Expected weather for this month:

The forecast is for frost, snow and freezing temperatures

Looks like we could be in for quite a harsh winter. As always advised, keep off frost affected turf; walking on it will cause the brittle leaves to break, thereby causing severe damage and, in some cases, death of the plant. If in doubt, stay off.

Many clubs will be well into their winter works programmes. This is often associated with drainage improvements around the course or may include refurbishment, new build or extensions to bunkers, tees and greens.

Most leaves will have fallen by now, so a last big tidy up before Christmas usually sees the back of this annual task. The job of clearing up these leaves and debris will be a priority. Allowing leaves to rot on your sward will lead to turf damage. Switching, brushing, blowing or caning the greens each morning will be a priority task to remove any leaf debris and early morning dew.

As we head towards the winter months, soil and air temperatures will be dropping and early morning frosts will become a familiar sight to most groundsmen.

Key Tasks for December

After autumn renovations, most course managers/greenkeepers will be looking to increase mowing heights on greens and tees by 1-2mm, with many factors dictating the height of cut - soil type, grass species and golf traffic.

Other tasks that complement this work involve the use of grooming and verticutting units to remove unwanted thatch and side shoot growth.

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 next 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. Height of cut during the winter between 50-100mm.

As we progress through the month, air temperatures are likely to lower, with many courses experiencing morning frosts. It is important to prevent people from walking over the grass surfaces (preventing surface damage to the sward) during frosty conditions. Courses should be kept closed if possible during heavy frosts. The decision to close the course, or parts of the course, should be down to the Course Manager/Head Greenkeeper. Effective communication is essential to inform all parties of the decision. This is usually in the form of signage and messages to confirm the reason and the expected time the course, or parts of the course, will be closed.

This may also involve the restriction on using buggies and, in some instances, trolleys on the course. Winter tee mats and temporary greens may also come into play, with many golf courses resting their competition tees and greens.

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 time per week during wet periods.

Fertiliser programmes are not generally carried out after November due to the change in air and soil temperatures as most turf grasses usually start to become 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 the nutrient status of the green.

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 fall, leaving many bunkers in a poor state (washing out sand from bunker faces). Repair works may be necessary.

Bunker construction work may be ongoing in December, subject to ground conditions allowing for transport of materials around.

Aeration of tees will continue throughout the winter when weather conditions allow. 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 soil profile. Encouraging deeper rooting of fairway grasses is important. Deeper rooted grasses are more likely to overcome stresses during the following year.

December heralds the beginning of the meteorological winter and, consequently, inputs are at a minimum as cold soil temperatures slow metabolic activity of both microorganisms and plants to a crawl. As always, keeping an eye on weather forecasts is fundamental in being able to make decisions regarding inputs.

If cool humid conditions prevail, there may still be a risk of fungal diseases. Accordingly, timings of fungicide and plant stimulating nutrition, such as calcium, phosphite and silicon, can be made in suitable weather windows for spraying. It is worth noting that calcium and silicon, in particular, will aid the plant in resisting abiotic (environmental stress) in the form of frost, snow and harsh desiccating winds. Maximising the baseline level of soil and plant health going into harsh environmental conditions will greatly aid the quality of surfaces for longer.

Cold conditions require a move away from systemic fungicides, with iprodione generally being the active of choice for many. 

Be aware that withdrawal of iprodione is pending and you will not have this tool in the locker the same time next year.

Where disease outbreaks have occurred, target dormant spores in the thatch with an application of fludioxonil; this should be done in-between disease outbreaks but not during. The reason for this is due to the fact that, during outbreaks, spores are not spores but rather active disease now going through its life cycle with the aim of creating more spores as its end goal. This tactic of applying fludioxonil will reduce the background population and minimise the severity of further outbreaks once weather conditions for disease proliferation occur.

Chlorothalonil is another contact active ingredient which can be employed at this time of year. Hopefully, a well thought out disease management plan is being employed where timings of non-pesticidal plant nutrition is factored around appropriate fungicide treatments, which pay attention to the correct rotation of the relevant fungicide groups of the active ingredients being chosen.

Avoiding back to back applications of the same groups is a core responsibility for adhering to best practice and managing pathogen resistance. The FRAC website has more details and Syngenta provide some good practical information of how their products can best fit into this important consideration.

Dew may still be heavy at times, contributing to the problem of leaf canopy humidity which, in turn, leads to the spread of fungal pathogens. Removal of dews is a core fundamental cultural control for turf managers in all situations and should remain so. However, dews can be reduced by the application of a dew dispersal agent which will act to stop them forming in the first instance. This adds another element into an integrated approach to disease management, particularly on any persistently damp days when dews re-form post brushing. The key here is to minimise the period of continual leaf blade wetness as much as possible.

An important point of note when using dew dispersants; for best efficacy and longevity, they MUST be applied to a dry leaf.

Another tactic in the integrated locker is penetrant wetting agents. We are all familiar with using wetting agents to help prevent against dry patch in the summer, where they either facilitate the ingress of rain and irrigation into the profile or spread and hold it once it is in there. The flip side of this is using penetrant wetting agents in the autumn and winter to facilitate the efficient passage of water away from the surface and through the profile towards drainage systems. This has two advantages; firstly, by moving water faster through heavier soils or thatchy surfaces prone to waterlogging, you help to maintain an appropriate air/water ratio in the soil. This helps to stop the microorganisms you have spent all summer promoting from drowning. The other factor is that beneficial mycorrhizae and saprotrophic (composting) fungi really don’t like to be waterlogged. If you keep getting thatch build up on waterlogged areas which you know are not overfed, it is probably because the soil system cycle designed to degrade the organic matter is breaking down each and every autumn and winter once it becomes waterlogged.

A further benefit from using a penetrant wetting agent is that the better water penetration from the surface also helps to reduce canopy humidity, and thus the risk of fungal disease.

Aeration is a key activity to maintain throughout the winter, in whatever way possible. Be careful not to drive over waterlogged or wet ground, or also disturb surfaces with holes which will not heal in good time. Little and often with star, slit and sarrel tines, whenever possible, is probably best, especially if you have already been able to aerate deeper in the autumn. Again, the aim is to maintain a health air/water ratio for the benefit of soil life and plants.

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

James Grundy – Senior Technical Manager

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.

Specialist 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.)

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

Current discussion topics on the Pitchcare Forum:

Worms
Fertiliser