Key Tasks for April
With spring renovations well underway, most courses will be looking to aerate the greens and get some new topdressing materials back into the surface to restore levels and maintain surface porosity.
Choice of aeration varies between solid tine and hollow tine spiking depending on your goals, with the aim of getting some air back into the soil profile. Vert-draining using solid tines to a good depth (preferably >8 inches) should help the roots to start chasing the moisture down the soil profile, providing the sward with a stronger root system, which is the foundation of plant growth success.
This will be followed by topdressing with a compatible rootzone material. Do not over-do the topdressing rates; you do not want to smother your sward. The type of sand used in topdressings is vitally important, and you should be aware that most sand sales in the UK are for other uses. The sports turf market is small in comparison, so be careful if you are offered cheap materials, as these can be finer, differ in shape, colour, lime content and be more interpacking than the sands specified for sports turf.
For golf courses, the dominant particle range in the sand should be medium sand (0.250mm to 0.5mm).
The amount of topdressing will vary dependant on your needs. However, in the spring you would be looking to spread between half to one and half tonnes of material per green (2 to 3mm of material per m2). Many Greenkeepers are now topdressing on a monthly basis, a little and often approach.
Feeding programmes should be determined by soil analysis. Obtaining nutrient levels for greens, tees and fairways will provide essential information that can be used to help choose the appropriate fertiliser product for your given turf surface. There are a wide range of fertiliser products now available and tailored to stimulate healthy grass growth.
It is important that your mowing machines are serviced regularly and are set up accurately, ensuring that both the height of cut and blade sharpness are correct. Damaged blades affect sward quality.
Irrigation systems should have been tested and calibrated by now, there is a need to ensure that all sprinkler heads are working and delivering the appropriate amount of water to the turf. You should calibrate your sprinklers at least once a year to ensure the spray pattern and coverage is sufficient for your needs. This can be done by placing out a number of catch cans on your green and measuring the amount of water collected. You may be surprised to find how much your sprinklers are actually delivering. There may be a need to irrigate during spring renovation programmes, as air temperatures and daylight hours are getting longer, increasing the likelihood of the ground and surfaces drying out.
Once these spring renovations are completed, you can then get on with the daily routines of maintenance.
Now, mowing operations are in full swing, with frequencies varying from daily to weekly operations dependant on the growth of the grass and the standards set by the course managers.
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 season.
* Greens - height should be maintained at around 4-6mm.
* Tees - height should be maintained at around 10-15mm.
* Fairways - height should be maintained at around 15-20mm.
* Rough, semi rough grass areas - mow and tidy up these areas.
Ensure you clean your mowers after use (wash down or blow off ), ensure you apply some WD 40 or similar oil based lubricant on the cutting cylinder after washing down. Keeping them clean makes the job of checking cutting heights and maintaining the bottom blades easier.
Hole changing should be carried out regularly, at least three time s per week as a general rule; however, frequency will be dependant on a number of factors - green size, greens construction, tournaments, amount of play and condition of the green. During any 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.
Ponds, lakes and streams - Inspect all water features on course, cleaning out any unwanted debris and litter. Some clubs arrange for their ponds to be dredged to clean them out while at the same time recovering any stray golf balls.
Tee boxes, tee markers and competition markers should be inspected daily, cleaned and moved to new tee positions as required.
Regularly empty litter bins/tee boxes.
Mark out trolley areas, out of bound site areas, ground under repair (GUR) and range markings.
Estimate and order seed, loams and fertilisers, fuels and other consumables.
Adequate temperature, light and water are the key drivers of plant growth. Whilst the sun continues to rise on a daily basis, light of one intensity or another remains available consistently. At any time of the year, and particularly during April when there tends to be disparity between day time highs and night time low temperatures, accompanied by dry periods without rainfall, often the trend these days, over and above the ‘April showers’ of yesteryear, adequate temperature and water are the two factors which determine grass growth. As always, the key to success is looking ahead and factoring in strategies to keep in front of the curve whilst, at the same time, reflecting back as to what lessons can be learned.
On winter sports pitches, maximising spring recovery growth from the winter with good quality sports turf fertilisers increases the sward density ahead of the end of season. This is something which potentially allows for a reduction in the volume of overseeding requirement during renovations. For amateur clubs, this is a key consideration, especially given the reduced seed harvest yield in 2018 as a consequence of the long dry summer; a factor which was compounded by high demand across droughted areas, necessitating manufacturers to dip into stores of the 2018 crop in the autumn of the same year; a course of action required by turf managers needing to repair dead patches before the winter.
Here we sit then in spring 2019, with reduced availability of seed and increased demand as turf managers again dip into the depleted 2018 harvest to tackle areas which did not recover adequately. The outcome of this situation in the supply chain is increased demand, clashing with decreased availability. The consequence is less choice and increased price.
The reason I raise this is for awareness. It is important that turf managers are aware of such a situation and how it came to be. The situation is of course a consequence; a consequence of an extreme weather pattern, and one which is predicted to increase in probability over the coming years.
The key consideration then for turf managers is how does this potentially affect my club and what can I learn for the future? In the case of availability for the 2018 seed harvest throughout the 2019 growing season, it may well be:
- You can’t get exactly what you want.
- You can’t get it when you want it.
- It will cost more.
The contemplative questions for the turf manager are;
- How will that affect my maintenance timings?
- How will that affect playing surface quality?
- How will that affect my budget?
The overriding point here is; greater unpredictability of the climate leads to more uncertainty in respect of what we can do, when we can do it and for how much money.
Anyone who wishes to ride the ups and downs of these unpredictabilities in a smoother fashion, with less buffeting and a more consistent product for players, will be an individual who factors in flexibility of their approach with respect to planning maintenance operations, and is able to communicate that requirement effectively to their members, players and wider stakeholders.
For example; dry soils in October and November 2018 would have benefited enormously from applications of penetrant wetting agents in a bid to capture as much available rain all as possible and channel it down into the soil profile. It is then positioned to act as a reservoir for 2019. Areas which are still dry only a few inches below the surface will burn off much faster than in 2019 than they did in 2018. In turn, lower water resource in the soil means that plant stress will be encountered with less cumulative dry days, and likely sooner in the year than in 2018 when water was in good supply. As a result, implementing block-copolymer wetting agent programmes and checking irrigation efficiency this April are actions more important than ever.
These examples of consequence from extreme climate is of course something which is not sport specific, golf fairways, tees and surrounds, football pitches, bowling greens and cricket outfields are all effected equally alongside grassed amenity spaces. Would a penetrant wetting agent, at relatively low cost per hectare, applied in autumn 2018 have gone some way to help mitigate a potential problem in 2019?
Another example which is prevalent on many areas where grass died and did not recover well in the autumn is weeds and moss recolonising these areas faster than the grass plants. This may well require such areas to be sprayed with a selective herbicide as we get towards the end of April and into May. Is this something which has been budgeted for? If it is not undertaken, what are the consequences for consistent turf quality moving forward?
In areas which had suffered from the 2018 drought, one should be mindful that not all grass is equal. I was stood on a bowling green with a gentleman only two weeks ago, who happily proclaimed that even though the green had been rendered completely brown in summer 2018, it was fine now that a coverage of grass was infilling the worst of the extensive bare patches.
A discerning eye revealed the grass growing in these areas to be almost entirely poa annua; a weak, shallow rooted annual species evolved in the wild to rapidly colonise shallow soils, flower and then shed the seed of the next generation as quickly as possible. A trait evolved in preparation of the weather turning dry over the summer, quickly forcing it to enter dormancy then death. The truth on the green in question was that whilst grass is returning, it is not a grass which will provide a sustainable and good quality playing surface once water and warmth are not at optimum levels. Unlike perennial grass species, poa annua will be the first species to cause a problem by checking out once the going gets tough.
The overriding message from these examples is intended to be; don’t rely on what worked last year to suffice this year - always be looking ahead, by asking questions and seeking answers for how to deal with what lies around the corner.
At this time of the year, it is important that all machinery is in good condition and well maintained. Machinery downtime, due to lack of maintenance or poor set-up, can be costly. As the weather continues to improve, you will be all-out to keep your course in tip top condition.
Courses with their own workshop and mechanics will be at an advantage. Those without such luxuries need to be ahead of the game - all machinery should have been serviced and back in action by now.
Having a good wash down facility is an essentail tool for keeping equipment clean; it is a wise investment.
Grounds Training was established in 2006 to provide a complete and unique service delivery training courses for the sports turf industry. We are now the go-to provider for on-site, bespoke training for groups. Alongside our renowned turf maintenance which now includes Lantra accredited Online courses. Grounds Training also works with the industry’s awarding bodies – Lantra and City & Guilds (NPTC).
Open courses for individuals to join are also offered at our Allscott (Telford) Training Centre, Most courses lead to Lantra Awards or NPTC qualifications; a small number of niche courses where the instructor is an experienced groundsman who is also Lantra Awards or NPTC registered, offer Pitchcare certification.
Whether your staff are involved with preparing and maintaining sports turf, operating ground care machinery and equipment or require a safe use of pesticides qualification, we have the course to suit them.
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