Key Tasks for April
With the lifting of restrictions, it will all hands to the deck as players return to the courses. Hopefully, most of the spring preparations and winter repair works will have been undertaken. Day to day maintenance will be full-on.
Mowing operations are in full swing, with frequencies varying from daily to weekly 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.
Looking back to last April, when we were starting off on the journey we have all been on over the last 12 months, thoughts were very much towards the unknown. Which seems in stark contrast to the current situation, certainly for those who manage sports surfaces. Since the announcements were made detailing the plans for a gradual lifting of restrictions and the commencement of some outdoor sports from the 29th March, turf managers up and down the country have been working tirelessly to get facilities into excellent condition for the return of their sport. The level of work which has been undertaken has been phenomenal and so have been the standards produced. Everyone has had their own set of circumstances, regarding staff levels, budgets etc… but the sheer level of professionalism to provide the best possible conditions is a credit to everyone in the industry.
Looking ahead to the long-term forecast, the predicted temperature increases for the end of March (mid-twenties in some southern regions) unfortunately don’t look set to continue long into April. Temperatures throughout April appear to be fairly conservative with only 2 days predicted to be 15° or above, a further key factor here is that night temperatures are also remaining low, with 23 out of 30 days at 4° or below. This is reflected in the daily growth potential sharply dropping off from around 75% to below 25% from the 1st up to April 7th. This contrasts with last year, at the beginning of the first lockdown, where we experienced excellent weather for the time of year.
The cold nights forecast around this point in the month will mean soil temperatures remain relatively modest and will not make a huge jump forward. Towards the end of the month, the night-time temperatures are predicted to rise, with the last 6 days all around 8°. This will have a positive impact on growth potential and, dependant on the forecast for May, could be the start of consistent growth.
With this is mind, plant stress is going to be a key part of turf management this month; particularly for those who have increased maintenance practices over the last month in preparation for the commencement of play, cultural aeration and top-dressing work followed by fertilisation to encourage recovery. The added stress of wear on top of the changing temperatures will lead to plant stress. The cooler temperatures indicate that growth will be moderate and therefore nutritional inputs need to follow on from this information. Trying to force continued growth is not recommended as it can lead to further issues. Instead, look to support the existing growth by applying small inputs of nutrition when conditions are suitable and additional inputs of plant health promoting products, to alleviate some of the added stresses.
Keeping disruption to a minimum over the coming weeks will be a focus for many turf mangers not wanting to have too much of an impact on playing surfaces. However, when thinking about the additional stresses the plant will be put under, continuing to carry out some light maintenance is recommended. Light aeration work will allow for the gaseous exchange and will also aid the movement of water down the profile. This will be most beneficial should there be a period of dry weather, which in recent years has not been un-common for April. Wetting agents can also be a useful tool in this regard, to ensure even distribution of moisture through the profile. They can be used periodically, but prevention can be better than the cure, and starting early in the season ahead of any prolonged dry periods can have a positive effect on plant health.
Given as of the 28th March we entered British Summer Time (BST), temperatures increase (maybe not until towards the end of the month) and daylight hours increase. This gives the plant more opportunity to carry out photosynthesis; more photosynthesis means more growth. Applications of simple sugars and carbohydrates can provide the plant with a readily available supply of energy, which can be much needed at a time when growth is commencing and can assist in reducing any additional stress. As can choosing an appropriate fertiliser with a suitable nitrogen source for the time of year. If growth is not strong because of environmental conditions, applications in small amounts of readily available nitrogen can be used to keep a constant but low supply of nutrition, which supports healthy growth. Alternatively, a granular application with a portion of slow release technology could be used, which will provide nutrition gradually over a longer period, depending on the environmental conditions. Typically, part of the formulation will depend on microbial activity to break down the technology to urea which, once converted via further processes to ammonium and nitrate, can be taken up by the plant.
Biostimulants applied at the right time will be beneficial to the plant and soil. Applications of seaweed will elicit important beneficial defensive and stress responses in the plant and associated micro-organisms, when applied ahead of disease activity, before conditions favour its development. Amino acids play an important role in abiotic stress tolerance, helping plants to prepare for and cope with additional stresses such as varying changes in temperature and volumetric water content. As the level of nutrient applications increase, as we head into the growing season, applications of Humates can assist in maximising nutrient availability as well as stimulating and providing habitable zones for beneficial bacteria.
Pests such as leather jackets and chafer grubs will continue in their life cycles. Therefore, maintaining observations as part of your Integrated Pest Management plan will be crucial for timing operations later in the season. If damage is currently an issue, sheeting can be used to draw the pests out of the ground, which can then be physically removed. This method is being deployed by many turf managers as a method to reduce pest populations, whilst chemical control methods are restricted.
As play is now getting back into full swing, 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 washdown facility is an essentail tool for keeping equipment clean; it is a wise investment.