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Performance Bowls Green Maintenance Schedule

A few readers have asked for guidance on what work they should be carrying out on the green on a month to month basis.

Now of course conditions across the UK are widely varied at the moment; some areas in the south are free from frost, whilst here in Perthshire we can have very hard ground and many days of minus temperatures, in the southern parts of the country things can be and often are a lot milder.

When there is frost or snow cover its simply a waiting game; it really is best not to try to remove snow or ice from the green for two reasons:

  1. the damage that could be caused to the turf and soil by actually doing this work.
  2. the snow is affording the turf some protection from the worst of the cold weather; see my article on winter green protection here.

However, after the snow has gone and you start to see a prolonged period of thaw there are a few things you need to look out for as follows:

  • Avoid walking on the green whilst it is thawing; this is the most dangerous time to work or walk on the green as it can cause a problem known as “root shear” which as the name implies results in the grass plants being sheared away from their roots. This is fatal to the plants and can cause the green to completely bare come the spring.
  • When the snow and ice have gone you might see a sudden out break of fusarium; this is due to the conditions suddenly becoming ideal for the disease to take hold. Mild and damp conditions combined with other factors such as thatch and compaction can result in devastating outbreaks of fungal disease.
  • Snow mould is another if very similar problem to fusarium and is actually the same disease. The problem is that snow acts as an insulator ( a very efficient one; see article here) and creates a micro-climate at the green surface which is ideal for fungal outbreaks. However, in the early part of 2010 when greens were covered with ice and snow for prolonged periods, snow-mould wasn’t a big problem and this was solely due to the very low temperatures before the snow accumulated. I think we might be lucky enough this time around to avoid this also.
  • However, the absence of snow mould might highlight yet another, potentially more serious problem and that is very low soil temperature (again highlighted in the article here) and it might be that we have to consider more formal green protection measures in the future to ensure that we have any chance of producing an acceptable bowling surface in the early part of the season.

My recent article on Canadian research into winter green protection can be viewed here.

In milder winters, maintenance should keep going at pace as normal and this should include:

  • Regular deep slit tining at least once but preferably twice per month (more of the ground is firm and not too wet). I get a lot of emails asking about the ideal machinery for this and you can re-read my previous post on this here. If the heads are still looking a bit yellow and compact you can try a bit of warming hand forking as discussed by Rob in an earlier post here:
  • Keep a watchful eye for fusarium disease and spot-spray with a contact fungicide as required. As you work your way through the Performance Bowling Greens program, you will see less and less of this problem due to the soil and turf becoming increasingly healthy and alive.
  • Keep brushing the green to remove dew every day.
  • Switch or brush away worm casts.
  • Keep the green clear of leaves and other debris
  • Keep the grass topped at around 8mm to avoid lush spots and long grass that can encourage disease.
  • Carry out any turf repairs that are necessary.

I’ll keep adding to this as time goes on, but meantime if you have any questions please keep them coming and of course feel free to comment on any post.

13 comments

  1. McKenzie Gibson says:

    During the playing season when is the best time to cut the grass? I mean what time interval do you recommend between cutting and playing?

    • John says:

      re-growth can be pretty vigorous in the main playing season, so the closer to play the better if you want to get the green at its fastest and smoothest.

  2. Patrick Collins says:

    Thanks John for all your good advice. Our club green is in Hemet, Riverside county California USA. We have a problem green. It runs at about 10.7 seconds and the grenkeepr seems unable to get it up to about 12.5 which is whee it should be play ‘proper’ bowls. We gave sever heat here (this week over 43 C. In Winter it is below 3C. Our grass is a Bermuda hybrid. Our green while looking fairly green is far too slow and is bumpy and has ridges (No roller!) Do you have any suggestions for year around maintenance programme for ‘desert edge’ green? Rainfall is baour 14 inches per annum. We have edge sprayers and spray in the centre of the green. Our greenkeeper just does not have the knowledge. Regards Patrick

    • John says:

      Patrick

      Good to hear from you on a rare day here in Scotland when we are getting some sunshine and heat.

      My knowledge of warm season grasses is rusty to say the least, but it sounds like your green needs some attention in as far as keeping the vigour of the bermuda under control and in the establishment of a denser and more uniform growth pattern.

      Does your grass survive the winter or do you need to re-sprig in Spring each year? I expect the hybrid is fairly hardy?

      If you could send me a couple of photos by email that would be useful, as would a brief run-down of your annual maintenance program.

      Meantime I will give this some more thought, dig into the old grey matter for you.

      Great to have you on board here at bowls-central.

      I spent a memorable week in the LA area a few years ago and chose to stay at the Historic Mission Inn, Riverside which was a fantastic experience and an unforgettable atmosphere.

      Regards

      John

      • Patrick Collins says:

        Hi John,

        Thank you for your kind reply. I will take some photos and email them to you. The grass is fairly hardy. We have no real maintenance programme let alone the thought of respriging in Spring! Mowing and th once a year verticutting is about it. The grass does survive the Winter. Play is all year round with no break for any annual maintenance! It is like talking to a brick wall, which on occasions is the state of the green too!

        I, of course, bought your eBooks which are really well thought out and certainly appreciated by me. Great to be on board. Thank you! Patrick

  3. Rob Moores - Grange Club says:

    Hello John,

    Nowt for weeks and then twice in three days.
    Root shear. – In your book you mention this in relation to not walking/working on the green when it is thawing. Our green is wet to damp at the moment and we have noticed that after the veterans ( that’s me and the rest of the olds ) have played a match there are small crescent shaped marks where the turf has “lifted”. We are certain that they are caused because a lot of the vets are bowling out from knee or even waist height so a 2lb 10oz wood is going to have an effect when it lands.
    Apart from making them bowl from a kneeling position, which would slow games down even more, can you suggest anything in our weekly or autumn maintenence programme that would alleviate the problem please.

    Regards
    Rob

    • admin says:

      Hi Rob
      Good to hear from you.
      This is a problem known as “skinning” which describes what happens when the turf doesn’t have a strong enough root system. The turf wrinkles up and comes away from the soil when it is dealt a glancing blow, such as a heavily delivered bowl.

      Our old friend thatch is a major contributor, as is compaction; and it’s usually these factors which attract and encourage the shallow rooting Poa annua to prevail in the turf. The combination of these 3 can cause skinning and root-break problems.

      The answer is to keep on top of compaction relief, spread the wear out by moving the heads from time to time, aeration, thatch control and thatch reduction.

      It’s a common problem as the head areas get a lot of compaction inducing foot and machinery traffic, so don’t shoot any of the older members just yet. My knees aren’t what they used to be either 🙂

      John

  4. Rob Moores - Grange Club says:

    Hiya John,

    Sorry to hear about your knees. Maybe acupuncture next time you go out to China. It worked for my neck and shoulders a couple of years ago.
    I got quite excited when reading the last part of your reply until I realised I’d missed the word don’t. I suppose we”ll have to put up with the forgetful, cantankerous, complaining old buggers who go on and on and on about!!! Mmmm. I’m going to have to get out more.

    Thanks,
    Rob

  5. Rob Moores - Grange Club says:

    Hello John,
    The season’s almost over and I am thinking about our skinning problem and poa annua grass.
    If we are to scarify vigorously as you suggest I had the horrible vision of us stripping all the grass off the green if it is poa annua.
    How would we know if there is still a good coverage of quality grass there and how deep into the soil should we be setting the scarifier.
    Ours is a Crown Green so the skinning is over most of the damp half over shadowed by trees. The bottom half went a bit brown after the hot spell and appears thatchy with not much green grass in it.
    Rob.
    PS re your Manifesto for a Successful Bowling Club advice. Somebody on the committee must be reading it. We successfully ran a Ladies Classic over three week-ends with a Junior classic for under 18’s along side our established Men’s event . A football team now meets every week here, we have teams in the local darts and crib league, a local Park bowls club wants to use our green next season and we have a slimming club meet here every week. There is going to be a charity invitation with the top 32 ladies and top 32 men pairing up for a local cause. All in the last few months.
    We really do want the green to be a credit to the club.

    • John Quinn says:

      Hi Rob

      Poa annua is very distinctive when set against finer bent and fescue turf. It will tend to have a broader leaf, a much lighter green colour and there will probably be a fair bit of yellowing on the leaf. It also looks patchy, as it has a bunch type growth habit. There’s a good turfgrass identification tool here. It’s from the USA, where they call it Annual Bluegrass in case you can’t find it.

      If possible you should try to get the some hollow tining done before scarifying to try to relieve the wetter ground and get some air into the soil. This wont do the drier part any harm either. If there is still thick thatch then I recommend a program similar to the one I discussed with Eric here

      Good to hear the old Manifesto is working; sounds like the club is moving in the right direction within the local community.

      Let me know how things are progressing with the autumn plans.

      Cheers

      John

  6. Susan Campbell says:

    The cost of maintaining a bowls green to an acceptable standard is very high. Where this is done by a local authority the benefit is usual for a small number of people with a very high cost per head with only a small proportion of the cost, if any, being borne by the users. I would not wish to even suggest to local councils that bowls greens be removed because although this is a high cost per head, the people benefitting will probably cost a lot more to the health service if they don’t have the activity.

    However is there an alternative to grass that may have an initial high outlay but then much lower maintenance costs?

    The reason I ask this is that volunteer groups can often apply for grants to cover high cost capital projects although usually there are no grants for running costs. The usual terms of a grant is there has to be a guarantee that the results of the project has to be maintained for 5 years afterwards. I have found my local council very happy to sign up for that guarantee when I have run projects to raise money, as a volunteer, for capital projects on their land.

    If there is an option to grass, that works, that would give people playing bowls a consistently good surface and save local authority money that they could use to benefit more people, particularly in social care, that would be a winning result for all.

    • John Quinn says:

      Thanks for your message Susan

      There are lots of alternatives to real grass. A quick Google on “Artificial Turf Surfaces for Bowls” will bring up a lot of information.

      Artificial surfaces however, are not maintenance free or even low maintenance in a lot of cases.

      The high cost of maintenance you allude to on natural turf is largely down to many greens being locked into poor maintenance cycles. The whole intention of this site is to help clubs correct that pattern, improve green performance and reduce costs in the process.

      John

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