Key Tasks for December
As ever, the advice below is very much weather dependent; with frost or flooded areas, it is better to keep off.
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 areas 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.
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.
Looking ahead to December, we are fast approaching the festive season, and for many this can be a time of reflection. Unfortunately, this will undoubtably be a break from a ‘normal’ Christmas period, with new lockdown restrictions now in place and a return to the national tier system. We will, however, take this in our stride and make the most of the circumstances, as we have done throughout this year and adapting as best we can. I’m sure as many people look back over this year, there will be a mixture of emotions, both personally and professionally, with everyone having their own individual circumstances to manage and deal with.
Early December looks forecast to continue much on the same path as November with moderate conditions for the time of year of both temperature and rainfall. This does look like it will break around halfway through the month, making way for some more unsettled weather and a higher volume of rainfall. Those who have had staffing levels at full capacity through the last lockdown will have hopefully been able to make good progress with any project work planned. We have again seen mild temperatures in the run-up to the end of the year, with conditions in November not being too dissimilar to what you would expect in October. As noted in November’s diary, this means careful management is needed.
One of the main challenges that still remains is the management of fungal diseases throughout this period, such as Microdochium nivale (previously known as Fusarium patch). November is typically a high-pressure month and, although mild conditions can increase the disease pressure at times, it can also mean that there is still the opportunity of achieving some recovery from any outbreaks that occur with some new growth. As we move into December, with temperatures decreasing, albeit quite slowly, the amount of recovery that is achievable is also going to decrease. Turf managers will need to utilise the timing of any plant health promoting or plant protection product applications. Prevention is certainly better than the cure with the chemistry that is currently available in the market.
With wetter weather forecast for later in the month maintaining an aerobic soil for as long as possible will be key. The best chance of achieving this is through carrying out aeration practices at the appropriate time and in the most suitable ground conditions. Taking machinery over surfaces, when conditions aren’t suitable, will cause more damage than bringing benefits and sometimes the hardest decision is to stay off the turf. Subsequently, poorly timed operations can lead to surfaces being wetter, through water being held in the soil profile rather than being allowed to drain away. Preparation is key, planning the most appropriate method for the individual site given, available machinery, budgets, resources etc…
Many beneficial microorganisms thrive in a balanced soil with adequate levels of available oxygen. It is important that we ensure our soils are not depleted of this essential element and we keep them as oxygenated as possible. If soil structure is compromised and becomes compacted or waterlogged for periods of time then anaerobic species, organisms that don’t require oxygen, will become more dominant. This can have a negative effect on turf health. Anaerobic bacteria prefer an environment without oxygen and many pathogenic bacteria also prefer these soil conditions, with the ability to outcompete or kill off aerobic bacteria in the right conditions. Therefore, we do not want to promote conditions that will favour this environment.
Nutrition may still need to be applied to meet the needs of the plant and encourage recovery from play. Following on from November, inputs should contain the right source and amount of nitrogen which will not encourage soft, lush growth. Applied in modest amounts, further applications can always be made if required. With soil temperatures still not dropping particularly low, biostimulants are not to be overlooked at this time of year. Again, the change in seasons puts greater emphasis on evaluating the present environmental conditions rather than following the calendar month. Applications of seaweed, humic acids and amino acids will elicit important beneficial defensive and stress responses in the plant.
Worms show no sign of stopping, causing major issues for managing turf surfaces. The mild and moist climatic conditions continue to favour their presence and activity. There are no legal controls for earthworms and any product which is applied to directly affect them is done so illegally. Continue with cultural management practices, such as localised surface acidification, removal of grass clippings to reduce their food source and sanding of surfaces to assist in the drying out and dispersal of casts. Sulphate of iron is often used as a surface acidifying agent, but it is worth considering that over application may lead to an accumulation of iron in the soil and reduction of pH, causing long term imbalances and negative effects to plant health throughout the rest of the year.
2020 will be a year that is remembered for years to come, we’ve all had many obstacles to overcome both at work and in our personal lives. Although there is still a long way to go, hopefully we can look forward to 2021 with a sense of optimism for the things that can be achieved. Enjoy the Christmas period, in whatever capacity is possible in your region, celebrate the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, and fingers crossed for a good year.
It is important to maintain machines by carrying out regular servicing and repairs.
As grass growth slows down, use the time to take some machines out of operation for an overhaul.
- Inspect and clean machinery after use.
- Maintain a stock of consumables for your machinery, replace worn and damaged parts as necessary.
- Secure machinery nightly with good storage facilities and strong locks
- Record makes and models and take pictures of your equipment as additional referencebetter still, take pictures of your equipment.