February was a difficult month for a lot of golf clubs, with icy and then very wet conditions leading to courses being closed. We're forecast another unsettled month ahead but with better temperatures averaging in the low to mid-teens. The longer daylight hours will help matters so, hopefully, a good start to spring will provide a nice platform for a successful year.
Ideally, all the winter renovation works will have been completed, or nearly there; once the spring/summer maintenance regime kicks in, there will be little time to finish them off.
Key Tasks for March
Before the mowing season kicks off in earnest, make the most of March to complete some of the remaining winter works, such as to trees, fences and other structures around the course.
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. It is often best to complete tree and woodland works before the trees and woodland begin to flourish with growth at the end of March.
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.
Continue to brush/switch greens and tees daily 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.
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: This is the last month for these to be cleaned, repaired, re-painted and ready for changing 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.
Now is the time for some pre-season renovation work on the greens before competitions get underway and visitor play increases.
Recently, 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 for a few weeks until these current cold temperatures are out of the way.
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.
Closely monitoring soil temperatures with a digital soil thermometer is the preserve of the informed and agronomically focused individual as we enter into March. Soil biology and plant function depends on temperatures which encourage metabolic function – there is a reason your refrigerator is set to 5 °C. The minimum temperature whereby things will start to get going on a sustained basis is 8°C. Anything above 10-12°C is the point whereby good noticeable responses will take place.
One of the key points of understanding with regard to this principle is that day time temperatures are not the factor which drives an increasing base line with regard to soil temperatures. Night time temperatures are the key factor which will either hold the base line underneath the 8°C threshold or assist in pushing it over the bar into good growth response.
As we contend with a more unpredictable climate, then we should be guided by the main driving factor determining soil biology and plant function, and this is soil temperature not the Gregorian Calendar. Given that the driving factor for biological response is soil temperature then the data you can draw upon to make smarter more informed decisions on your operations are soil temperature readings. Recording this and other climate data also serves the benefit of arming you with hard facts should you be in the position of explaining to players, members and managers why surfaces may, or may not be as advanced as people expect.
Understanding how the soil temperature is fluctuating, by taking and noting daily soil temperature readings (ideally at the same time of day), will provide you with insight into when you should actually be timing operations.
It can be all too tempting to apply fertiliser, stimulants, plant protection products, or undertake operations such as scarification, aeration, top dressing and seed sowing based on what the calendar says as opposed to what the data says. The key message here is that nature will run at nature’s pace, and when we strive to undertake operations to push things forward we can inadvertently result in placing stressed surfaces under more stress, which will hold back positive gains when everything does start to kick into gear. Not to mention money can potentially be wasted by applying products the soil and plant cannot utilise.
In terms of inputs; if weather conditions are cool, but surfaces are looking stressed, a light application of foliar fertiliser mixed with a good quality liquid humate product containing fulvic acid will aid uptake efficiency and response. Mixing in some calcium and chelated iron will toughen the leaf cells and guard the plant against stress. If soil temperatures are warmer and activity is increased, then a granular fertiliser containing a reasonable dose of sulphur will help to kick plant function into action.
Feeding soil biology with a carbon source, such as sugars and humates, will help to support the soil plant ecosystem crucial to plant health. Seaweed feeds are also vital in terms of assisting soil biology and priming plants’ natural defences.
Seed can be applied to any bare areas which may remain from autumn renovations, but establishment will benefit from it being pre-germinated (chitted) and, if appropriate, for your surface to be protected by a germination sheet.
Keep an eye out for warm temperatures coinciding with damp still days for more than 24 hours continually, as this will represent high risk for outbreaks of microdochium nivale. Applications of systemic fungicides during warmer spells will provide preventative protection. Removal of dews and minimising periods of continued leaf blade wetness is an essential cultural method of preventing disease.
Plant strengthening tank mixes of calcium, phosphite and chelated iron, facilitated with a humate adjuvant, will strengthen plant cell walls and natural defences. Managing plant vulnerability by understanding and using nutritional inputs can be done in isolation or alongside fungicide programmes.
One thing that everyone should bear in mind is that an integrated approach to the management of turf pathogens, utilising a multifaceted approach, is the future of the industry. Greater legislative pressure will place an increasing demand on many of the traditional chemical options. Individuals involved in maintaining turf surfaces at any level of the industry will be well served to be seeking out knowledge which will allow them to integrate alternative methods and programmes of maintenance into their surfaces now, in a proactive manner ahead of the inevitable changes. Changes which, if not planned for, will initiate a reactive approach from a weak position of understanding.
The combination of early morning dews, warm and wet weather 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
Worm activity is still a problem for a lot of courses. 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, for just a few months more, is the only active ingredient available for controlling worms.
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.
One of the biggest assetts of any golf club is its machinery and equipment; it is important you look after it and ensure it gets serviced and repaired on a regular basis. With spring around the corner, your main mowing machines are going to be working overtime; make sure they are up to the task.
Investing in good storage and wash down facilities is essential for the welfare of machinery.
Keep records of hours of use and take photographs of equipment for referencing.
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, check and empty all litter bins
Keep stock of all materials
Tidy mess rooms and sheds
Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working.
Inspect all water features on the course, cleaning out any unwanted debris and litter.
Recent stormy wet weather will have contributed a lot of surface water into drains, ditches and water courses. However, when large amounts of water are running into these outlets in a short period of time, it can often result in flooding parts of the course which may in turn make the course unplayable.
Check all ditches and brooks, make sure the water is running easily, remove any debris that may affect the flow of the streams, brooks or ditches.