes: The former should be strimmed and cleaned out, with glyphosate applied where it is deemed appropriate in order to ensure good water flow when relevant and also to avoid ball searches.
Ponds and lakes should be maintained in as natural a condition as possible but if shallow and/or small, the build-up of algae may be a problem. Where this problem exists, rolls of barley straw should be inserted well in advance to counter the build-up of this 'blanket' covering of surface water. Good air-flow and depth of water are essential but, unfortunately, many such water features are not blessed with either of these criteria.
Disease: Take-All Patch is likely to be the only disease risk at this time of year but only if surface pH levels are high or the water supply or sand used in top dressings are more alkaline. If there has been prolonged use of non sulphur based fertilisers then TAP could be a threat.
Turf Disorders: Dry patch and drought stress are likely to be the most likely turf disorders during May unless there are long term issues such as nutrient deficiency, black layer, thatch and so on. Regards the former and as already mentioned under 'Greens', the key is to act early and ensure that both water and wetting agent penetrate the root-zone. Also see last month's comments.
Weeds: As mentioned previously in this month's diary, May is the ideal time for selective weed control, with daisies, plantains, buttercup and dandelion likely to being the main targets. If out of play roughs suffer from thistle then this too can be treated but may require a second application in about 6 weeks time. There are numerous selective herbicides on the market but best to check that the active ingredients listed are relative to the weeds to be controlled since some weed types require specific targeting eg yellow suckling clover.
Equipment and Irrigation:
Regular servicing, checking and setting up of cutting units will now be standard practice for the next 6 months or so, therefore it is essential to 'log' and replace the parts being used as well as completing all service records in whatever system is being used.
This will help to keep a check on how much each machine is costing and how often breakdowns occur. This is good practice and adds weight to any future request for replacement equipment. Irrigation usage up to this month is likely to be varied throughout the UK with courses in the south and east more likely to require irrigation water. Regular checks and adjustments of sprinkler heads will ensure that the system is working to its full potential and even during periods of wet weather, it is good practice to carry out periodic testing for coverage, shut downs and leaks.
As the new season is now in full swing, maintain regular checks on machine parts, irrigation joints, wetting agent, turf conditioners, foliar feeds and so on, replacing those that have been used. Also ensure that there is a ready supply of spare tee markers, flag pins, hazard posts and so on in case of theft or damage.
Laurence Pithie MG
Turf Master One Ltd