Bowls Green Soil Texture part 1.

This subject is so important to the future performance of bowling greens that I would say it is essential for greenkeepers to understand this subject over any other.

The physical condition of the soil in the bowling green is the most important aspect of bowling green maintenance because it impacts every other aspect of green management. The physical properties of your soil dictate everything from drainage, nutrient availability and pH right up to green speed, green smoothness, consistency and ultimately whether or not the green performs to a high standard.

But what do I mean when I say Soil Physical Properties? This is primarily about 2 distinct qualities of the soil, Texture and Structure. Soil Structure relates to the way the soil holds together and there can be no doubt  that soil structure plays a big role in green performance. However, soil structure is largely dictated by Soil Texture and for that reason I believe that the Soil Texture is the single most important aspect of green maintenance for greenkeepers to understand. Unfortunately, in my experience it very rarely is understood sufficiently to give the greenkeeper enough confidence in creating a program of work that majors on getting this right. But what do I mean by Soil Texture?

Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?

No, this isn’t just the question you ask your daughter about the spotty youth she has brought home for tea; it’s also the phrase that describes the make up of all soils. More accurately, soils are made of a base Mineral material mixed with Organic (dead animal and vegetable) material . The mix of the two dictates the soil’s performance in terms of its physical attributes like structural strength, drainage capability and nutrient and moisture holding capabilities.

50% Nothing

Perfect Soil


In art and design, it’s often said that the white space around the images and text is often more important than the objects themselves, and a similar rule applies to good soil. In fact the perfect bowling green’s soil will be 50% nothing! By that, I mean that there should be lots of space in the soil between the soil particles. We call this nothingness, Pore Space or Porosity. Some of these pores are big (macro) and some are small (micro) pores. Micro pores are actually classified into two sub groups, but these basic groupings will be fine for now. The Mineral and Organic materials, might make up the structure of the soil, but it’s within the soil porosity that all of the action happens!

Last time we saw how the grass plants extract the 16 essential nutrients from the soil solution. The soil solution contains plant usable forms of the essential elements called ions and although these originate in the organic and mineral components of the soil, the plant can’t access them until they are in solution in the spaces between soil particles. That soil solution exists within the micro-pore space. The macro-pore space contains air and is essential for the supply of oxygen to support a healthy soil microbe population as well as for good drainage and resistance to compaction.

Soil Fractions

But what do I mean by soil particles?

The Mineral element of all soils is made up of a mix of 3 basic structural components called Sand, Silt and Clay. These are the basic soil fractions. The sand part varies greatly in particle size so we categorise it into 5 sub fractions for the purposes of soil texture classification. Here are the soil fraction classifications:

Soil Texture Fractions
The Soil Fractions

Stop to look at those sizes for just a minute, because they are quite mind boggling, especially at the lower end where the silt and clay is. Coarse sand has a maximum size of just 1mm, so imagine how very tiny a clay particle is at less than 2 thousandths of a millimetre! Well, that minuscule size hides a big secret and I introduced the intricacies of it when we looked at Cation Exchange Capacity last time. The tiny clay particles are where a lot of the nutrient ions are held within the soil, meaning they can be used by the grass plants later. Clay also plays a role in moisture retention which is critical for the health of the bowling green.

To finish today, I will leave you with a very useful visual representation of the relative sizes of these soil particles courtesy of the University of Colorado and next time we will move on to the importance of getting soil texture right in your bowling green.

Colorado University diagram showing relative sizes of individual particles for each soil fraction. Remember the yellow Coarse Sand particle is just 1mm in diameter.
Colorado University diagram showing relative sizes of individual particles for each soil fraction. Remember the yellow Coarse Sand particle is just 1mm in diameter. Even blown up to this size, Clay is just a tiny speck!

Soil Texture Part 2

How to painlessly transform greens from Poa annua to bent/fescue

Transitioning your green from Poa annua to bent/fescue is not only critical to achieving a Performance Bowling Green, but is actually a realistic goal. The spongy, soft turf associated with annual meadow grass is less than ideal for bowls. Common wisdom says that this can't be done without major disruption and that even after it is achieved it wont last. This article explains in detail how to undertake the transition of your green from Poa annua to bent/fescue turf and dispels the myths about stressing Poa. This is the way to change your green permanently and without fuss. It will also save your club money on maintenance, so what's not to like?

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Compost Tea Alternative

Biology Bundle

A lot of bowling greenkeepers simply don’t have the time or facilities to brew compost tea regularly enough for it to make a real difference. As a result, I am frequently asked if there is an effective alternative that is easy to use and avoids the brewing process and set up, hence the New, Biology Bundle!

The Biology Bundle gives you enough materials to complete 10 full bowling green applications and comprises the following proven products:

  • VermiExtract (10 litres) A probiotic liquid extraction derived from organic Vermicompost. It contains soil bacteria, fungi and protozoa, which form the foundation of a healthy Soil Food Web
  • BioTabs (20 Tabs) An effervescent tablet with 4 Strains of Trichoderma fungi and 5 strains of Bacillus bacteria, an easy and cost effective way of getting good microbes into your green.
  • Liquid Endo Mycorrhizhae (200ml) Liquid Endo Mycorrhizal Inoculant contains a minimum of 1,100,000 Endo-mycorrhizal Propagules per litre. It promotes rapid root and shot growth for fine perennial grasses without encouraging Poa annua.


The two legged problem in the room

Ecology is a fascinating subject in and of itself. If you’re not convinced of that, I defy you not to be awestruck by Chris Packham’s brilliant BBC series on the subject. This particular episode is heavy on fungus, but also explains a remarkable synergy between animals and plants. The pine trees a reliant on the success of the salmon in the river!

This easily digested and entertaining explanation of an eco-system at work shows not only how fascinating ecology is, but also how fragile eco-systems can be. For example, over-fishing of Pacific Salmon at sea could send the forest in the film into a sharp decline.

If you were tasked with saving the vast and ancient forests of North America, you actually wouldn’t need to understand all of the relationships as well as Chris Packham does. You’d only need to recognise that they are vital and that you shouldn’t do anything to screw them up. This is exactly what the Native Americans did for millennia. They didn’t know about microbes or mycorrhizal fungi, but they knew that the eco-system seemed to know how to look after itself and as a result didn’t feel the need to interfere.

The bowling green is an eco-system in the same way that the forest in the film is. To create a Performance Bowling Green, all we have to do is facilitate the formation of a mature grassland dominated by perennial grasses like fescue and bent. That’s all, nothing more and nothing less and it is remarkably simple if we don’t over-think it. The article I linked to earlier explains this in some detail.

It’s been human interference and tampering around the edges with limited knowledge that has brought us to the point where greens are in generally poorer health than I expect they were pre-WW2. Indeed, the agricultural technological revolution we’ve seen since then is largely responsible for the decline in green health. If I had to point at one single cause of the problem (which is of course an over simplification) I would choose fungicide availability as the culprit.

The No Interference Rule has been Over-ruled (for now)

Of course for bowling greens we can’t just wait around for nature to take its course. The No Interference Rule overlooks the need to keep the green playable for now, the slight issue of us continually removing the grass clippings and the need to expedite the process of transforming the green on a more 21st century timescale.

Keep Making the Tea

With this in mind it’s a great idea to keep brewing and applying your compost tea. You’re adding missing microbe groups, boosting the existing microbiology of the soil and speeding the transition of your green to a fully perennial sward.

Natural Greenkeeping

Of course, there is no point in applying Compost Tea and then carrying on with a conventional greenkeeping program that includes routine use of fungicides. It’s important to minimise the use of pesticides generally, but with fungicides you might well have to bite the bullet occasionally to check an out break of fusarium or such like. If at all possible this should take the form of a spot treatment curative spray and blanket preventative spraying should not be employed except in extreme circumstances.

Fertilisers, Bio-Stimulants etc

Similarly, the continued routine use of high salt mineral fertilisers flies in the face of what we are doing here. You’ll remember that these are based on mineral salts and essentially perpetuate the Circle of Decline in greens.

Organic fertilisers, Bio-liquid fertilisers and Bio-stimulants are the preferred route to go while transforming your green and then for the long haul afterwards too.

As your green transitions to perennial grasses and the soil micro-life changes in recognition of this you will use less fertiliser in any case as the continual, aerobic degradation of organic material feeds the natural supply chain in the soil. Of course, we are continually removing the grass clippings, so additional Nitrogen will aways be required.

Measuring bowls green surface firmness

Turf Evaluation Nansha China

Measuring bowls green surface firmness is the critical 2nd step in the testing of our hypothesis on bowls green performance. In isolation, testing surface firmness only reveals yet another symptom of good or bad green performance. When allied to an assessment of soil moisture levels however, it can reveal some enlightening findings on the way to a Performance Bowling Green.

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Greenkeeper’s nous and bowls green performance

Greenkeeper's nous and bowls green performance

There's a solid and direct link between greenkeeper's nous and bowls green performance. Most greenkeepers have an instinctive understanding of what affects bowling green performance and it's a short leap from there to putting our greens right for the long term. Somehow though, it just doesn't work like that. Maybe we don't have the courage of our own convictions or perhaps we've been indoctrinated into the belief that greenkeeping is complicated.

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Performance Evaluation of the Bowling Green

Performance Evaluation of the Bowling Green

By far the best selling of my eBooks available on this site is Performance Bowling Greens; it out sells all of the others by 10-1. Bowling green performance can seem a bit sketchy and hard to tie down to any sort of measurable parameter, but that's more to do with the lack of a joined up approach to the subject in the industry than it is a lack of measurable components. This article introduces the subject of the Performance Evaluation of the Bowling Green.

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