For many clubs, the past month has been one of the driest March's on record. Much of southern and eastern UK regions have recorded less than half an inch of rain and even that fell mostly on just one day.
So, how has this affected both maintenance and playability? For the latter, it has been ideal, save for a few early frosts during the first half of the month. In fact, since the start of the year, there has been next to no snow and only modest levels of rain during the first two months. This has resulted in the majority of clubs reporting good business; and a much welcome improvement over the start of the two previous years.
Dry weather and copious levels of sunshine always makes the green pastures more inviting! As far as maintenance is required, the positives are that pre-season work continued unabated and any last minute project work could be completed without the risk of being bogged down in wet ground conditions.
The only real negative to the lack of rain is that recovery from winter wear or any pest and disease damage has somewhat stalled. Those who have just finished turfing a tee or bunker surround however, will almost certainly have had to apply water in some form or other to prevent the turf from shrinking.
As the month drew on, the urgency of having irrigation systems primed and tested became greater and many will have been in use, even if it has been just for 'washing-in' top dressing and fertiliser. Those who are well prepared and organised are better equipped to deal with the inconsistency of the British climate.
So what about April and the start of another new golfing season? With recently extended hours of daylight, 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'.
Whether this still rings true is open to debate, but many will be reminded of last year's cold and dry April and with it, a distinct lack of growth and a slow recovery. Apart from last year and 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 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, not to mention the desire for a bug and disease free manicured green sward.
Laurence Pithie MG
Turf Master One Ltd
|Early in the Month||1st - 15th April|
Quickly complete any unfinished winter work projects, they should have all been done and dusted by now.
Spring renovation works to greens, tees and approaches will be at the forefront of work schedules. verticutting, aeration, top dressing followed by overseeding and applications of appropriate fertilisers products.
|Later in the Month||16th April - onwards|
As soil and air temperatures rise into double figures grass growth will increase, more frequent mowing will be required to control growth.
April is also a good time to consider the use of growth retardants, wetting agents and bio stimulants to help improve the condition of your playing surfaces.
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 program 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.
Previous core holes may be slow to recover and this is often due to inadequate amounts of sand being applied. Perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves that standard 13mm coring tines set at 75mm depth and at 50 x 50mm spacing requires about 3 tons of dry sand to completely fill the holes.
For those opting to deep scarify for thatch removal, it is preferable to wait until 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 top dressing should follow and if the environmental conditions favour the introduction of new seed then go ahead at the recommended rate prior to top dressing 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, sarel 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. An application of Primo-Maxx growth regulator 5 days in advance of such work at the recommended rate, will help to reduce competition from Poa annua. 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 plants needs, supported by soil analysis which is usually carried out in March prior to products being applied. 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 top dress 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 program.
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 14mm 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. The application of a suitable moss control product with a small level of Nitrogen can be applied from around early April, followed in about 10 days 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, then 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 enough to accommodate the expected levels of wear.
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 & 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. Should a more 'cosmetic' approach be required to add improved colour and definition, then a WSP (water soluble product) mix of Urea and Iron will suffice; this should cost under £300.
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 (assuming a high sulphur content), 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 program of maintenance.
If growth remains weak, then fertilise as per the greens surrounds and consider whether to include a selective herbicide for a 'feed and weed' application. Recently re-turfed areas may require additional top dressing 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 but do not apply in windy conditions.
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 with 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.
Equipment & Irrigation: 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, but if not, then a sense of urgency is required in case of a dry Spring. Also see last month's comment on irrigation.
Compound: 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, PGR's and selective herbicides. Records need to be updated, bags and cartons disposed of properly and the compound maintained in a tidy and organised manner.
Staff: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.