Expected weather for this month:

An unsettled start forecast with seasonal mid to high teens temperatures

Most courses and greenkeepers will be ahead of schedule with their spring preparations following the recent spell of warm weather. It bodes well for the rest of the season but, as many of us know, we've been hit with snow and freezing weather in April on many an occasion in the past.

However, the forecast looks favourable, so there will be plenty of work to get on with as the temperatures continue to rise.

Moss will have made the most of the recent warm and damp conditions; an application of soluble iron sulphate, coupled with a scarification/verticutting pass once the moss has died off should provide the desired results.

Coming into April, with temperatures in the mid to high teens, it is a good idea to put down a starter fertiliser. This will help balance the amount of nutrients (NPK and trace elements) being absorbed from the soil by the turf. Remember that regular soil sampling will provide the best basis for fertiliser selection as we head into the growing season.

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.

April is a good time to take soil samples, especially prior to end of season renovations and get them sent off for analysis. If you have not had one done before, you should have a full (PSD) Particle Size Distribution soil analysis done to tell you the actual make up of your soil profile.

Pitchcare provide an independent Soil Anaylsis service that enables you to get specific results for the soils you manage. Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants.

Spring 2017 has thus far been kind for many areas of the UK, with reasonable temperatures for growth accompanied by a useful mix of sunshine and rainfall. Nutritionally speaking, grass plants will be requiring an increased amount of nitrogen to help fuel the growth of roots initially, followed by leaf and shoots once temperatures are sufficiently raised.

Spring represents the best time to undertake a broad spectrum chemical soil analysis. The subsequent report will help turf managers to make factual based decisions on further nutritional requirement throughout the year.  Deficiencies can then be addressed through granular or foliar fertilisers, thus maximising plant health and surface quality.

The role of potassium is increasingly being understood with respect to water mobilisation, and recent research indicates an application of potassium in the spring helps to guard against drought stress in the summer.

Since the enforcement of the clean air act, we see that sulphur levels are often low in many soils. Sulphur is a vital element for plant health, playing a key role in protein production which drives immune response in many organisms. Proteins are created from amino acids, many of which are sulphur based. Ensuring adequate sulphur levels in the spring, with an application of a granular fertiliser containing ammonium sulphate, will help to boost levels as the season starts.

Be sure to check and compare the nutritional analysis lists on all your fertilisers; looking at values other than NPK will reveal additional nutrients in the mix which may be of benefit - Fertilisers

Biostimulants

Increasingly the role of biostimulants is being recognised by turf managers at all levels:

  • Carbon sources: for example BioMass sugar facilitates a balancing of the carbon to nitrogen ratio in the soil. This allows both microorganisms and plants to maintain this vital ratio within their systems when up-taking the nutrient, better facilitating nitrogen efficiency and utilisation. Simply put, sugars are essentially soil life and plant carbon fertilisers, which can be applied regularly to rootzones throughout the year.
  • Seaweed: when applied as a liquid foliar treatment, contains a variety of plant hormones, enzymes, vitamins and trace elements which should be utilised to prime plant defences by eliciting better responses to stress events and provides a general stimulator of plant metabolic function. Liquid seaweed also acts as a chelating agent for nutrients. Seaweeds should be used on a regular basis to prime plant defences and stimulate efficient plant function.
  • Humates: are naturally occurring core components of healthy soils, produced as a by-product of organic decomposition. Humate substances act as a soil structure improver, microorganism habitat, microorganism stimulant, nutrient bank improver, nutrient carrier, chelator. Humates can be applied throughout the year to increase nutrient uptake and efficiency, boost soil biology function and habitat, and increase the nutrient holding capacity of the soil.

Wetting Agents

Often wetting agents are applied too late in the season to be made the best use of. Quite often, the use of wetting agents will be approached in a similar vein to disease management i.e. waiting for symptoms before treating the problem. Once dry patch areas are visible, the chemistry within the soil necessitates the need for a curative wetting agent to strip away the organic proteins causing the water repellence; these wetting agents can be quite harsh to soil ecology and, as a result, there are not too many on the market.

The majority of wetting agents contain two molecules which act independently from each other for different effects:

Penetrant molecule: a penetrant wetting agent is designed to move water away from the surface and down through the profile.

Polymer molecule: a polymer molecule is designed to capture water and hold it lower down in the profile.

The majority of wetting agents will utilise both molecules, the penetrant to firstly move water away from the surface where it may contribute towards surface wear or just simply evaporate; the polymer molecule to then capture that water further down the profile and retain it for plants to uptake.

This strategy requires a build-up of the molecules and subsequent water cycling processes ahead of dry periods to help PREVENT the onset of dry conditions.  As a result, to gain the best effect from wetting agents, they should be applied monthly through the growing season starting in the spring.

Wetting Agents

 

Disease

Always keep an eye open for turf disease. Prevention is always better than a cure. The combination of moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade can make the plant susceptible to disease attack. Many turf grass diseases, such as Fusarium and Red Thread can be active at this time of the year.

The normal cultural control for disease prevention should be adopted, such as monitoring weather conditions for peak periods, removing morning dews and avoiding excessive applications of nitrogen. Increasingly, turf managers will find that many of the weapons in the fungicidal armoury are likely to become less available in the years to come, particularly in respect to curative contact type active ingredients.

Under this climate, it will be critically important that turf managers at all levels are equipped with the knowledge and understanding to maximise the use of systemic fungicides for best effect. This integrated approach will go hand in hand with reference to historical occurrence records and disease forecasting technologies, prior to visible signs of infection, and will be the only method of chemical control. Increasingly, turf managers will have to manage disease outbreaks preventatively, by using cultural controls and maintaining plant health and eliciting plant resistance through careful nutritional applications. The key elements in this instance being calcium, phosphite and iron.

The wisest of individuals will take early opportunities to seek out and engage with organisations and associations, when learning and professional development opportunities present themselves.

More advice and information is available on the website – Fungicide Programmes

Pests

Many areas are suffering the effects of chemical insecticide withdrawal over the past year, with chafer grubs and leatherjackets causing problems for turf managers, either through their direct action on the grass plant or through the indirect damage of mammals and birds seeking out a meal.

There are no effective treatments for the control of these insect pests in the spring control should be carried out at the correct time of the year with entomopathogenic nematodes. Nematode treatments are very successful when applied within the correct application windows which respect the life cycles of both pest and control.

More information and advice is available on the website – Chafers and Leatherjackets.

Worms can also be very active at this time of the year so treatments can be carried out, if needed; the use of Carbendazim is the only active ingredient for controlling worms, for the time being. All personnel should be suitably qualified in the application of chemicals - Carbendazim withdrawal timescale

Moles can be attracted to areas where worms are prevalent; these need to be treated as they can cause a lot of damage to outfields and other surrounds.

Moss

After the warm and damp conditions, moss will be a problem everywhere. The traditional method of moss control utilises the use of lawn sand and other cultural practices.

As with anything else in turf, a preventative approach is often better than a curative or responsive approach. Ensuring a minimisation of bare areas throughout the growing season, whilst keeping in control of thatch is essential. As moss is an advantageous species, the important thing is to try and ensure a competitive growth habit by the individual grass plants. Ground coverage, especially heading into the winter, is therefore essential.

What else can be done to reduce the risk of moss invasion/establishment?

• Ensure adequate irrigation without over-watering. Many sports complexes around the country utilise an automatic irrigation system. In periods of stress, it would be advisable to water thoroughly, but to requirement. Over-watering can lead to other unwanted problems.

• Find a balance in mowing height. Particularly in golf and bowls, mowing height plays a significant part in how the ball reacts with the surface. Ensuring you can find a balanced mowing height to allow good coverage without affecting playing quality is important in all sports in terms of moss reduction.

• Reduce thatch. The utilisation of controlled frequency verticutting and deep scarification during periods of good recovery will reduce the organic content within the thatch layer. Reducing this moisture holding ability within the O horizon of the soil is very important in moss control.

• Aeration, aeration, aeration. As with anything in a sports surface, ensuring the best aeration will help provide a competitive grass sward. As mosses prefer compacted, moist soils, reducing the compaction and increasing drainage ability is a great tool in reducing the efficacy of moss invasion.

• Removal of surrounding causes of shade. In areas that are prone to moss, look around the area and whether anything can be done to reduce the shade/increase direct light levels (e.g. removal of tree limbs etc). As mentioned previously, moss is highly competitive in shade over grass.

• Overseeding. Overseeding in the autumn is recommended due to a more reliable amount of moisture and mild temperatures promoting early germination and establishment. Ensuring good establishment could be key in increasing coverage as you head into winter, particularly in known bare areas.

• A balanced fertiliser programme.

Obviously, with all of these control methods it's important to strike a balance between the needs of your customers/visitors and the effective control of moss. Following this sort of integrated approach in general should provide an excellent basis for the production of quality surfaces. Therefore, the effective control of moss could/should occur as a by-product of solid greenkeeping techniques.

Moss Controls

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.

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 Chris Johnson for information.

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.