Expected weather for this month:

After April's hot spell, we can expect better growing conditions in May, with rainfall and temperatures around average for the month.

Key Tasks for May

With so much uncertainty around at the moment, and Government guidelines on how and when people can begin to participate in sport again still to be confirmed, we suggest you keep in contact with your respective sport's governing body for any up to date information.

Fortunately, most clubs have been given permission to continue to maintain their courses, and a large number have taken the opportunity to undertake some major renovation works..

During spring renovations 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 - see Agronomy Section.

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, albeit they are likely to be reined back somewhat because there is no play.

Mowing operations are generally 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 is not necessary at the moment; but once play is allowed again, this should be carried out regularly, at least three times 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.

Other tasks:

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.

May is a month when spring really bounces into full flourish, with fresh leaves on all of the trees, and many flowers coming into colourful bloom. The grass plant takes full advantage of longer days, warmer temperatures and available soil moisture by producing a large volume of leafy growth. In a naturalised situation, this is energy expended in advance of flowers and then seed later in the summer. In a sports turf situation, the plant is still responding to these cues and drives, but it is our intervention with a lawn mower which tames the growth into a lush sward, albeit with one species of note proving the exception, Poa annua.

The start of May often heralds the onset of Poa annua seed heads across surfaces, and a subsequent drop in aesthetics and playing performance as a consequence. Grooming allows for mechanical removal of the seed heads and is a tried and tested method for minimising the negative effect on play and performance during the annual window of Poa annua flowering.

May 2020, however, marks the first opportunity for UK turf managers to access and utilise the plant growth regulator - prohexadione-calcium. Prohexadione-calcium is a Class A late gibberellin inhibitor, a trait it shares with the long established and successful trinexapac-ethyl. With regard to Poa annua, prohexadione offers two advantages; it regulates Poa annua on a par with perennial species, this allows for greater consistence of growth regulation across surfaces over time. Secondly, it regulates the flowering potential of Poa annua, a trait which mitigates the negative consequences of this plant’s inflorescence upon both aesthetics and playing performance.

In normal circumstances, both those metrics would be primary areas of day to day concern. Of course, we presently remain in a situation outside of normal circumstances, therefore maintaining playing quality and aesthetics from the ingress of Poa annua flowers is likely to be on the lower end of priorities. That being said, prohexadione-calcium does represent an opportunity to capture two birds with one stone. First by regulating plant growth and thus easing pressure on mowers and staff alike, then as a secondary effect, the suppression of Poa annua flower head production; something which, by extension, reduces the number of seeds that subsequently form and then drop directly into playing surfaces. Over time and with complementary integrated maintenance principles, this will reduce the ability of Poa annua to regenerate in swards where its presence is deemed undesirable. In simplistic terms, less seeds means less opportunity for Poa annua to colonise an environment over time.

As a plant, Poa annua is by its very nature a pioneer species. Like similar plants low down the line of succession such as Cardamine hirsute (Hairy Bittercress), Poa annua has evolved to be one of the first plants to colonise challenging environments rapidly. As such, it expects environmental conditions may change rapidly, from hospitable to inhospitable. This is why, unlike the perennial grasses Agrostis spp., Festuca spp. and Lolium spp., Poa annua has retained the ability to flower profusely at low heights of cut.

Nutrition programmes have, in many cases, understandably been reduced to maintain plant health at acceptable levels rather than peak performance. It would be wise for turf managers to keep this under review, using their knowledge and expertise to guide them on a case by case basis. That said, inputs such as seaweed extract will help to prepare the plant for oncoming abiotic stress such as heat and water deficiency, so it would be advantageous to maintain applications. Plants treated with seaweed ahead of water stress events will also recover faster once soil moisture levels are replaced.

Water management is a vitally important aspect of maintaining any grass plant; a well maintained, professionally set up and prepared irrigation system, ‘ready and raring to go’, will be vital if water stress builds as we enter hotter weather. Soils with a capacity to manage water ingress and holding potential will be able to maximise available water and extend the periods by which plants are able to survive before irrigation is required. The continued application of water management products in the form of surfactant wetting agent programmes will significantly assist this principle and are to be recommended. This is because the efficacy of block co-polymer molecules requires a build-up in the soil to optimum levels over time - proactive approach, rather than a reactive one.   

Aeration, as ever, remains a vital component for optimum plant-soil ecosystem function. Wherever possible, continuation of efficient methods of aeration, such as star and sarrel tine rolling, will allow optimised soil life respiration and water ingression.

Insect pests populations have been elevated this year as mild winter weather and the end of old withdrawn insecticide use patterns combine, with many areas once again subject to secondary damage from predators. It may seem very low down the priority list currently, but active monitoring of insect activity now, to assist in optimising control through the summer, will pay dividends in minimising the problem and damage for next year. If chafer grubs are on your site, then installing pheromone traps in May allows you to plot their life cycle against integrated pest management plans and help inform treatment interventions later in the year. Whether that be substances on Emergency Authorisation, entomopathogenic nematodes, or a combination of both.

Writing this diary is always a balance of providing underpinning knowledge, insight and helpful reminders for the appropriate course of action to take at a given time of year; advice which must reach across the industry covering all sports, all levels, and budgets. With that in mind, one is always conscious that such advice should be there to be received by the reader on the basis that they take from it what is reasonable, relevant and practical for them and their facility. Never before have we been in a situation where facilities across all aspects of the industry are collectively faced with the challenges of balancing plant health, budgets and workloads to the extent we are now experiencing - in the midst of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic.

It is then that the principle of taking from these writings what is reasonable and appropriate for you is more relevant than ever. As with any challenge or test life throws up, you can of course do no more than your best effort.

James Grundy
Senior Technical Manager – Amenity | MBPR

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.

Used Machinery for Sale

Grounds Training was established in 2006 to provide a complete and unique service delivery training courses for the sports turf industry. We are now the go-to provider for on-site, bespoke training for groups. Grounds Training also works with the industry’s awarding bodies – Lantra and City & Guilds (NPTC).

We provide training for a wide range of ground care machinery courses, safe handling of pesticides as well as Basic tree survey & Inspection course . All our courses are delivered by industry qualified instructors registered with  Lantra Awards and or NPTC.

We also offer a small number of open courses at our site at Allscott ,Telford.

All the courses we have to offer can be found by visiting https://www.groundstraining.com/

ALL COURSES ARE CURRENTLY SUSPENDED - MORE INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE ON THE WEBSITE