Expected weather for this month:

Unsettled start with colder spells to follow

There's always a good chance of frost in 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.

As we enter mid-winter, January presents a continuation of good winter time agronomic practices, as described in the December diary.

Practices which should, as always, be driven by the climate. If warmer conditions prevail, then very light applications of fertiliser can be considered if the plant looks to be struggling. Be aware of waterlogged soils and low light causing stress which may lead to plants responding better to liquid applications. Try to aim for brighter days when the plant will be slowly photosynthesising, leading to better uptake.

Warm and wet provides opportunity for fungal pathogens to take hold. Keeping an eye on forecasts and applying the cell wall thickening calcium and plant defence stimulating phosphite are sound strategies backed up by research. Remember, contrary to traditional belief, iron does not harden turf, the element plays no role in physically strengthening or “hardening” the plant.

Iron is involved in the synthesis of chlorophyll and is essential for chloroplast and mitochondrial function due to its role within the electron transport chain. Thus, it is required for a wide range of biological functions including enzyme activation and plant respiration. In short, Iron will act as a catalyst for plant function and chlorophyll production, but remember magnesium is the central atom in the chlorophyll molecule so concentrate on making sure magnesium levels are sufficient first.

The other thing to remember about iron is it is a micronutrient, required in low levels by grass plants, with the majority of soils containing an excessive quantity which is antagonistic to the availability and uptake of; Zinc, Phosphorus, Copper, Manganese, Calcium

It is worth bearing in mind that, among other things:

  • Zinc is important for – cold weather tolerance
  • Phosphorus is important for – respiration and energy transfer
  • Copper is important for – stress response
  • Manganese is important for – resisting root pathogens
  • Calcium is important for building thick cell walls able to withstand abiotic (environmental) and biotic (pathogenic) stress.

As we can see, appropriate levels and availability of all these elements are going to provide the plant with more direct assistance in withstanding midwinter challenges than iron.

Many people will state that they experience iron curing disease and, for many years, iron applications have been the perceived wisdom throughout the winter. However, effect is not always directly correlated to cause.

Liquid iron fertilisers, soluble iron and iron in granular fertilisers is present as ferrous sulphate. These ingredients have a low pH, generally around pH 2-3. Research undertaken by ICL at the STRI consistently shows that when ferrous sulphate is applied in the traditional manner i.e. prophylactically as a preventative, it offers suppression of Microdochium nivale barely distinguishable from control. Applied as a curative, it offers around a 50% reduction. On the face of it, that may sound reasonable as a curative. It is worth considering why it has some effect as a curative. The answer is that the acidity is antagonistic to the disease pathogen, at the same time that same acidity is antagonistic to plant beneficial microorganisms living in the phyllosphere (on the leaf) and in the rhizosphere (around the root).

A modern more technically astute way to achieve the same effect is by applications of phosphite PO3 (note; not phosphate P2O5) which, by acting to stimulate natural plant defences, is a way to achieve the same effect without the negative effect on plant beneficial microorganisms.

Phosphite works by stimulating plant defensive substances such as phytoalexin, which attacks the disease as it attempts to invade. Stimulation of plant carbon compounds assist in strengthening cell walls and further signal mechanisms proactively alert other cells to the danger.

As we zoom at breakneck-speed towards the 2020s, this kind of science based informed knowledge, as a result of modern analytical techniques and understanding, will increasingly inform turf managers approach to healthy grass plant management.

The suggested points to take from this are two fold

  1. Beware simply repeating traditional thinking out of habit.
  2. Seek to understand the why and how of all products you apply.

On that theme, January is traditionally a time for preparation; fertiliser programmes will be at the forefront of everyone’s minds but consider also;

  • Wetting agent programmes
  • Fungicide programmes
  • Insect pest control programmes

Writing things down, such as the date to put out chafer grub monitoring traps or apply the first polymer wetting agent, can be the start of a plan likely to be actioned.

Finally, and probably the most important agronomic principle for the winter months is to pay very close attention to the most important ingredient in your turf management armoury; yourself.

Hopefully, refreshed after a Christmas break now is a great time to assess and take action to plug gaps in your knowledge. We all have them, and the danger is we can quickly trick ourselves into thinking ‘everyone else knows more than we do, when they don’t’. It is also easy to fall straight back into the routine and ‘not have time’, but it is important to make time.

Across the industry, 2017 has been yet another year of environmental and legislative challenges, with 2018 and beyond set to continue that trend.

The prepared will prevail and the first step of preparedness is stopping, considering and openly taking in knowledge.

  • BTME is running during the third week of January and presents a fantastic opportunity to gain knowledge through the continue to learn programme.
  • The sum of human knowledge is at our fingertips via the internet.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions of peers and be open to considering new approaches.
  • Quiz Technical Sales Managers who visit your site, the good ones will have sound answers and may even be able to offer complementary training information to you and your teams from either themselves or Technical Managers.
  • Most importantly, remember: Stop – Make Time – Consider – Openly take in knowledge – Be Prepared

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.

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.)

Basic Trees Survey and Inspection

More details about all the courses can be found here, or you can email Carol Smith 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:

Wetting Agents