This cold, frosty, and foggy in places, weather has caused a few problems across the UK. The advice regarding frozen ground is, as ever, to keep off; you will do more harm than good working, or walking, on the surfaces.
Moving through February, the forecast is for it to remain changeable, with unsettled spells interspersed with colder, showery interludes. The most unsettled and windy weather is likely to occur in the north and northwest while the south and southeast should see somewhat drier conditions overall, though even here, some rain and strong winds are likely.
If the frosty weather persists over a number of days, it could lead to a number of problems within your irrigation systems, hose pipes and outside taps. Ideally, any water carrying pipe work should be lagged or protected from frost damage, as this will lead to burst pipes and joints; make sure you keep an eye open for these leaks.
Key Tasks for February
With conditions little different to January, general maintenance will continue in the same vein.
When the frost has lifted, continue to brush/switch greens and tees to remove moisture from the grass surface, stopping the spread of disease and facilitating an improved quality of cut on the dry grass.
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 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.
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 alleviate compaction.
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, leaving many bunkers in a poor state (washing out sand from bunker faces). Repair works may be necessary. Continue or undertake bunker construction works, subject to ground conditions allowing for transport of materials.
Inspect greens, tees, flags and hole positions for damage or vandalism. Vandalism often increases during the winter months.
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 winter, 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.
Fertiliser programmes are tailored to suit the grass plants needs, in recent years we have seen a number of new products / bio stimulants that can be applied during the winter months to aid recovery and help the plant resist disease pathogens .
Most turf grasses are 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 nutrient status of the green.
As daytime temperatures potentially begin to warm, it is important to nurse the plant through the end of winter with a gentle amount of NPK fertiliser, either as little and often foliar applications or with a conventional release mineral fertiliser. The aim should be to keep the plant healthy, not to force growth, as excess nutrition will either go to waste when cold or force the plant on too much when warmer, in turn making soft young growth susceptible to damage from the harsh winds and temperatures during cold snaps and fungal attack in warm, damp, still periods.
Sulphur is an important nutrient when it comes to assisting plant metabolic function early in the season. So, planning now to apply a feed in March, which contains a high percentage of this vital element, should be considered.
Towards the end of the month, the sun may begin to feel noticeably warm in sheltered areas, but turf managers should be mindful that it is soil temperatures which drive growth with night time temperatures the biggest contributing factor to average soil temperatures throughout the day.
warm day and warm night = warming soil temperatures
warm day and cold night = stable soil temperatures
February represents a good time to undertake PWS testing on your surfaces. A cost effective broad spectrum soil analysis is available from the Pitchcare shop, with the subsequent report giving you a tangible point of reference as to what the soil requires when it comes to planning your spring and summer fertiliser applications.
Implementing an integrated turf management approach to managing disease is the responsible way to approach this issue, reducing periods of extended leaf blade wetness to a minimum by either removing dews by brushing or switching. Dew dispersal products offer a solution for this situation on club facilities where daily removal by hand is more difficult.
Keeping an eye on weather forecasts, and applying fungicides in good time when weather conditions are predicted to be the most conducive for disease development, is the best way to minimise damage. Once obvious damage is evident, applications are entering into a curative phase. The most effective and responsible approach is to aim for a preventative or early curative regime whereby diseases, and in particular microdochium patch, are treated prior to, or at the earliest signs of infection.
Aeration, as always, continues to be of utmost importance and should be undertaken whenever conditions allow good recovery and the risk of damaging wet soils is at a minimum.
If moisture and warmth coincide towards the end of the month, then it is an opportunity to seed any remaining small bare patches which might have lingered over winter, although germination will be slow especially if colder weather then intervenes.
Worm activity can be quite prevalent during the winter months, especially during periods of mild weather. Worm treatments can be carried out if needed, but please remember to ask yourself why worms are present. pH levels, organic matter and your cultural practices on the square need to be assessed. Carbendazim is now the only active ingredient available for controlling worms - for the time being; it is still available for purchase up to the end of May 2017, and the end of August 2017 as the final date for its use, storage or disposal - Carbendazim Products
With pests such as rabbits, foxes and moles it a case of identifying the problem and controlling their activities; employing approved pest control services to eradicate them from site may be a solution.
The combination of early morning dews, warm and wet weather and diminishing daylight hours increases the risk of fungal disease outbreaks. The right conditions to trigger these disease attacks are weakened or susceptible plants, a disease-producing organism (pathogen usually fungi) and weather conditions which favour the formation of fruiting bodies and spores (moist, mild wet conditions).
The typical types of diseases you may come across this time of year are:
- Fusarium Patch
- Red Thread
- Dollar Spot
Please note: More information on these and many others can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php
Servicing, repair and overhaul of mowing equipment should nearly be complete. Sharpening of reels and replacement of bottom blades are a key requirement, therefore it is important that all such replacement parts are in stock and readily available.
Now is also a good time to have an early spring clean, conducting a thorough clean up of mess rooms, toilets and garages. It is good Health & Safety practice to keep garages and working areas clean and tidy.
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.
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
Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. It is during the winter months that most golf course managers/greenkeepers can evaluate the condition and performance of their drainage systems.
Inspect, check and empty all litter bins
Time to organise winter servicing of machinery
Keep stock of all materials
Tidy mess rooms and sheds