Expected weather for this month:

A cold and showery start to February is expected, followed by rain and strong winds

Many sports facilities in the north of England, north Wales, the Borders and Scotland will have been affected by flooding. Stay off your ground if it is waterlogged. If you are one of those affected, then flood advice can be found here - https://www.pitchcare.com/magazine/flood-advice.html

Moving through February, it will remain changeable, with unsettled, milder spells interspersed with colder, showery interludes. The most unsettled and windy weather is likely to occur in the north and northwest while the south and southeast should see somewhat drier conditions overall, though even here, some rain and strong winds are likely. Despite relatively mild conditions dominating, especially at first, some overnight frost and fog is quite probable.

If the frosty weather persists over a number of days, it could lead to a number of problems within your irrigation systems, hose pipes and outside taps. Ideally, any water carrying pipe work should be lagged or protected from frost damage, as this will lead to burst pipes and joints; make sure you keep an eye open for these leaks.

Key Tasks for February

With conditions little different to January, general maintenance will continue in the same vein but, hopefully, with less water in the ground.

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 6-8mm. 
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 winter between 50-100mm.

Aeration of greens, tees and fairways is ongoing when conditions allow. A wide range of solid, hollow or slit aerators are put to use on the playing surfaces. It is essential to keep the greens aerated to maintain air and gas exchange and alleviate compaction.

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. Continue or undertake bunker construction works, subject to ground conditions allowing for transport of materials. 

Inspect greens, tees, flags and hole positions for damage or vandalism. Vandalism often increases during the winter months.

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, resulting in a crowning affect and surface wear. 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.

Fertiliser programmes are tailored to suit the grass plants needs, in recent years we have seen a number of new products / bio stimulants that can be applied during the winter months to aid recovery and help the plant resist disease pathogens . 

Most turf grasses are dormant, slower growing. However, some greenkeepers may apply some liquid iron to keep the turf healthy and strong. USGA greens often do require some top up feeding during the winter to maintain nutrient status of the green.

The extreme waterlogging is causing some problems. If you managed to undertake a decent renovation at the end of last year, the mild temperatures have been kind and this will have grown well, however the Annual Meadow-grass is typically dragging its heels at this time of the year and there’s a large disparity between the perennial species, i.e. Bent and Fescue and the ephemeral opportunist which is Annual Meadow-grass. The moist surface and low light levels is leading to high levels of moss, mainly Bryum argenteum, Silver Thread-moss, a tufted acrocarpous moss which is equally at home on tarmac, so maybe an indication that surfaces are compacted but, with little opportunity to get on the greens with a machine, this is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. Aerating when ground conditions are unsuitable will lead to smearing the sides of the hole; lateral compaction means that the water is unable to percolate away from the hole.

Toadrush is also a problem as well as increased levels of thatch and black layer as anaerobic conditions continue to prevail.

Tough it out and aerate as much as possible as soon as conditions allow and, critically, NOT BEFORE. In the intervening time, be vigilant for Microdochium Patch and treat at the very first symptoms. As conditions improve, provide some much needed TLC and a good quality fertiliser to help the turf recover. In the long term, use biostimulants such as SeaAction liquid Seaweed and BioMass Sugar throughout the early part of the year to help the soil food web recover.

As with last month, greens will be sodden, if not saturated, with the grass roots desperate for some air. When they dry out sufficiently, try and do some aerating; the holes will close up nicely and you'll be surprised at how much difference it makes to the plant's recovery.

Temperatures are also unusually high, so a slow release low nitrogen feed will be in order to nourish a very hungry sward. Also, to harden the plan, an iron (ferrous sulphate) feed won't go amiss.

Aeration is the key to keeping the golf course open throughout the winter periods, especially on heavy soil courses. Various aeration programmes will continue when conditions allow, using a whole range of tines, solid, slit and hollow tines. A wide range of solid or slit aerators are put to use on the greens. 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.

Aeration of tees will continue throughout the winter when weather conditions allow.

When the ground conditions are favourable, aerate fairways 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 in the following year.

Worm activity can be quite prevalent during the winter months, especially during periods of mild weather. Keep an eye on the square and treat accordingly. Worm treatments can be carried out if needed, but please remember to ask yourself why worms are present. pH levels, organic matter and your cultural practices on the square need to be assessed. Carbendazim is now the only active ingredient available for controlling worms.

With pests such as rabbits, foxes and moles it a case of identifying the problem and controlling their activities; employing approved pest control services to eradicate them from site may be a solution.

The combination of early morning dews, warm and wet weather and diminishing daylight hours increases the risk of fungal disease outbreaks. The right conditions to trigger these disease attacks are weakened or susceptible plants, a disease-producing organism (pathogen usually fungi) and weather conditions which favour the formation of fruiting bodies and spores (moist, mild wet conditions).

The typical types of diseases you may come across this time of year are:

  • Fusarium Patch
  • Red Thread
  • Dollar Spot

Please note: More information on these and many others can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php

Servicing, repair and overhaul of mowing equipment should nearly be complete. Sharpening of reels and replacement of bottom blades are a key requirement, therefore it is important that all such replacement parts are in stock and readily available.

Now is also a good time to have an early spring clean, conducting a thorough clean up of mess rooms, toilets and garages. It is good Health & Safety practice to keep garages and working areas clean and tidy.

Pitchcare provide a range of courses suitable for golf courses. In most cases, the courses can be held on site using the club's own equipment and machinery.

New Courses:

Basic Management & Maintenance of Ponds and Wetland Areas

The Maintenance, History and Ecological Principles of Wildflower Meadows

Turf Science and Soil Science

Some of the other courses available are:

Chainsaws - CS30 and CS31

H&S Refresher Training on Combined Turf Care Equipment; Tractors and Trailers; All Mowers (Ride-on and Pedestrian)

Machinery Courses on ATVs; Tractors: Brushcutters/Strimmers; Mowers (ride-on and Pedestrian)

Pesticide Application (PA courses)

Stem Injection of Invasive Species (Japanese Knotweed etc.)

Basic Trees Survey and Inspection

More details about all the courses can be found here, or you can email Chris Johnson for information.

Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. It is during the winter months that most golf course managers/greenkeepers can evaluate the condition and performance of their drainage systems.

Inspect, check and empty all litter bins

Time to organise winter servicing of machinery

Keep stock of all materials

Tidy mess rooms and sheds