Key Tasks for March
The return of golfers to the courses at the end of March is great news. Preparation work can begin.
Normally at this time of year, you will be completing some of the remaining winter works, such as to trees, fences and other structures around the course.
High winds can often cause structure and tree damage. It is imperative to inspect, record and make the site safe. Any structure or tree debris that has fallen down and can be considered a hazard must be fenced off or removed in the interests of public safety.
Any tree works must be undertaken by qualified, trained personnel. If your staff are not suitably qualified in tree surgery and/or operating chainsaw machinery, you must employ specialist contractors to carry out these works.
Continue to brush/switch greens and tees as possible to remove moisture from the grass surface, stopping the spread of disease and facilitating an improved quality of cut.
Mowing frequencies will vary from daily to twice weekly operations dependant on the weather, growth of the grass and the standards set by the course manager.
Mowing heights may vary depending on weather and 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.
When play does begin, 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 times per week during wet periods.
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 to alleviate compaction.
Soil temperatures should and will begin to rise towards the end of March, enabling the grass plant to make use of any fertilisers being applied. The grass plant's transpiration/respiration rates need to be active to initiate movement of soluble solutions from the soil into and through the plant's tissue.
Bunkers and Paths
Bunkers:- The emphasis will now be on presentation and playability for the coming season, since all major renovation work should now be complete. If general trimming, edging and topping up of sand levels is not already underway, then a start needs to be made as soon as possible. Additional sand should have sufficient time to 'bed down' before the new season, but if not then it can be watered and consolidated using a 'whacker plate' or roller.
This will help to avoid the 'plugged lie' syndrome in bunkers. Since growth around bunkers is likely to be sparse, the removal of excess sand is essential. A back pack blower is ideal for this purpose. Weak areas can be fertilised and where possible, a sufficient length of grass can be left on the bank or bunker face, especially on south facing slopes. Where renovation has taken place earlier in the winter, such bunkers should almost be ready for being brought back into play.
Paths: Once the main work to greens, tees and surrounds etc are complete and following bunker edging and cleaning, paths are likely to be next in the list of priorities for pre-season renovation. Once any holes have been filled and any debris scraped clear or removed, then a light path dressing of the appropriate material should be applied, possibly via a belt dresser type hopper.
Freshly re-surfaced paths can give an enhanced aesthetic appearance to the course and a good practice is to treat and apply on a regular basis as opposed to a full scale and costly renovation. Where path ends have become worn, they should be treated as per green surrounds and given protection from wear as much as possible. If re-turfing has to be carried out, then top dress quite heavily with a compost mix to prevent the turf from drying out.
Course Accessories: All to be cleaned, repaired, re-painted and ready in time for the start of the new season. Any items such as flag pins, hole cups, bunker rakes and so on that are required need to be ordered well in advance to prevent any undue delays. Hazard markers are often painted 'in situ', especially if there are numerous ditches or water features present on the course. Wet days are ideal for internal painting and then storing on some form of racking system.
Weather conditions allowing, March is the time for some pre-season renovation work on the greens before competitions get underway and visitor play increases.
Many Course Managers prefer to carry out solid tining or coring work with 10mm tine sizes in March and then follow-up with micro-coring in April.
The downside, however, is that it is more difficult to fill the smaller tine holes with sand, especially when surface conditions are more likely to be moist.The larger 13mm coring operation can then be left until August when conditions are usually ideal for such work and a much faster recovery ensues.
Attempting to deep scarify in March for thatch removal is fraught with potential problems as well as golfer annoyance, so best to avoid if possible.
Prior to any light scarifying, coring or tining work, the greens should be given a spring start-up feed or tonic, but just enough to encourage growth and recovery.
Products containing around 3 to 4% Nitrogen and a higher amount of sulphate of Iron are often popular, especially if moss 'discouragement' is required. A main pre-season or base feed, usually with a granular product would then be applied in April.
Top dressing will quickly follow the chosen cultural practice, with as much as 1 ton per green of dressing applied; this depending on the size of the green and whether or not core or deep tine holes need to be filled.
Over-seeding should be held back until soil conditions and temperatures are adequate.
The temptation to reduce mowing height should be left until the greens have 'settled-down' and there is clear evidence of recovery, therefore the HOC should remain at around 4.5 to 5mm for as long as possible.
Teeing areas should be fertilised, tined, dressed and over-seeded. Where separate winter teeing areas are in play then any renovation work should be undertaken once they are no longer in use, which for most will be April.
Similar to greens, tee mowing height should remain at a higher height until growth commences and new seedlings have germinated. Any over-seeding that takes place will have a better chance of success if top dressed afterwards and mowing height is not lowered. If 'unused' tees are showing high levels of moss, then treat with an appropriate product prior to scarifying work late in the month. It usually takes about two weeks for any product to weaken the moss sufficiently.
Surrounds:- hopefully, towards the end of the month, there should be signs of recovery from winter wear. Heavily 'trafficked' areas will be the last to recover and, where this is the case, such areas should be renovated similar to tees. For many courses, this may require tining, top dressing and over-seeding small areas where grass cover is weak.
Green surrounds can be fertilised late in the month if required and conditions are favourable. Too often, ground conditions can dry out fairly quickly if winds are in an easterly direction and such applications should be held in abeyance until warmer and moisture conditions prevail.
Fairways:- This is generally the last month that deep tining work can be carried out before the season gets underway.
I started last month’s diary looking towards the weather hopefully starting to improve by the end of February, and thankfully it has. However, that doesn’t mean we can ignore the poor weather that has been before. The cold continued from the end of January and well into February with more freezing temperatures and snow cover, meaning prolonged issues for turf managers. Fortunately, the temperatures started to rise at the back end, and it felt like the ‘false spring’ had arrived. This has allowed many turf mangers to get some much-needed work carried out on surfaces. Although not the typical time to carry out ‘extensive’ work, there are many examples of success with utilising this method. There are undoubtedly though, also some examples of this being unsuccessful and highlights the point that everyone has different circumstances and we must try and do what is best for our turf on our site.
March’s forecast looks unsettled, which is typical for this time of year. The start of the month, moving towards the middle, looks fairly settled with sunshine and showers, combined with favourable daytime temperatures, which should be encouraging for early season growth and recovery. The predicted night-time lows will restrict any great increases in growth potential and therefore fertiliser applications should be made with this in mind, with caution at making unnecessary applications of excessive nitrogen. Then towards the back end of the month it is forecast to be unsettled with multiple days of rainfall predicted. This coincides nicely (not) with the upcoming commencement of outdoor sports, following the government’s latest COVID-19 lockdown restrictions update, allowing organised adult’s and children’s sport to take place from the 29th March, which will be welcomed by us all I’m sure.
Although I can imagine everyone is desperate to get back to doing the things they most enjoy, such as participating in sport, the date given allows turf managers some time to prepare for the return of sporting activities. The plant will have been under considerable stress, given that the ground in many locations has been saturated for some time and has undergone periods of snow and frozen ground. With the return to play approaching, many will look to carry out maintenance work that would typically be done later in spring, with a view to minimise any disruption; here the key is striking the balance to ensure there will be adequate recovery from the work carried out in time for when play returns. If this isn’t likely, then planning the work when conditions will be more favourable, with decent soil temperatures and more daylight hours, is a reasonable approach.
Selecting the ‘right’ fertiliser at this time of year is critical to ensure that the turf is encouraged to recover from the stresses of the winter, without unnecessarily trying to force growth that just isn’t realistic if the environmental conditions aren’t advantageous. This will give the turf a gentle wake up and help ensure optimal turf health moving through spring. The type of Nitrogen source(s) within the fertiliser will play a major role in this selection;
The nitrogen available from potassium nitrate or calcium ammonium nitrate, for example, is freely available for plants to take up, and for this reason it can be useful where rapid or immediate growth is required. This also makes it particularly useful in the winter and early spring where its availability can stimulate growth under colder conditions. Nitrate is highly mobile and will reach plant roots quickly providing an almost instant nutrient supply.
The ammonium form of nitrogen is typically used in the amenity industry as ammonium sulphate, also called diammonium sulphate or sulphuric acid diammonium salt. Fertilisers containing nitrogen in the ammonium form provide a readily available form of nitrogen and this also makes it particularly good in cool conditions with average to low growth potential, as grass will utilise nitrogen in both the ammonium and nitrate forms, its ability to fix to soil minerals makes it less mobile than nitrate. In warmer conditions, microbes will rapidly begin to convert ammonium to nitrate in the process of nitrification.
After application, urea first needs to be broken down by naturally occurring enzymes called urease to ammonium before it can be utilised effectively by the grass. As this process occurs rapidly in warmer temperatures, the grass is provided with an easily available source of nitrogen, although it becomes more limited during the colder winter months when growth potential is lower. The ease at which urea becomes soluble also makes it both an ideal liquid fertiliser and granular product. However, during the process of transformation, during the warmer temperatures of the summer months, urea can be prone to volatilization losses and this can make it less efficient than stabilised forms of this nitrogen source.
Urea Formaldehyde (Methylene Urea)
This is an example of a long release source of urea nitrogen fertilizer. Urea formaldehyde’s rate of decomposition into carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia gas (NH3) is determined by the action of microbes found naturally in most soils. The activity of these microbes, and therefore, the rate of nitrogen release, is temperature dependent. The optimum temperature for microbe activity is approximately 70-90 °F (approximately 20-30 °C) making this an ideal choice during high levels of growth potential.
An organic fertiliser is composed of natural materials derived from animals and plants, but they may also be from mined minerals e.g. rock phosphate. Relying on natural biological and chemical processes, nutrient content tends to be lower, less exacting and released much slower than conventional fertiliser products. However, many amenity fertilisers are also a blend of inorganic and organic forms and provide a broader range of benefits with regards to nutrient availability and soil microbiology.
Applications of biostimulants will be beneficial to the plant and soil as the rate of photosynthesis starts to increase, so will the requirement of energy from the plant. Therefore, applications of carbon in the form of simple and complex sugars can act as an energy supply for the plant and help reduce any stress from any maintenance works carried out. As the soil becomes more active with temperatures increasing, the carbon will act as a food source for the soil microbes and increase soil activity. Poa annua seed head development can start early and this is also a big consumer of the plant’s energy. Applying a plant growth regulator early to suppress the development of seed heads can help re-direct this energy away from seed head production into other plant development processes.
As we head into March, we move ever closer to hearing the synonymous ‘buzz’ of summer from the humble bumble bee. But as more and more species are becoming extinct or highly endangered, will this sound always be around in the future? There are numerous campaigns running nationwide to ensure the future of the bumble bee. Remember, one in three mouthfuls rely on pollinators, therefore if we can encourage the environments which they thrive in, we can help protect their and our futures. Spring is the perfect time to sow a wildflower mix and they can really transform areas into a bio-diversity haven that is also great to look at and enjoy.
- Make sure all machinery is serviced and ready for the spring.
- Replace any worn tines on your aeration equipment.
- Clean out the shed, sell off any old machinery and dispose of any junk that’s clogging up the shed.