Its time again for clubs to be thinking about the end of season maintenance program and many of these programs will follow “tradition” and will include the application of several tonnes of high sand content top-dressing.
However, one of the most prevalent problems on bowling greens in the UK is that of Localised Dry Patch LDP a condition that causes soil to become hydrophobic (water repellent) and which is undoubtedly related to excessive sand content in rootzone
The autumn renovation program is the only real chance clubs have to start to make inroads into the major problems with their greens and the only time when it is possible to make large corrections to thatch and compaction; and you’ve guessed it, thatch is another major problem associated with LDP.
Localised Dry Patch creates large dry areas on greens where grass dies back and the surface is disrupted. All attempts to re-wet these areas by watering the green are doomed to failure due to the water repellent nature of the underlying soil.
The application of yet more sandy top-dressing is not going to make this better; indeed it will in most cases make the problem worse next year.
It would be more beneficial to start the process of recovery by following a program that includes thatch reduction, wetting agent application and overseeding. All autumn programs should include the application of a granular fertiliser to correct any underlying deficiencies, usually a low N and high K product.
Where moss is a problem; and with LDP it usually is, you should use a proprietary moss-killer or lawn sand between 2 and 4 weeks before thatch removal work.
In response to my request for readers to share their ideas and experiences, Bowls-Central regular Syd Kennerley sent me a photo of his green aerator a few weeks ago.
This is a machine that Syd designed and built himself and it seems to be a very effective addition to his machinery shed.
Syd kindly agreed to share the story with us, so here it is in Syd’s own words:
Some 15 years ago I decided to buy a spiker for our Bowling green; it was a two cylinder job, about two feet wide.
When pulling it, the spikes went in to about one inch depth, but I noticed when I pushed the machine in front of me it then went in to a depth of about two inches.
In those days I was a farmer and agricultural contractor, I had done Moto cross riding, Football, and also a bit of tug o war so I was reasonably fit and not frightened of hard work, but I swear to you had I continued spiking our green with that machine I would now be bowling on that superb green just beyond those Pearly Gates.
I had to find a better solution to spiking the green and I had an old 24inch ride on mower which was surplus to requirements which I had already decided to sell at an implement sale at our local cattle market. I loaded the old mower and dropped it off at the sale and on the way home I stopped off to take a look at the green.
I thought “this green could do with spiking” but I couldn’t face yet another trudge over the green with the old spiker. While driving from the green to home I started thinking that I could make a powered spiker by using the old mower, yes the mower that was about to be sold at the implement sale!
I couldn’t get back in time to stop the mower being sold, so I rang the market and told them to put a reserve price of £500 on it and of course I got a phone call around 5pm to say the mower had not been sold due to the high reserve.
With the mower back I was able to make a start on my project. I started by removing the cutting cylinder and front roller. I then removed the rear drive rollers as that was where I wanted the spike rollers to fit thus making a powered spiker. The front roller I then mounted behind the spiked cylinders; so that I could rock it back onto it for turning corners. I also used the guard of the spiker as you can see on the photo.
The day of the trial run arrived on my lawn at home with just my wife to witness this grand occasion. I set the throttle just nicely ticking over and released the clutch. When she managed to finally stop laughing my wife saidif I had not held on to it so tightly it would have out raced me to the thornedge without a shadow of doubt, so back into the workshop yet again.
After many visits to a lawnmower repair firm sifting through all his old sprockets, chains, and bushes I eventually got there, now ticking over it goes at a slow walking pace.
For the photo, I have taken the guard off so you can see the gearing down sprockets. You will also notice the two weights which slot onto the front;with these on it will go down to maximum depth if needed. When spiking the green I start on the outside and keep going round and round until I get to the centre, the reason for this is the machine works best going in straight
lines so doing it this way I only have to make 90 degree turns rather than 180 degree, if I went back and forth as you would to cut the green.
It also helps to keep compaction to a minimum and away from along the side where you might want to start your matches from.
I hope I have not spoiled the picture with having yours truly on it!
Thanks again John, for all your help and information you pass to me,
Thanks Syd for this fantastic story; a great example of the ingenuity and resourcefulness that goes on at clubs around the country and an example of the kind of helpful thinking we need to adopt in the future if we are going to have thriving bowling clubs.
Now Syd, I need to know before Sunday: Have you ever played rugby (even once!) and do you have any distant Scottish relatives?
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.
The recent hot and dry weather has seen the UK experience forest fires for the first time in a lot of years.
It’s a hot dry spring, just the thing to get the bowlers out and active early in the season.
But, of course with this comes a problem. How do you get a green that has just come through one of the most prolonged and cold winters on record to perform well when the underlying soil is powder dry?
Performance turf requires heat and moisture and it is inevitable that you will have to turn to your irrigation system at this time to keep your green’s progress moving forward. Failure to keep up now could result in a disastrous season later on when the green dries out unevenly, succumbs to Localised Dry patch or simply doesn’t perform due to a lack of moisture early in the season.
Over the last week or so we have been inundated with readers asking for advice on the correct irrigation of bowling greens.
There are 2 key pieces of information you need to know before you can hope to keep up with the irrigation requirements of your green:
How much moisture (in mm) is being lost from the green each day due to evaporation from the soil and transpiration from the grass plants? The combined effect of this is, strangely enough called Evapo-transpiration or ET
How much water (in mm) does your irrigation system apply for each minute of run time?
Armed with these two pieces of information you can water your green confidently without over or under doing it.
But you’ve come here for a cheat sheet haven’t you?
For a very large proportion of bowling greens the answers are as follows:
Around 25mm per week.
Approximately 0.5mm per minute of run time; i.e. 1mm requires 2 minutes of run time.
These answers are based on averages; so if you are suffering blisteringly dry heat the first answer could easily be higher. If you have anything other than a standard specification, 4 pop-up sprinkler system from one of the main manufacturers such as Toro, Hunter, Rainbird etc the second answer could be a lot different, particularly if you are using a hose.
Getting irrigation right is essential to achieving a consistently high performance bowling green.
For more detailed information on the problems associated with this issue have a look at these articles.
For more in depth information on calculating your irrigation requirements and inputs have a look here.
As always any questions or comments please feel free to contribute.
The watering of bowling greens is one of those critical issues in bowling that splits opinion across the game.
Some purists would see no artificial watering of greens regardless of how dry the weather gets. Some are in favour to different degrees; some would argue that the green should only be watered enough to keep it alive, while others demand that the green be watered heavily and often to keep it green.
For me the critical issue is as always performance.
We can argue about the right way to water or not water greens until the cows come home, but green performance is the only measure we should really be worrying about and that means we need to deal with individual greens on an individual basis.
Some greens, mainly those that haven’t been subjected to years of sandy top-dressings dry out evenly across the surface. As the weather gets drier, these greens get faster and smoother and everyone is happy. However, there is a point of no return for these greens also and a complete drought will see them go Read more
A high proportion of the bowling greens I see every year are victims of what has become accepted as “conventional maintenance”. I say victims, because much of what has come to be accepted as normal in bowling green maintenance, is anything but, if you happen to be a grass plant or a healthy living soil.
Below you will find a very popular article that was published on this site a while back, which illustrates very clearly the dangers inherent in “going with the flow” or following the herd to put it another way!
The diagram above shows the process that many poorly maintained bowling greens experience over a period of years if 3 basic maintenance issues are not addressed as a priority.
Another popular subject this month has been Winter Mower Servicing and in particular what you should expect of your local service workshop.
There have been many tales of work not being done properly and overcharging for service. Here is the minimum that you should expect to be included in a quote for winter service:
Full engine service including checking electrics, starting mechanism, new spark plug, all filters and oil change.
Replace bottom blade (new blade ground-in first)
Re-grind (not back lap) cylinder
Check roller bearings and advise if worn (adjust if possible)
Re-set cylinder to bottom blade clearance and check for even cut
Re-set mowing height to that specified by club.
Treat and touch up paint on any areas of rust
Check and adjust clutch settings
Check belts and replace if worn
Check Groomer and re-set to height specified by club
Check and adjust chain tensions
Lubricate all points
Free off and lubricate all adjustment mechanisms and check for proper operation
Check all cables for wear and replace/re-adjust as required
This is a minimum list and your particular brand of mower might have further items that will need to be checked. Check the manufacturer’s handbook for details, or better still request a winter service checklist from your local dealer.
Now is the time to check that this has all been done properly, not when you are half way across the green with a broken down mower on opening day morning!
Where grass grows on soil of any type the health of the turf/soil eco-system can be assessed by looking at the thatch layer.
On grass areas where there is little or no human interference in the form of excessive compaction, fertiliser, pesticides and mechanical work (other than mowing) such as in meadows or parks the thatch layer will almost always be at the optimum level for a continued healthy turf/soil eco-system. This is due to the soil/plant relationship being in balance; a strong and sufficiently lively soil microbe population releases nutrition from the thatch layer as it decomposes naturally.
As we move to areas that are subjected to progressively higher maintenance and wear activity, the thatch layer is susceptible to becoming thicker and denser and therefore needs more intensive management if the turf/soil relationship is to be kept in balance.
This can be observed by taking samples from a variety of grassed areas and comparing them to your bowling green’s thatch layer; rough meadows and areas such as the roughs on golf courses being the most natural and healthy areas and greens usually being the least healthy and in need of the most remedial work to keep them right.
When turf is used for bowling or other activities, the soil becomes compacted which is literally the expulsion of air from the soil. This throws the natural balance in the turf/soil relationship and makes it necessary for us to intervene to correct things.It is important to remember that thatch is always being produced and the more vigorous and intensively used and managed the turf is the faster it produces thatch. The desireable fine bent grasses and the common weed-grass, annual meadowgrass are prolific thatch producers.
If we don’t do the right things to correct this effect or indeed if we don’t do them often enough the green can very quickly fall into the circle of decline we looked at in an earlier article.
Recent summers have seen a lot of greens devastated by Localised Dry Patch a disorder that is rapidly becoming the scourge of Bowling Green Maintenance Specialists and Club Greenkeepers a like.
I make no apology for writing about this once again, because in my opinion this issue has the ability to accelerate the decline of many already shaky clubs.
It is also clear that there is a deep misunderstanding of the issue across the bowling community…how do I know this?
Well, on several occasions over the last week I have been confronted with some of the worst examples of Localised Dry Patch I have seen in 30 years; in some cases there is virtually no grass cover left and the green surfaces are unlikely to hold together until the end of the season, but…
Despite that, I am still coming up against two of the most mind boggling situations time after time:
The first is when I am actually demonstrating Localised Dry Patch in action by removing soil samples from affected greens and showing committee members powder dry soil/sand; and they insist that they think the green needs a good top-dressing!
The second is when I get a phone call or email from a club with the same severe LDP problems who have had a recommendation from an “expert” that they need to top-dress their green to over come the problem.
Listen folks; I know this is turning into a bit of a rant but here are a few bullet points that you must remember if your green and maybe even your club is going to survive:
Localised Dry Patch (LDP) is a soil disorder not a disease so it can’t be reversed over-night by any quick fix method regardless of how convincing the salesman is!
LDP has the capability to ruin your green beyond economical repair.
LDP is so common because clubs have habitually thrown tonnes of sand based top-dressings at their greens for decades; the tipping point has been reached, many clubs are now trying to produce bowling surfaces with limited budgets on very high sand content soils; it can’t be done!
More sand will only make the problems worse not better.
So what can be done?
Well currently if your green is affected even mildly by LDP and you are in the process of thinking about an autumn program that includes top-dressing with several tonnes of high sand content top-dressing you are not only damaging your green, but you are also wasting hundreds of pounds.
My eBook Performance Bowling Greens, a practical guide costs less than a bag of fertiliser, so do your green a favour and just buy a copy…its peanuts compared to what you are about to do otherwise.
In the book there is a clear plan for getting over LDP and moving your green to a consistently high performance surface.
You will save a lot of cash by taking a more natural, less abusive approach to green maintenance.
The savings you make could be what saves your club from going under and your green will be on the road to recovery and consistent high performance into the bargain.
If you decide to ignore this, then please take away one message “Stop Dressing”
Following on from yesterdays post on Performance Green Properties, the ideal bowling green then, will be uniform in terms of appearance, pace and consistency of play over the whole green and over the season. We will probably see an increase in pace as the summer progresses, but we shouldn’t see too many fluctuations in this pace during an average season.
This consistency is achievable, but only by first getting the green into a condition where it has returned to behaving as one living eco system. This means that the green will demonstrate some very specific attributes. Today we will consider the surface properties of such a green. It will need the following :
The grasses we use to produce the surface will need to demonstrate the following attributes:
Fine leafed with an upright growth habit
Slow re-growth after cutting
Resistance to wear, disease, drought, and cold with a fast recovery rate from wear and damage.
Deep green, uniform colouration
All of the above points us to the finer Bent and Fescue Grasses. So now that we know the kind of surface we need and the kind of grass sward we need in order to achieve this surface we can start to define the ideal growing conditions required by such a sward.
It goes without saying that there should be no weeds in the green surface and by weed I mean any plant life that can disrupt the playing surface. Now, most weeds are obvious because they are broad-leafed and show up in stark contrast to the grass surrounding them. However, there are a few less obvious weeds that can also cause inconsistency on the playing surface such as pearlwort and yarrow and these can sometimes be hard to spot and eradicate, Yellow suckling clover is another difficult weed to deal with.
In addition to the weeds proper referred to above, many greenkeepers who would also consider annual meadow-grass (Poa annua) to be just as bad a weed pest as any dandelion or daisy, but the hard truth is that many greens are so badly infested with this grass that to get rid of it quickly would be to get rid of the majority of the grass sward, leaving the green in a very poor state.
The good news is that the approach required to achieve a performance green outlined in this book will gradually make your green unattractive and unaccommodating to both broad-leafed weeds and weed grasses like annual meadow grass.
Diseases and Disorders
In addition to rogue grasses and weeds the surface can be disrupted by a plethora of different pathogens that directly interact with the grass, usually to its detriment and that of the green surface. These are almost always fungal diseases and some of the more common are fusarium, red-thread and snow mould.
Sometimes confused with diseases are a series of other green defects usually labelled as disorders. These are generally not pathogenic, so don’t directly damage the grass plants, but their effects can be just as devastating to bowling greens. These include slimes and squidge usually associated with acidic soil conditions and the very problematic Localised Dry Patch, associated with thatch, over use of sand and irrigation problems.
Again though, there is nothing to worry about because like we saw with unwanted grasses and weeds in the sward, the conditions required to produce a consistently high performance green will make your green extremely unattractive to these troublesome disorders and diseases.
Green sub-surface requirements for high performance.
The soil we use to support both the structure of the bowling surface and to sustain the grasses required for a high performance surface will require the following attributes:
A strong, stable soil structure that resists compaction and wear.
A healthy, living soil that retains sufficient moisture and nutrients to sustain a healthy sward of fine grass.
A free draining medium able to cope with heavy periods of rain without puddling excessively and which drains quickly after heavy rainfall.
We will keep exploring this and tomorrow I’ll be looking at the sub surface requirements for performance; what goes on beneath?