Widespread frost is forecast for January, so there will be many clubs closing courses or restricting play with the use of temporary tees and greens. As we all know, the effects of working or playing on frosty and frozen surfaces can be very damaging to the grass plant.
The running theme throughout the month is toughen and protect.
With low light levels and low temperatures, January represents mid-winter and anything you can do to maintain plant health now will pay significant dividends in February and, in particular, the spring when optimal health during the first tantalising growth periods allows you to get in front of the metaphorical performance curve.
Key Tasks for January
The advice below is very much dependent on the weather and the course conditions. Widespread frost is forecast, so the advice is, wherever possible, keep off the surfaces. In the event of any milder conditions, the following can be considered:
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 considerably at this time of year. 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 the current weather conditions, 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/frosty 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 plant will require a small quantity of nitrogen during any warmer periods; anyone who applied a slow release fertiliser in late October or November should still have some residual longevity to draw from. If conventional release fertilisers were used, then the 4-6 weeks longevity will be coming to an end. In this instance, it is vital to keep a close eye on turf for any signs of yellowing and lack of vitality. Applying a granular turf hardener, with an NPK analysis close to 4-0-4, will be suitable. Alternatively, a soluble fertiliser with some nitrate will also be useful in maintaining health.
Iron will continue to be an important micro nutrient to apply when looking to help guard against fungal disease pathogens by thickening plant cell walls. Calcium and phosphite are also important nutrients which can be applied as liquid sprays for this purpose.
With cold conditions forecast, then a similar principle can be applied with the same plant elements. In this instance, they work to help the plant tolerate the stresses and strains of frost and harsh desiccating winds. A granular slow release iron such as Maxwell Bullet Duragreen is a very sensible solution for providing a nice steady trickle of iron for up to three months.
Consider also applications of Magnesium along with iron, which as a key component of chlorophyll will help to maximise photosynthesis on long dark days.
Continue to monitor the weather for any any extended periods of warmth and humidity. Steady periods of milder temperatures, coinciding with dampness and minimal winds, are the most dangerous periods when guarding against Microdochium patch in particular.
As always, removing dews daily and avoiding nutritional stress are vital cultural controls. A contact fungicide containing Iprodione can be applied as protection when disease is active but, with any fungicide, early identification and action are absolutely crucial in achieving the best results.
If snow is forecast, then applying Iprodione to surfaces in advance will guard against disease spreading under a nice damp insulated blanket.
A sensible strategy to employ between outbreaks of disease is to apply a fungicide containing Fludioxonil. This active ingredient will attack fungal disease spores as they lie in wait for suitable weather conations to mount an attack. Fludioxonil disrupts the regulation of osmosis (osmoregulation) and results in the disease pathogen cells rapidly absorbing water to such a point that their cell walls can no longer maintain rigidity and explode, therefore nullifying the threat.
If your spraying equipment has not been checked for calibration and nozzle quality, then it is an operation worth undertaking as 10-20% of fungicide efficacy is reliant on the quality of the spray operation. Another way to look at this is 10-20% of the cost of a fungicide, or any other sprayed product for that matter.
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.
The start of the year 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.
January is also a time to reflect on the work achieved and what you want to plan for next year. Many golf clubs have their budgets set in January, so it is a good time to prioritise your spending .
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.
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
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