After such a cold wet winter period the thought of spring around the corner, and some warmer soil and air temperatures, should be the catalyst for some much needed grass growth.
The extreme wet weather has promoted a lot of moss and algae seen on greens, tees and fairways. The spring weather will be an ideal time to initiate some moss control with the application of sulphate of iron products to kill off the moss spores, following up with some light scarification/ verticutting to remove the dead moss as part of the spring renovations
Cutting regimes will increase in intensity to keep on top of grass growth and to maintain desired heights of cut. Once temperatures have risen above 8 degrees C, the grass plant will begin to photosynthesise, making use of any available plant nutrients in the soil.
Depending on soil type, the nutrient status of the soil will soon change once the grass plant starts depleting these nitrogen reserves. Sandy soils are more prone to the loss of nutrients by leaching and plant uptake than heavier clay and clay loam soils. Therefore, it is important to keep the soil replenished with the appropriate NPK fertilisers. A soil test will help determine your nutrient status and provide you with the information to choose and apply the correct balance of fertilisers for your course.
Most Greenkeepers tend to follow a traditional spring fertiliser programme which may be applied in either granular or liquid formulations. Some may well have already applied slow release products, something like a 30.8.8, which will activate when soil and air temperatures rise.
An application of a liquid iron fertiliser may be applied to the greens to give them some early season colour and harden them up a bit. Some seaweed meal can also be applied. Take care when applying fertilisers, ensure you have calibrated your spreaders/sprayers to ensure they are applying the designated rate of product. Also ensure you do not overlap when applying, thus double dosing your sward.
It is also the time to finish your winter works programmes. You will not have the time to undertake large jobs and keep on top of the regular grass cutting regimes that are about to begin.
Greenkeepers will be gearing themselves for their spring renovation works and preparing the course for the coming playing season. Hollow coring, solid tine spiking and topdressing will be the order of the day, however you do not want to be smothering the sward with too much topdressing material. Make sure you thoroughly brush and dragmat the material well down into any holes, leaving a clean level surface.
Mowing operations will have begun in earnest, however the frequency and height of cut will be dependent on the areas being mown and the type of sward composition you have.
It is time to recommision your watering systems, make sure you have trimmed around all sprinkler heads removing any grass growth that may affect their operation. Also, there may be some heads that have sunk and will require relevelling.
Brushing/Sweeping/Caning: Greens and Tees. Prior to mowing, the surface should be thoroughly brushed or switched. Continue to brush/switch greens and tees daily to remove moisture from the grass surface, stopping the spread of disease and facilitating an improved quality of cut on the dry grass.
Mowing frequencies will vary from daily to twice weekly operations dependant on the growth of the grass and the standards set by the course manager. Mowing heights may vary depending on local conditions, type of course, course expectations, sward type and mower type.
The mowing heights are a guide, and will be subject to local weather conditions, but remember not to remove more than 1/3 of total grass height in each cut. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this vital time the better the results further on into the coming season.
Greens. Mowing height should be maintained at around 3-5mm.
Tees. Mowing height should be maintained at around 10-15mm.
Banks. Mowing height should be maintained at 22-30mm
Fairways. Mowing height should be maintained at around 15-25mm.
Rough, Semi rough grass areas. Mow and tidy up these areas. Reduce build up of clippings by cutting little and often with a rotary or flail. Mowing height will depend on type of course and the standard of play required. Mowing height of cut during the spring between 50 to 100mm.
Hole Changing: Changing of holes should be carried out regularly, however frequency will be dependant on a number of factors, green size, green construction, tournaments, amount of play and condition of the green.
During wet periods it is likely the hole will wear more quickly. This wear is more apparent if the green has thatch problems. The hole will tend to wear quickly and form a depression caused by the placement of the golfers' feet. You may be looking to change the hole positions more than three times per week during wet periods.
Useful Information for Mowing
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Now that the soils are drying out you can achieve maximum effect from aeration activities:-
Greens. The type of aeration undertaken in March (solid or hollow tine) will be dependant on the condition of the green. However, many greenkeepers usually start the season with some hollow core aeration, followed by topdressing with a compatible 70/30 material, applying between 1-2 tons per green. It is essential to keep the greens aerated to maintain air and gas exchange in the soil profile, thus improving the drainage capabilities of the greens.
Tees. Aeration of tees will continue. Some greenkeepers will hollow core their tees and topdress with some 70/30 compatible material to restore levels.
Fairways. When the ground conditions are favourable, aerate with solid tines to increase air and gas exchanges in the soil profile. Encouraging deeper rooting of fairway grasses is important. Deeper rooted grasses are more likely to overcome stresses.
Useful Information for Aeration
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March is a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis, thus enabling you to get them back in time to start your new year's maintenance.
Ideally, if you have not had one done before you should have a full (PSD) Particle Size Distribution soil analysis done to tell you the actual make up of your soil profile.
Soil is made up of percentages of clay, silt and sand. The PSD Analysis will identify the ratio of these and confirm soil type, thus giving you a better understanding of what soil you are dealing with. Also, you can establish the amount of organic matter (OM) content as well as soil nutrient status and soil Ph. With this information you will be able to identify the needs of your soil.
Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis service that enables you to get specific results for the soils you manage. Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants. There is an optimum for each plant nutrient and when coupled with other properties such as soil structure and particle sizes determine how vigorous your plants are. Different nutrients undertake different tasks within the plant.
Fertiliser programme: if grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured):- Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results. With spring almost here, supplies should have been ordered and delivered ready for use.
Soil temperatures should and will begin to rise towards the end of February/early March, enabling the grass plant to make use of any fertilisers being applied. The grass plant's transpiration/respiration rates need to be active to initiate movement of soluble solutions from the soil into and through the plant's tissue.
Useful Information for Soil Testing
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Inspect, weed and rake bunkers. Repair any damage from rabbits or other animals, maintain sand up the face of the bunkers to prevent erosion and sand loss. Some golf courses experience flash floods during heavy rain, leaving many bunkers in a poor state (washing out sand from bunker faces). Repair works may be necessary.
Diseases: Greens, Tees and Fairways. Keep an eye on fungal disease attack. The recent snow cover may have stimulated some fusarium . The fluctuation in air temperatures may increase the likelihood of disease attack. Use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.
Pest control: Pests scrounging for food can cause a lot of damage on turf surfaces. Foxes have been known to regularly dig up old hole placements, night after night. Moles and rabbits are still very active. Badgers, once active, can cause a lot of damage. They can be very destructive when searching for food. Because badgers are a protected species, it is important you contact the local badger society for advice. They can help you find a solution to your problems. In one case the greenkeeper had to set up some feeding trails to entice the badger from feeding near or on the greens. This was achieved by laying dog food underneath a piece of wood which, over a period, was gradually moved away from the green. Birds feeding on grubs and insect larvae can cause severe surface damage.
Irrigation: Check and monitor all sprinkler head controls/valves to see that they are working, and check the spray patterns and timing of each and every sprinkler head. Also check any manual systems, hose pipes, sprinklers and pumps. Trim around sprinkler heads to ensure they can operate. Ensure the whole irrigation system is inspected and serviced prior to the new season starting, do not leave it too late to arrange your service requirements.
Ponds, lakes and streams: Inspect all water features on the course, cleaning out any unwanted debris and litter. Check all ditches and brooks, make sure the water is running easily, remove any debris that may affect the flow of the streams, brooks or ditches.
Amenity areas: Tidy up any flower and shrub borders around the club house and entrance. Spring flowering materials, such as pansies, bellis, polyanthus and wallflowers can still be planted, but don't delay. First impressions are important, the first areas a customer generally sees when entering the site are the beds and borders.
Inspect Course structures: The course, clubhouse, car parks. Check and repair fences, seating, shelters, bridges, litter bins, shoe and ball cleaners, signs and tee boxes.
Leaf collection: Continue to clean up tree debris from playing surfaces. It will be necessary to clean up this debris by sweeping or caning the playing surfaces. Daily inspections should be made to check on tree debris during stormy weather. Most golf courses have a range of sweepers and blowers that can be used for leaf and debris collection.
Machinery (Repairs & Maintenance): Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery. There is always new machinery coming onto the market, most dealerships will be glad to demonstrate their machinery to you. Take the opportunity to see and try out new bits of kit, especially if you can see it working on your own site. If you cannot afford new, there are many companies which specialise in second hand machinery. The reputable ones will allow you to trial before committing to a purchase.
Tee boxes, pegs: All tee boxes, tee pegs and competition markers should be inspected daily, cleaned and moved to new positions as required. Ensure all tee boxes and pegs are cleaned/repainted for the forthcoming summer season. Inspect signs, especially warning signs, remember to check that they are still valid and lawful.
Topdressing: Greens and Tees. Ensure you have enough topdressing material for any renovation or repair works carried out. Spring renovations start this month, ensure you have ordered enough material to complete your renovations (applying between 1-2 tons per green).
Tree Planting: It is now coming to the end of the tree and shrub planting time (March), particularly for bare root material. Ensure you have prepared the planting pits to accommodate the root ball of the tree and the tree is well staked. Be prepared to water these trees, ground conditions can soon dry out in the spring.
Weather Stations: It is important to keep daily records of information collected. Keeping a diary of air temperatures, sunlight hours, wind speed and rainfall are essential. This information is a valuable resource for making important management decisions. Remember to service and calibrate your weather station, check with suppliers for any upgrades or services.
Woodland and conservation areas: Strong winds can damage trees on golf courses. Inspect and repair or remove damaged trees and/or limbs. Check deer and rabbit guards on whips and saplings. Make a thorough check of general shrub and tree health and contact your local arboriculturalist if required.
Artificial Tees and Mats / Artificial Grass Systems: Some golf clubs may still be using winter tee mats. It is important to keep them clean and free of debris. Regular sweeping and brushing. Remove any algae and moss from surface. Sand filled systems require regular brushing to maintain manufacturer's recommendations for sand levels and pile heights.
Rubber Tee Mats: Keep clean. Some clubs have portable winter tee mats, best to clean before storing away.