The advice regarding frozen ground is, as ever, to keep off; you will do more harm than good working, or walking, on the surfaces.
Moving through February, the forecast is for it to remain changeable, with unsettled 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.
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.
When the frost has lifted, continue to brush/switch greens and tees 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 winter, 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.
February can be a month of two halves, as the early part sees out winter and the end heralds the oncoming spring. Warmer periods of air flow coinciding with an increasingly higher and brighter sun can illicit periods of growth, particularly if night time temperatures don’t fall too far. Conversely, cold air flow, short damp days and persistent rainfall can place stress on the grass plants whilst also actively assisting fungal pathogens.
Operational windows are equally affected by the weather, and often the periods which place pressure on surfaces are the ones which also restrict a turf manager’s ability to undertake preventative or curative maintenance.
Management of soils is a prime function of managing turf grass. No more important factor is the successful management of water. Too little and the soil food web, of which grass plants play a part, breaks down. At this time of the year, the problem tends to be too much water, leading to saturation which again breaks the balance of the soil food web as microorganisms essentially drown.
In this instance, keeping abreast of weather forecasts so that you are prepared to strike when ground or wind conditions are favourable for maintenance means you can act quickly.
In regards to soil water management, vertical deep tine aeration undertaken in the autumn will still be facilitating passage of water through the soil and hopefully into drainage systems. Maintaining a passage for water away from the surface is vital in allowing deeper fissures and tine holes to draw water. As a result, taking any opportunity to aerate with pencil, slit, star or sarel tines is an important priority.
The use of wetting agents in conjunction with good old fashioned aeration should also be considered at this time of the year. A penetrant type will break water tension allowing it to flow from the surface more efficiently. Conversely a high quality block co-polymer, sometimes referred to as a residual, will help to regulate the balance of water in the soil, by holding onto or releasing water through the profile. The ideal ratio being 50% solid, 25% water, 25% air.
Similar to fertilisers programmes, it is advisable to implement a wetting agent programme which formulates your surfactant applications thought the year. The high quality block co-polymer chemistry works as a preventative in the soil, actively balancing the soil water matrix as it builds up over time. Single applications will not be successful in overcoming evidence of hydrophobic soils as evidence by dry patch. Like many things, once you see the symptoms, it is indicating you should have acted much earlier to prevent them appearing. Block co-polymers take 3-4 months to build up in a soil to a point where the chemistry is working optimally. For this reason, in the UK applications, should start no later than March with frequencies as recommended by the manufacturer to avoid a drop-off in soil concentration, and thus positive effects.
Somewhat erroneously, wetting agents have had a bad reputation in certain quarters in respects to negative effects upon soil biology. Such perception should be reserved for curative wetting agents which, by necessity of their action, are designed to strip away the organic acids coated around soil particles. Being designed to work preventatively, block co-polymer wetting agents are not formulated in ways which have these effects. Research has even shown that they can have a beneficial effect on soil biology leading to increased fertiliser efficiency, improved fungicide effect, better drought tolerance when used with trinexapac-ethly, and reduced incidence of anthracnose disease.
The aim of high quality preventative block co-polymer wetting agents is to facilitate even distribution of water throughout the soil profile. Where this is not taking place, a lack of uniformity can facilitate ‘finger flow’, which is to say isolated preferential paths for water to move throughout the profile. During months such as February, this will not cause a problem on the surface as the baseline for soil moisture is so high. Once the summer months come around however, the spaces between these preferential paths will be the first to dry out and show up as dry patch.
Penetrant wetting agents can be used to break surface tension and aid the flow of water from the surface and through the soil; whether that be aeration holes or a freshly applied hydrophobic top dressing. Testing your top dressing for hydrophobicity by dripping droplets of water onto a sample is a prudent exercise. Anything more than 5 seconds to soak in signifies some level of hydrophobicity.
Nutrition requirement may pick up as the month progresses. Where the forecast is for cold and harsh or warm and damp, foliar applications of calcium and silicon will help the plant to stand up to the resultant biotic and abiotic stresses. Chelated iron should always be the option when attempting to elicit a green up, however the end of February or early March is the best time to apply iron sulphate. Aside from the green up, it will help to knock back moss which may have encroached over the winter and the sulphur will help to facilitate early season plant metabolic function.
Warm, damp, still days are perfect conditions for microdochium nivale activity. When temperatures are cold then make the most of those last applications of iprodione before the withdrawal from sales on 5th March 2018 and withdrawal from use of stocks on 5th June 2018
As soils warm, chafer grubs and leather jackets will begin to rise and pecking of surfaces may well begin. There are no treatments for the grubs at this time of the year, but monitoring and recording problematic areas in anticipation of nematode treatments in the summer is a key part of any integrated management plan.
Finally, take the guess work out of fertiliser programmes by investing a few pounds in a broad spectrum soil analysis. Remember, no one nutrient is more important than the other; it is only the quantity of each which the plant requires for health which varies. Obtaining a report now gives you a guideline and insight, both of which allow you to address deficiencies and balance out ratios through the oncoming season such that your turf surfaces are at their best.
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.
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