We are a small football club and obviously can't afford the manpower and equipment available to the professionals, but there must be some things we could do to improve the playing conditions of the pitch, which at this point is showing signs of serious wear.
Have a look at your nutrient regime. These days it is difficult to spot when spring starts and winter ends, and the old concept of summer feeding only may no longer be appropriate. This year, for example, we've seen some of the wettest conditions ever recorded combined with relatively mild temperatures - 15 degrees on a January day, for example. This means that the grass tends to grow on and off all winter, yet nutrient is scarce because of leaching.
Perhaps I can illustrate the point by outlining what Alan Ferguson does at Ipswich - a pitch famous for its quality and, incidentally, fed using Scotts fertilizers!
First, he aims to have the pitch enter the winter months growing vigorously, and achieves this by applying three controlled release fertilizer treatments, after renovation, at eight week intervals. This means feeding in October - much later than traditional practice might suggest.
With an eye on the weather, he will apply low nitrogen conventional fertilizers when necessary - this year, for example, he treated with a 4-0-8 formulation in January. Alan also makes much use of liquid tonic feeds around match days, designed to just tickle the grass into growth for the very best appearance and playability. This finesse with liquids may not, of course, be practical for smaller clubs but the general idea of keeping up the nutrient levels is worth bearing in mind.
Go for relatively low nitrogen formulations and by all means reduce the application rate in the colder months (from 35g per sq m to, for example, 25g). It is important, however, to choose a quality product with a narrow particle size distribution if you plan to reduce application rates, to ensure that the growth response remains even across the pitch.
Our sward is infested with moss this year - doubtless due to the wet conditions - when's the best time to start tackling it?
Even though moss killers will work at surprisingly low temperatures, be careful about using them too early. The last thing you want to do is create a very thin sward by killing and removing the moss before the grass is capable of filling in the gaps. If you do, you are leaving the way open for weed and Poa infestation.
We advise a programme that gets the grass growing vigorously before tackling the moss. Aerate first using solid times to get some air flowing to the grass roots. This will help get things moving. Next apply a tonic feed along with the moss treatment at a time in the early spring when conditions are warm enough for reasonable grass growth. This way, when you come to scarify out the dead moss and thatch, the grass plants are ready to expand into the gaps and thicken the sward. By all means help this along if necessary with a little oversowing.
One last point - don't try and top dress too early in the spring. The process tends to smother some of the grass plants and if you get caught out with a cold, dank spell you will be inviting disease attack.
We have been struggling recently with soil pest problems. What's your advice?
There are several issues here. Casting worm infestation tends to be highly visible at this time of year but can be effectively addressed with an application of carbendazim - use a product such as Turfclear.
The mild winter conditions seem to be interfering with the classic patterns of leather jacket development. Instead of concentrated burst of problems, we are seeing activity spread over longer periods. Maraud (chlopyrifos) is effective against them but do keep an eye open throughout the growing season for their presence and treat accordingly.
Chafer grubs are a different problem. They tend to live slightly deeper in the soil and there are few, if any, treatments approved for use against them. We are aware of one candidate product under development that will hopefully solve the problem. For now, however, the best advice is to make sure the sward is well fed and vigorously growing, so that it can resist attacks, and keep thatch to an absolute minimum to discourage colonisation.
Having invested in new high spec sand greens our Committee expects that members can play throughout the winter. I'm afraid, however, that the greens are not standing up too well.
This is getting to be a big issue in golf. Economics dictate that clubs ensure maximum rounds per year for their members but, for many courses, even the best USGA green cannot take endless pressure in the winter. No matter how free draining they are, they will struggle under conditions like last winter, where we saw the wettest November since records began and, of course, frequent periods when the lower soil layers remained frozen throughout much of the day.
We are great believers in using temporary greens and preparing them early enough so that they offer a reasonable alternative during inclement winter periods. Try pointing out that if you don't adopt this policy, you run the risk that come the spring, when the members can reasonably anticipate excellent playing conditions, your primary greens are damaged and it will be hard to rectify the problems as the course gets increasingly busy.
We have been asked to consider using organic materials on our bowling green, in order to help the environment - what is your view?
Leaving aside whether your adopting organic treatments will actually make any perceptible difference to the environment, our advice is to consider the available materials very carefully first. Yes, we should always consider using recycled, or otherwise waste, materials but not at the expense of performance.
There are some poor products on the market under the 'organic' label. Products that will not give the reliable response that you should expect. One good option is to look for fertilizers combining the best of both worlds such as Greenmaster Organic turf fertilizers. A new production process enables inorganic and organic nutrient sources to be combined into the same homogenous granule, rather than blended as separate granules in the bag, to ensure greater accuracy and reliability of nutrient provision across the sward.
The organic fraction is derived from chicken manure and, in addition to providing a proportion of the nutrient charge in slow release form, will stimulate soil organisms, encourage thatch breakdown and enhance micro flora responsible for fighting turf diseases. By combining this material with a mineral-based fertilizer, reliable provision of NPK and trace elements is assured and the product formulation can be tailored more appropriately.
We will need to deal with broadleaved weeds this year. Any tips?
Selective weed control can be carried out from mid April onwards, preferably 10 to 14 days after feeding, when grass and weeds are growing vigorously and the weed leaves are more receptive to chemical control. Also, the grasses will be better able to colonise any bare areas. From the Scotts range, Tritox, containing MCPA, mecoprop and dicamba, or Intrepid, containing dicamba, dichlorprop and MCPA will provide excellent control of most broad-leaved weeds.
Always read the label before you spray, and try to fit the treatment mid-way between mowing, so that the weeds have had times to recover from the preceding cut, and time to absorb a maximum dose of active ingredient prior to the subsequent cut.