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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.

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Irrigation Systems

Bowling green irrigation is one of the areas of bowling green maintenance that raises the most questions.

On the face of it, this appears to be a simple subject; install sprinklers (watering systems), switch them on when it’s dry and the green gets evenly watered and everybody’s happy!

In reality it is a minefield of decisions including; best system design for your green, water storage, watering schedules, when, how and how much to water, green speed, disease, dry patch, thatch etc.

I have assembled some more in-depth information regarding the watering of bowling greens here.

If you need any help with this subject please feel free to drop me a line directly.

Spring green renovation.

the new season is almost here

Spring bowling green renovation should be focussed on 3 main components:

1. the completion of the winter, deep aeration program
2. rejuvenation and aeration of the green surface
3. nutritional corrections

On greens in the non-drought affected areas of the UK, it should still be OK to carry out slit tining.

This is the last time we will get a chance to do this until autumn.

Two final operations with this machine will make all the difference to the greens ability to resist compaction in the early part of the season.

In drier areas, mini solid tining might be preferable and this can be done in addition to the slit tining in other areas.

If you have a thatchy green; identified by spongy turf, disease problems in winter and general poor health; you should scarify the green quite harshly in two directions to remove some of the fibre and mat that has built up over the winter months.

On healthier greens, where over-seeding was carried out last autumn you should avoid heavy scarification.

Lighter verti-cutting can commence once the sward is growing vigorously in May.

A question I get asked a lot is:

“ How much top-dressing should be applied in spring?”

The answer is a resounding “None”

Good luck with your spring bowling green renovation work.

Tomorrow we will have a look at turf nutrition requirements for pre-season

More detailed information on aeration here, thatch here and a range of one page factsheets here

Dealing with Snow and Ice on Your Green

A couple of years ago we were hit by severe snow and ice in some parts of the country and it raised a few questions about how best to deal with severe winter weather on bowling greens. I am re-visiting this today as a timely reminder now that we are in the winter season. Hopefully this will be a good omen and we wont get any snow this year!

The unusually early onset of winter in 2009 and 2010 created a few problems for most of us and seriously curtailed many winter maintenance programs.

We received a lot of enquiries asking for advice on dealing with the snow and ice on bowling greens and the aftermath of deep snow cover.

The main concern during and after snow cover is the potential for the outbreak of fungal diseases such as fusarium patch; and indeed, fusarium might well be encountered after the snow has melted. Although many clubs will have applied a preventative fungicide in the Autumn, this might not have provided total protection, but should have minimised the risk of attack.

When the snow has gone you might well find active areas of Fusarium and this should be treated with a curative fungicide containing the active ingredients iprodione  or chlorothalonil applied as per the manufacturer’s advice.

Many of the enquiries we have received have been related to the actual snow cover and clubs have been worried about the prolonged cover of snow and ice on their turf and have asked if they should be pro-active and do something to remove the ice cover. My advice would be to leave it and allow it to melt naturally.

Attempting to remove ice could result in damage to the turf, soil structure and grass plants.

Please also remember that even after the snow and ice has gone the underlying soil could still be frozen and any activity on the green could result in damage to the root system of the green.

Please make sure that the green has completely thawed by probing the soil before commencing (and catching up) with your winter maintenance program.

Any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Doing Nothing vs Trojan Horses

With the end of the bowling season in clear sight, many clubs will have acquired a familiar temporary feature over by the roadside hedge somewhere. If you look closely there will probably be a pallet or five of bagged top-dressing, ready to go on the green as part of the autumn renovation program.

The bags might be plain or they might be covered in text and graphics proclaiming all of the benefits for your turf that are held within.

They are essentially Trojan Horses, in that they appear to be bearing good news and gifts, but they are actually full of sand (up to 90%) and represent the continued insistence of many clubs and consultants to pursue a program of desertification of bowling greens in the UK.

When your green was first constructed, it probably had an 8-10” (200-250mm) deep layer of topsoil (rootzone). An average bulk density for topsoil would be around 1.6 tonnes/m3. If we say that the average green is 36m X 36m we get an area of 1296m2. The volume of soil required to fill this is calculated thus:

 1296 X 0.25 = 324m3

Using our bulk density average of 1.6 we can calculate weight of soil required as follows:

324 X 1.6 = 518 Tonnes. So our average green was built using approximately 518 tonnes of topsoil.

Most hollow tining operations can penetrate the soil to 4 inches (100mm) and this is usually used in conjunction with top-dressing. This then means that top-dressing operations have been concentrated on about 40% of the actual soil used to build the green (the top 4 inches). 40% of 518 tonnes is 207 tonnes.

30 years of top-dressing with 5 tonnes of material each time is equal to applying 150 tonnes of highly sandy material and this disregards the soil being removed by the hollow tiner! This also assumes that your club only jumped on the train to la la land in the 1980’s; many have been at it for at least a decade before that. I also know of some greens where they are routinely throwing 10 tonnes of straight sand on every year, so these figures are only averages and are probably leaning towards the less crazy end of the spectrum.

Is it any wonder then that greens suffer from localised dry patch, excessive thatch build up, powder dry inert soil, compaction, disease, low microbe populations etc, when almost all of the top 4 inches of the green has been replaced by sand?

If this is the plan for your club this autumn it would be better for your green, if you just do nothing. Yes, even neglecting the green and failing to undertake any autumn renovation would be much less harmful to the long term health and performance of the green than following this program.

Top dressing and over-seeding in Spring

seeding in spring is not recommended

I’ve had a couple of enquiries asking about the correct methods, quantities and materials for Spring (pre-season) over seeding and top dressing of bowling and golf greens.

This is easy; the correct thing to do in this respect is…Nothing!

Over-seeding into a sward that is about to become very vigorous as spring progresses is futile. The new seedlings don’t stand a chance against the locals.

Any new seedlings that did by some miracle survive the competition from the existing grasses would quickly succoumb to the heavy wear and tear from machinery and foot traffic the green is about to endure for the next 6 months.

Top-dressing should be avoided for all of the reasons detailed elsewhere on the site (see here), but also because applying a sandy top-dressing at this time will cause the following additional problems:

1. blunt mowers
2. sand pick up on bowls and scratched bowls
3. damage to grass plants from abrasion and blunt mower blades

So there’s an easy time and money saver for today…more on top-dressing here.

High Performance Bowls Green Maintenance

Performance Bowling Greens eBookSpring is upon us.

The new bowling season is, or will soon be under-way and there still seems like so much to do to get the green ready for play.

Today, I am going to give an overview of the work that should be going on at the green and over the coming weeks I will fill this out by looking a bit more in-depth at each of the recommended tasks individually.

For the time being I have dropped the price of Performance Bowling Greens to encourage as many clubs as possible to get hold of a copy of what has become a very popular manual for achieving a high performance bowling green.

Today’s post and the subsequent articles and links I will share with you this month assume that you are working from the Performance Greens Manual.

As usual of course, if there are any questions, please feel free to get in touch. The best way to do this is by leaving a comment on any post, signing in to use the forums or by dropping me an email.

So what should we be doing on the green in the lead up to the new bowling season?

To start, I should point out that the programs detailed in the Performance Greens Manual are spilt into 3 distinct categories as follows:

  1. Baseline: this program consists of maintenance tasks that should be carried out as detailed in the Performance Greens Manual regardless of green condition. Whether your green is in a dire state of repair or is already a high performance surface, these tasks are essential.
  2. Renovation: this program, again detailed in the Performance Greens Manual, is aimed at greens that are in the renovation or recovery phase. These tasks should be carried out in addition to the baseline program.
  3. Performance: this program is for greens that have already been through the renovation phase and are starting to perform at a high level. Again, these tasks should be carried out in addition to the baseline program.

Based on the above, you will be carrying out some or all of the following tasks in early spring:

  • Mowing
  • Worm cast/dew removal
  • Trimming green edges
  • Mini-solid tining
  • Slit tining
  • Scarifying
  • Applying wetting agent
  • Applying corrective granular fertiliser
  • Applying organic growth stimulants
  • Possibly applying pesticides but only if absolutely essential.

Tomorrow we will get started by looking more closely at the correct mowing regime and some of the technicalities of this.

Meantime, I encourage you to get hold of your copy of the Performance Bowling Greens. This will help you to follow the advice from the site and apply it to your own situation more accurately.

The Ultimate Guide to getting a Performance Bowls Green


Change Tack is an old Sailors phrase that has passed into everyday conversation to describe a change of approach.

Sometimes when we are working on a project, its easy to feel we aren’t making progress and that a “change of tack” might help.

However, the literal meaning of the phrase as used by sailors describes the actions required to effect a change of direction.

So when the latest greenkeeping fad doesn’t seem to be working as described, its quite common for bowls clubs to change tack.

Unfortunately, whereas the sailors change of tack usually helps to take him to a predetermined destination, in bowling clubs it very often means simply jumping on to the next fad and then waiting to see where they end up!

In Performance Bowls Greens I started off by explaining how this will always be the case for many clubs as the industry must keep re-inventing the wheel to keep up sales and it is actually in the trade’s best interest for your bowls green to be sub-standard so that you feel the urge to keep trying new things to correct it!

The biggest of these fads in recent times is routine top dressing. This has now stuck fast for more than 3 decades and as a result has become a “tradition” and traditions as we know are pretty hard to unhook from.

There are of course many other fads that abound in the shape of products, advice and operations we can carry out on our greens, but top-dressing has been the most damaging.

This is because it has the capacity over a number of years to alter the soil composition and with it the natural ecosystem of the soil in our greens. A few years of this is bad enough, but the decades of it we have now had, has been very detrimental to the condition of bowls greens.

The knock on effect of this is adequately described here.

The ultimate guide to breaking away from this and staying on a path to success is Performance Bowls Greens which is available here. If you are quick you can use this coupon code to get it for half price: “green50

Just use the coupon code at the checkout to get our best selling eBook for half price.

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Price: £19.97
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Photo: A bloke called Jerm