Will there be life after pesticides for bowling clubs?
Pretty soon (5-10 years) we won’t have any pesticides available to us to use on bowling greens or golf courses in Europe. Should we be worried by that? The answer is a double barrelled one:
- If your maintenance program is based around waiting for symptoms to appear so you can kill or get rid of problems like fungal disease, hydrophobic soil and insects, then yes you should be concerned.
- If however, you have a performance greens program that aims to maintain a healthy living green, alive with soil microbes and with a fine, dense, firm turf surface, you probably haven’t had to reach for the bottle in a while and there’s no reason to think you’ll have to in the future.
The fact is, that we actually won’t have a choice, but that is a good thing. It will hopefully awaken the real greenkeeper in a lot of us and force us to work with nature instead of against it.
All of this will be good for bowling greens as they will have to be maintained using common sense greenkeeping practices that focus on playing surface performance. The only way I’ve seen to reliably maintain greens for high performance is to work with what we can observe and to work with nature.
For too long, too many clubs have been at the mercy of an industry that wants to sell them chemicals that simply perpetuate the problems they are supposed to fix. The issues we are seeing all over are caused by blind adherence to what we’re told and not looking and learning for ourselves. The industry is of course supported by a huge number of product suppliers and they all have to make a crust. Some of this is good, i.e. we get innovation in equipment etc, but on the product side it causes greenkeepers to get stuck in ruts they find it hard to get out of again. I’m speaking here mainly about the proliferation of using pesticides for every symptom and the continued folly of sand top-dressing without understanding.
I get a lot of emails that start off:
“John, I know you are totally against topdressing… but”
The fact is I’m not totally against top-dressing and in the work I do in the golf world I’m one of the biggest advocates of USGA greens, so I’m not anti sand either, but there is a very great deal of misunderstanding of USGA greens and the role of sand in rootzones and topsoils.
What I am against is blind adherence to traditions regardless of the evidence in front of us.
Thatch is largely a symptom of the maintenance practices we have employed, killing anything that moves and making the soil inert, hydrophobic, acidic, lacking in oxygen. Over watered, over fertilised and simply sick. A lot of the greens I see (golf and bowls) have excessive thatch, yet the clubs still follow intensive fertiliser programs, when they probably don’t have to worry about fertiliser for a very long time, other than a bit of Nitrogen when the grass is growing.
On greens that have been subjected to the now traditional round of pesticides and sand and where there is almost always deep, dense, matted thatch, there is no time like the present to get started on the Performance Greens Program.
How to get started…
- Making holes as often as you can to get some air into the soil using deep slit tiner like the Sisis Autoslit or an old Outfield Spiker in winter (October to late February) and a machine that can punch pencil diameter tines into 4 or 5 inches depth in spring and late summer. Shallow pricking of the surface with a sarrell roller through the summer months is also a good idea.
- Physical removal of thatch in the autumn via hollow tining and scarifying.
- The use of carbohydrates and compost teas to stimulate microbial activity in the soil. Carbohydrates can be supplied by seaweed liquids, molasses and a whole range of carbohydrate rich turf products. Bring the soil back to life and you are well on your way to recovery.
- No fertiliser except N in the growing season.
- Never blanket spray a preventative fungicide, only spot treatments of contact in the early days of recovery and completely stopping the use of them in the medium term
- No more sand top-dressing for the foreseeable future; you will come up against it for this, but the argument about top-dressing levelling the playing surface doesn’t hold up when you can make a 1 inch dent in the turf with your shoe. Levels and smoothness of surface are almost nothing to do with top-dressing.
First Autumn Program of the Performance Greens Program
For the record here is my favoured method for reducing thatch quickly in the first autumn of the performance greens program:
- Jumbo hollow tine (5/8″ tines at 2 inch centres) to remove 5 % of the surface…leave the cores lying
• Graden thatch removal with 2mm tines at 13mm (over the top of the cores) spacings to remove a further 15% of the surface.
- Scrape and lift the resulting debris and brush the green to return the rootzone material that is left on the surface into the slots
- Double cut the green with a hand mower and the green can be played on immediately.
- No topdressing
- No overseeding (futile with so much thatch)
You will have physically removed 20% of the green surface and the knock on effect of the sudden oxygen boost will instigate the breakdown of much more thatch.
Soon we won’t have legal access to any pesticides for use on amenity turf and that will be a good day for greenkeepers. Instead of fearing it, we should embrace it.
It takes a lot of nerve to fly in the face of the perceived wisdom of the industry, but it’s the only way to go.