I've had a lot of requests to supply a general set of recommendations for winter maintenance for bowling greens. Although the full program for any green should be based on a thorough inspection and soil analysis, there are some general rules you can follow. I've also put together a suggested package of materials to help you apply this program more easily.
In parts 1 and 2 of this series on how to fix your bowling green, we discussed the process and importance of taking regular soil profile samples and discovered what the soil sample can actually tell us about the condition of the green. In part 3 John links this to demonstrate why each of the visual signals from the soil sample point clearly to one or more of the multitude of issues we experience on poorly performing greens. From disease outbreaks to skinning of heads and bad runs on rinks, the humble soil profile sample can tell us a lot about where we're going wrong and point to the answers that will help us create a performance bowling green in the near future.
Done for you greenkeeping schedules. Instead of relying on guesswork, hearsay and myth, wise clubs are putting their faith in science and proven agronomic expertise to help them draw up the correct greenkeeping schedule for their greens. In this article we explain how you can easily tap into John's Master Greenkeeper expertise and have a "done for you' greenkeeping schedule for your green.
In this article we take the soil samples you removed in Fix your bowling green Step1 and look more closely at them to discover what's going on under your green. This is one of the most valuable practices that any greenkeeper can undertake as it can reveal a wealth of information about the condition of your green that you could previously only guess at.
I genuinely believe that it's possible to come up with a formula to fix your bowling green, regardless of it's current condition. This is due to one over-riding fact that I've discovered after looking at literally hundreds of greens. They are all at some stage of what I've termed the Circle of Decline. The critical factor in making this possible is simple. You must know what you are dealing with and there is no way to find that out without carrying out some hand dirtying investigative work. So let's get dirty!
Greenkeepers are bombarded with turf problems in the form of disease, weeds, pests and disorders. Now, with many pesticides being banned and unavailable it's time for us to take back control of our turf. The good news is that it is actually easier without chemicals, because we are forced to learn more about the underlying causes of problems and become more familiar with the ecology of our greens.
Life after pesticides for bowling clubs, what a scary thought, or is it? Master Greenkeeper John Quinn explains why he believes the death of pesticides could be the start of a revolution in bowling green performance.
Well here we are at the end of another bowling season. It’s hard to believe that it’s that time already. On my travels around I’ve spotted the usual signs that autumn is coming with some clubs still stacking up the top dressing ready for the renovation onslaught. How I wish more clubs would re-think that plan and join the growing ranks of forward thinking clubs.
At this time of year you will hear a well worn phrase oft repeated:
“Time to put the green to bed for the winter”
Nothing makes me shudder more than that phrase as it communicates an attitude towards bowling green maintenance that is completely at odds with achieving a performance bowling green.
The process of putting the green to bed usually involves maintenance practices that many clubs have abandoned on my advice and who are now reaping the benefits of better green performance, more consistent playing conditions and although not the main aim of my program, vastly reduced maintenance costs; a nice bonus wouldn’t you say?
The putting the green to bed plan also assumes that the green should more or less be left alone after the autumn renovation program and I’m here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth, if you want a performance green next year that is.
The autumn and winter period is the most important time of year to get some of the key work done on the green and it should be quite a busy time. The bonus is that you get to be out in the fresh, crisp air in the winter working off the Christmas excess as a lot of what I’ll be recommending is physical work.
The second best seller after Performance Bowling Greens on Bowls Central is The Autumn and Winter Bowling Green Maintenance Guide.
This guide provides step by step advice for general autumn maintenance as well as specific advice for all of the common bowling green problems like Disease, LDP, Moss, Thatch and Compaction.
In nature, it is often said that things will tend towards chaos and this is described by a mechanism known as Entropy. In one of his recent TV programs, Professor Brian Cox demonstrated this using a sand castle as his example. Simply put, Entropy says that due to natural movement by wind and weather, sand is highly unlikely to form itself into a sand castle. However, a sand castle is highly likely to be converted to a pile of sand. This is Entropy in action and it seems to say that nature prefers chaos to order; but, whose description of “order” are we using for this?
What if nature was viewing the sand castle as chaos and was instead trying to make order of it by turning it back into a nondescript (as far as we are concerned) pile of sand?
The fact is, that instead of chaos:
Natural systems will tend towards equilibrium.
A common example of this tendency towards equilibrium is the wind we feel on our faces every day. Wind is caused by uneven warming of the earth’s surface. Where one area is warmed more directly, the air above it will rise. This creates a space for cool air. When that cool air rushes in to fill the void, we feel it as wind.
So, although these processes might look like chaos to us (when our sand castle is ruined), it’s really the opposite to chaos that’s happening:
Natural systems will tend towards equilibrium.
This is the way of nature and it informs and drives a lot of what goes on in and around the grass plants on the bowling green.
Today, we will look at two mechanisms of turfgrass physiology that active in our grass plants and soil and that follow this tendency towards equilibrium, without which our turf wouldn’t be able to grow and thrive.
The first of these mechanisms is called Diffusion which is a term you will find throughout science. In broad scientific terms Diffusion explains the process through which molecules mix as a result of their energy and random motion.
In more simple terms related directly to the management of bowling greens, we see Diffusion in three distinct plant growth processes. We can think of it as a process that makes molecules move from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration.
When we looked at the basics of Photosynthesis, we discovered that our grass plants absorb Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from the air through their leaves. Diffusion is responsible for this process; as the CO2 moves from an area of relatively high concentration (the air) to an area of relatively low concentration (the interior of the grass plant leaf). So Diffusion is a very important process in the cycle of food production for the plant.
The second of these growth processes affected by Diffusion is the way in which soil borne nutrients are moved towards the roots of our grass plants to enable them to be taken up by the roots. These nutrients are present as ions in the soil. These nutrient ions can spontaneously move from a point of higher concentration to a point of lower concentration by Diffusion. This happens in the soil because the immediate root area, once it is depleted (by the roots sucking them into the plant in the soil water), has a lower concentration of the nutrient ions. In this way, the soil around the roots remains in equilibrium with the greater soil mass.
The final of our three examples of Diffusion at work is called Transpiration.
Transpiration is the process by which the plant loses water to the air through the leaves. It is essentially a mechanism by which water evaporates out of the plant to the air. This evaporation happens through the leaf stomata, the same tiny holes in the undersides of the grass plant leaves that are used to take in CO2. This is another example of Diffusion in action, as the water vapour moves from an area of relatively high concentration (the interior of the leaf), to an area of low concentration (the air)
Transpiration is an essential part of the mechanism by which plants continually take up moisture and nutrients from the soil. The combination of the Transpiration Pull (of moisture out of the plant to the air) and the sucking up of water (and nutrients) by the roots from the soil creates the effect of a continuous pump that moves water and nutrients around the plant to where they are needed. In the process, it gives the grass plants some of the functional qualities required to produce a Performance Bowling Surface.
This sucking up of soil nutrients in soil water solution brings us neatly to the second of the mechanisms that keep this natural balance, Osmosis.
Osmosis is the name of the process in plant growth whereby water molecules move from an area of relatively low concentration (of solute nutrients) to an area of relatively high concentration (of solute nutrients). Osmosis then is the mechanism used by the plant to take up most of the water and nutrients it needs.
Direct root interception of nutrients.
Root hairs make direct contact with nutrients in the soil, but can only impact around 3% percent of the soil volume. Symbiotic relationships with Mycorrhizae can increase the soil volume that roots are able to extract nutrients from.
Grass plants, sucking up water through the processes of osmosis and transpiration also move the nutrients that are dissolved in this water up through the plant. Some nutrients are more mobile than others due to the relative weakness of their electrical charge (or polarity of it) and are usually always available in soil solution. The Nitrate form of Nitrogen is quickly available to plants due to this, as are other mobile nutrients like chloride and sulphur. Calcium and magnesium are only loosely held by the soil and are easily brought into the soil water solution. However, some other nutrients are held tightly to what is called the soil colloid and are much less easily accessed by the plants.
Next time we will look at the process that dictates the availability of soil nutrients.
The breakdown of sugars to release energy in a process that provides the chemical energy source for all cellular activities. Respiration depends on a supply of glucose (from photosynthesis), oxygen and suitable temperature.
Last time I introduced photosynthesis, one of the key processes in turfgrass physiology, used by plants to produce their own food. This happens when the plants use the photosynthesis process to turn carbon dioxide taken in from the air by the leaves into a simple sugar (glucose) product that can then be used to fuel the growth and build tissue in all areas of the plant. We saw how the glucose can be used immediately to fuel the plant’s internal processes, or be stored as starch for later use.
The plant uses a process called Respiration to drive growth and development. In much the same way that we respire, i.e. burning food to grow, develop and keep our bodies healthy, plants burn the food created by photosynthesis to fuel growth and to build and repair all of the component parts of the plant.
A simple way to think of Respiration is that it is almost the opposite reaction to Photosynthesis. Here’s how it looks:
Glucose + Oxygen ——————> Carbon Dioxide + Water + Energy
You will see from the equation above that in addition to the energy developed, there is quite a lot of by product in the form of CO2 and Water. Respiration is quite a wasteful process and a lot of the energy produced is given off as heat into the bargain.
Respiration takes place in all plant cells but can only use one source of fuel and that is the glucose or starch already produced by photosynthesis. This means that Photosynthesis and Respiration are locked into a kind of race. As Respiration fuels growth it is said to assimilate the products of photosynthesis i.e. assimilate the food into plant tissue. This means that for good steady plant growth, photosynthesis must produce more food than respiration requires. The measurement of this is called the Net Assimilation Rate (NAR). We will look at this process in a bit more detail in a later article, but for now it’s enough to know that when photosynthesis can’t keep up with respiration, growth and repair will slow down or even stop.
Respiration operates continually even at night and of course Photosynthesis only happens in sunlight. Both processes require a suitable temperature to work also. This explains the slow down of growth in the cooler, darker months. It also explains the need for different turf management practices where there is shade.
If photosynthesis stops or is even reduced, the plant becomes unable to grow and becomes semi-dormant. With our cool season grasses in the UK, semi-dormancy is usually the full extent of the slow down we see. In a warm winter week, we will usually see a restart of growth and we will probably need to give the green a cut a few times over the winter as growth doesn’t usually stop completely.
However, there are transition zones around the world where it is too hot in summer to use cool season grasses and too cold in winter for warm season grasses, and in these areas the warm season species’ can experience full dormancy where the grass turns completely brown or yellow for the entire winter period.
Dormancy aside, if the plant is to survive, then respiration must continue even in the winter and this is why we see a completely natural receding or shrinking back of the grass plants on our greens even if we leave them mown at a fairly high height of cut at the start of winter. The plants start to use up some of the starch reserves saved in the good days when NAR was low (photosynthesis easily keeping up with respiration) in the roots, stems and crowns of the plants. When this reserve is depleted, the plant must conserve energy by reducing its biomass. Roots will recede and leaf tissue will be sacrificed for the greater good of winter survival.
To wrap up for today, Respiration is the process used by the plant to convert food into plant tissue and is the main driver of growth, repair and reproduction in the grass plant. When photosynthesis (production) is greater then respiration (consumption) then growth will continue unabated. When the opposite happens, then growth slows and semi-dormancy can occur.
Next time we will start to look at the internal mechanisms the plant uses to take in water and nutrients.