Drought orders throughout most of England, and record rainfall levels in April! It can only happen in the UK. Ironically, April 2011 was the driest month of that year. Many turf managers recorded the last early morning frost on the 15th of April, which was then followed by 15 consecutive days of rain.

Not only did it severely curtail work programmes in the southern half of the UK, but it also had a negative impact on revenue, with at least one weekend wash-out. So, at least for the time being, any concerns about not being able to water the greens have been temporarily halted. With ground conditions now being the reverse of last month, there has been an improvement in growth and recovery.

However, that was tempered with the need for traffic control measures, some 'winter' sanding and ensuring that water drained away from the main playing surfaces as quickly as possible. This, of course, was being carried out while early season preparation work was continuing. With the inevitable sand wash-outs, where steep sand faced bunkers exist, it was often one step forward and then back again, as this became a constant requirement.

The one benefit, however, was to highlight the need for change. So, after a soggy start to the playing season, what does the next month herald? For the first week at least, it is more of the same, although temperatures are on the rise and, with it, growth and increased mowing.

A settled spell of dry weather and more sunshine is long overdue, so hopefully the remainder of the month will be more beneficial. That being the case, the frequency of mowing will intensify and average day time temperatures should reach 14° - 15° Celsius.

On average, the longer periods of sunshine and warmer weather should lead to steady growth and full recovery from winter wear, whereby by the end of the month, good playing conditions and course presentation levels should satisfy the majority of golfers.

For the next 8 weeks or so, UK growth reaches a peak, therefore the emphasis will be on mowing frequency, as long as sufficient moisture remains within the soil. As witnessed last month, conditions have a habit of changing quickly, therefore it is best to be prepared for any eventuality.

Laurence Pithie MG
Turf Master One Ltd

Early in the Month 1st - 15th May

Hopefully, we should see a rise in soil and air temperatures that will encourage grass growth, so the main emphasis will be to ensure all mowing regimes are up to speed.

Presentation skills will be at the forefront of the staff, ensuring the course looks good and performs well.

Later in the Month 16th May - onwards

Keep an eye on fertiliser programmes, ensure you are giving the plant what it wants in terms of NPK ratios.

Also consider using other supplements to aid shoot and root growth, seaweed extracts, biomass sugars and amino acids.

Key Tasks for May
A1 Deep scarifying and sanding green

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 or less, there will be a need to supply the turf with 'little and often' applications of foliar feed, consisting of mainly Nitrogen, with other nutrients and ingredients such as Potassium and Seaweed extracts added to the mix, as required and 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. Sarrel 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 root-zone, thus encouraging the turf to root deeper.

Should conditions return to being dry again during May, then irrigate deeply, but infrequently and supplement with hand watering and wetting agent gel to any ridges, shoulders or raised areas. This, of course, is based on the assumption that at least some water will be available for irrigation in the areas of England where drought orders remain in place. 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 above 10° Celsius, recovery will be quicker. In order to remove as much decaying material as possible, the greens should be deep scarified using 3 to 4mm 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.

If not using a sand injecting machine, then topdress immediately afterwards in order to direct sand into the grooves. This will further dilute the level of thatch, as well as firming up the playing surface. This is also a good opportunity to overseed since the open grooves provide an ideal seedbed. However, if a substantial amount of thatch remains, then now is probably not the time to be overly aggressive.

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 are unlikely to survive. Routine brushing and grooming will continue as and when required, along with periodic verti-cutting, but avoid the latter if greens have been overseeded.

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. Best results are obtained when mixed with a small amount of foliar Nitrogen and Iron.

Useful Information for Greens

Articles Products
Parkstone Golf Club - an ecologically sensitive site Fine Turf Fertilisers
Tees and Surrounds
A2 Walk mowing front approach with Toro 1000

Tees:- 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, generally between 10 and 15mm with frequency at two or three times per week, preferably with clippings being 'boxed-off'.

A further general feed is unlikely during the month, but an application of Primo Maxx will prove beneficial, especially if irrigation coverage is weak or water supply limited. Adding just a small amount of Nitrogen to the mix will again prove beneficial.

Apart from the possible need for selective weed control, it is unlikely that 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 and cleanliness of tee accessories that are important to the golfers.

Any winter tees previously renovated may need another overseed and dressing, if recovery has been slow or inconsistent. Also, check that there is good irrigation coverage to the teeing surface.

Surrounds:- Mowing will now be the main requirement, with collars being cut at least twice per week at the same mowing height as the tees, or perhaps lower. 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. However, the lower the mowing height, the greater the likelihood of drought stress and possible 'scalping' of undulating features.

This certainly needs to be taken into consideration where water use is restricted. Any traffic control measures at this time of year should now be limited to essential areas only, and be of a discreet nature unless wet weather continues. As per tees, an application of a selective herbicide may be required, albeit more likely to be on a spot controlled basis for dandelions, daisies and plantains mainly.

Useful Information for Tees and Surrounds

Articles Products
Revetting pot bunkers - under the cover of darkness! Golf Mixtures
Fairways and Rough
A3 Early wet mowing and the need for blowing

Fairways:- By early 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 apply as per tees and surrounds.

Roughs:- 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. This is one of the golfer's pet hates, so this aspect needs to be constantly under review during periods of strong growth.

Useful Information for Fairways and Rough

Articles Products
The anatomy of a golf course - fairways Golf
A4 Re distributing sand after wash out

Bunkers:- 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 and removal of any stones or other debris. 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.

Useful Information for Bunkers

Articles Products
The anatomy of a golf course - Bunkers Sand
Pest, Disease and Disorders
StIves Disease

Disease:- Take-All Patch, which is a soil borne pathogen, 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, thus highlighting the need for regular soil analysis as well as good observation and record keeping. This allows any changes in fertiliser programmes to be based on having accurate data, thus an informed decision can be made. Chemical control can be attained by using products containing Azoxystrobin.

Turf Disorders:- Dry patch and drought stress are likely to be the most common turf disorders during May, unless there are long term issues such as nutrient deficiency, black layer, thatch and so on. Regarding the former, and as already mentioned under 'Greens', the key is to act early and ensure that both water and wetting agent penetrate the rootzone. 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, such as yellow suckling clover.

Useful Information for Pest, Disease and Disorders

Articles Products
Managing Bentgrass Diseases Fungicides & Turf Disease
Other Tasks for the Month
  • 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, but best to choose a calm day, preferably early in the morning and ahead of play.

  • Trees: Any remaining work around tree bases with glyphosate should also 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 relevent, 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.

  • 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 the frequency of breakdowns. This is good practice and adds weight to any future request for replacement equipment. Irrigation usage will have been limited up until early April this year. 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. Where water is in short supply for whatever reason (drought order, storage etc), then judicious use along with the use of wetting agents and other sensible management practices ie mowing height, will help to maintain good turf quality.

  • Stock Control: 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.