Turf Grass Uniformity. Performance Evaluation of the Bowling Green part 2.

Uniformity

The Performance Evaluation of the Bowling Green we embarked on last time relies on our ability to appraise a range of factors. Some of these are purely visual, while others are functional and can be quantified more readily. The trick lies in gaining the experience to merge the visual data with likely performance traits. Good old fashioned greenkeeping and the greenkeeper's "feel" for the turf are still as relevant as they've always been. Today we get started on the process of evaluating bowling green performance.

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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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Winter Greenkeeping Plan

Deep Slit Tining

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.

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Bowling green nutrition, how it works

We are familiar with the concept of our grass plants being composed mostly of water (75-85%), but what else is in a grass plant? The answer is that the dry matter of the plant is made up of a mix of 16 elements, commonly referred to as the essential nutrients. We describe them as essential because the plant can’t exist or complete its life cycle if any of these nutrients are lacking to any great degree. 

Bowling Green Nutrition

Some of these elements are used in bulk by the grass plant. These are Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Calcium, Magnesium and Sulphur. Some others like Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Boron, Molybdenum, Copper, Zinc and Chlorine are used in smaller amounts. I’ve added the chemical symbol for the ones we commonly see on fertiliser bags.

A large part of this dry plant matter is made up of the three big elements Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen. In my introduction to Photosynthesis we saw that the plant takes Carbon (CO2) and Oxygen directly from the air by absorbing them as gasses through the leaf stomata. Last time we looked at Osmosis, the process used by our grass plants to take up water (H20) from the soil and this is where the Hydrogen (H) comes from as well as more Oxygen. The plants can always find an abundant supply of these three elements and if the day comes when they can’t, then we won’t need to be worried too much about how the bowling green looks!

The remaining 13 essential nutrients are accessed via the soil from 2 main sources, but regardless of the source, the grass plant can only absorb these nutrients once they’ve been dissolved and contained within the soil water, more accurately referred to as the soil solution as it isn’t just water anymore.

One source of nutrition is the process of decomposition that happens when plant tissue dies. This organic (carbon rich) material is broken down by soil organisms and micro-organisms and returned to the soil as readily available plant nutrition in the soil solution. This is why the bowling green needs to be considered as an eco system; nothing happens in isolation.

As we saw, nutrients can only be accessed by the plants if they are able to be taken up by the plant roots in the soil solution, but many of the essential elements needed to complete the grass plant life cycle are securely tied up in the soil minerals. These are made available by the slow weathering of the minerals by rain and wind and are washed into soil solution where they are available to the plants. However, the majority of soil nutrients are bound up and unavailable in what are called insoluble compounds.

To be accessible to the grass plant roots, the mineral and organic nutrients must be broken down to their simplest forms called ions and some of these are negatively charged (anions), while others have a positive electrical charge (cations). The most common form of Nitrogen used by plants is N03 which is an anion due to its negative charge, whereas Calcium is taken up as Ca++ which is a cation due to its positive charge,  notated as two + signs in its chemical symbol.

These plusses and minuses are important in soil chemistry and in the relative success or otherwise of our bowling green maintenance. More + signs in the chemical symbol for any ion means a stronger bond to the soil colloid, the name given to the negatively charged clay and humus particles in the soil which hold on to cations and stop them from leaching through the soil. Incidentally, this is one reason we need to apply Nitrogen frequently as fertiliser; its negative ions are easily leached out of the soil by rain as they aren’t bound to the soil colloid. It also explains why it is futile to double up on fertiliser applications in the hope of a better result.

Before they can be made available to plants as ions in soil solution between 15% to 25% of the essential nutrients need to be dislodged from the soil colloid by an ion exchange and the relative ease or difficulty of this in a soil is called the Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC). The CEC is simply a measure of how many exchange sites exist on the colloid.

Now here is another of those wonders of nature that is difficult to appreciate when you’re looking out the clubhouse window at that square of grass. The root hairs of the grass plants release hydrogen ions (H+) and when these come into contact with the soil colloid, they each take up a place on the colloid, breaking or weakening the colloidal-nutrient bond of one of the other nutrient ions. Each + in a nutrient’s symbol is equivalent to one exchange site, meaning you need 3 H+ Hydrogen ions to knock a Fe+++ Iron ion off the colloid and into soil solution. Once these nutrients are knocked free they become more available to the plants, where they are taken up in soil solution through the root hairs.

Hydrogen ions H+ are at the very heart of another important soil mechanism called pH, but that’s for another day.

Feeding the Roses with Pound Notes

Most clubs have great looking roses!
Most clubs have great looking roses!

I have lost count of the words I have written, conversations I have had and arguments I have inadvertently started about one of  greenkeepings greatest follies;  routinely top-dressing your green with high sand content top dressing composts year in and year out. During my greenkeeping career over 3 decades and during countless hours of research I have been amazed to find clubs where 5, 7 or even 10 tonnes of top-dressing is being applied every autumn.

The really tragic thing about this practice is that in every case the club are paying for a contractor to hollow tine (core) the green and then apply this material.

Let me ask you where the cores from your green go after they are lifted?

I would hazard a guess that you either spread them on the rose beds around the green or give them away to members for their gardens.

Now hollow tining is typically carried out to a depth of 100mm (4 inches) and usually only 10-15 percent of the core is unwanted thatch.

So that means that 85-90% of each core is made up of all of the expensive top-dressing you have been applying over the years. No wonder the roses look so good!

With top-dressing now costing around £160 per tonne, its easy to see how hundreds of pounds are wasted like this on nearly every bowling green in the UK every year.

In addition to this there are a lot of negative agronomic impacts associated with this practice.

Localised Dry Patch is exacerbated by excessive sand content. This causes areas of the green surface to become impervious to water and dry out completely. The end result is an un-healthy, bumpy green which becomes susceptible to disease, moss infestation and loss of grass cover.

This is just one instance of good money being thrown after bad at just about every bowling green across the land.

Now this is not to say that top-dressing is never required or isn’t a valuable tool in the greenkeepers arsenal. There are times when top-dressing is absolutely the right thing to do.

However, there is generally no need to blindly apply several tonnes every autumn, only to keep the roses looking good!

Soil Chemical and Peak Sand (Texture Analysis)
Soil Chemical and Peak Sand (Texture Analysis)
Comprehensive Chemical Analysis and Peak Sand (Texture Assessment) of your green's soil (rootzone). You will receive a soil sampling kit with instructions for taking and returning (freepost) your soil samples to the lab. The results will come back to you from Bowls Central with a full report detailing all Primary, Secondary and Trace elements, Cation Exchange Capacity, Base Saturation, Electrical Conductivity, Organic Matter, pH and your soil's position on the Soil Texture Triangle (assessed by the Laser Diffraction method and alerting you to your greens proximity to Peak Sand). Includes a full report written by a Master Greenkeeper with comprehensive 12 month greenkeeping program for your green. Unlimited support and further advice will be provided as required.

Over-seeding Fact and Fiction

Another very popular subject on this site is over-seeding of greens in Autumn.

Over-seeding is commonly carried out as part of the autumn bowling green maintenance and renovation program and is very often a disappointment.

You would expect this work to quickly fill in the bare patches and spaces in the sward left by  disease, localised dry patch and a host of other green problems, but this is very often not the case…why?

The answer to most disappointing results from over-seeding is “competition”. Competition from the mature, indigenous grasses whether fine or weed grasses like annual meadow grass usually reduces the success or survival rate from over-seeding to a very small percentage.

This quite often comes as a surprise to greenkeepers who have observed a very good “take” shortly after seeding (7-14 days). At this early stage it is not uncommon to see vigorous lines of dense new seedlings bursting forth from the green. This however, is usually a false reading.

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The Role of Microorganisms in Soil Health

Fungi

The Role of Microorganisms in Soil Health is vast and in many cases misunderstood. For decades we have been obsessed with the potential harm that just a few pathogenic microbes can cause, instead of learning to think of the soil as an eco-system. We've learned the hard way about that approach and now that pesticide availability is being reduced we need to start taking this seriously. Excellent article here from Christopher Johns, Research Manager, Northern Australia and Land Care Research Programme

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