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Bowls Green Turf Disease

There is a lot of confusion about fungal turf diseases.

The main issues that worry many people are as follows:

  • Accurate disease identification; not sure what we have so don’t know what to use.
  • Contamination being brought onto a clean green from a diseased green via bowlers’ feet and/or contractors machinery.
  • Fungicide rotation to prevent immunity
  • Repeat infection of greens
  • Disease Forecasts and what to do about them.

Let’s have a look at these in order:

Accurate Disease Identification.

Although it is always prudent to make sure you know exactly what fungal disease you have, the fact remains is that you have a fungal disease on your green and regardless of what it is, it is merely a symptom of other factors. So the urgent requirement is to stop it spreading any further. Broad spectrum fungicides do exactly as you would imagine, they kill most fungal pathogens so if you are using an up to date contact fungicide, you will more than likely be successful in stopping the disease with an application.

However, this is analogous with continually taking pain killers, but never going to the doctor to find out what is causing the pain. There are some more in-depth articles on symptoms and causes on bowling greens here.

Contamination by feet or machinery.

This crops up several times a year in my travels. I even see trays of disinfectant being left out for bowlers to walk through before going onto the green…and unfortunately the green is more likely to be adversely affected by the disinfectant than anything that could possibly come in on a machine or shoe.

The fact is that many of the common fungal disease pathogens like fusarium, red-thread, anthracnose etc are already present in your green, but they only cause problems when we make the conditions favourable for them, by allowing the green to become excessively thatchy and/or weak and waterlogged.

Fungicide rotation/ repeat Infection

Last year I visited a golf course to give advice. They were looking for an expert witness to prove that a manager had made the wrong decision in using the same fungicide two years in a row and now the greens were riddled with fusarium.

The greens were truly awful but the club had missed the point completely. The issue wasn’t the incorrect selection of chemical; it was the blind reliance on treating symptoms instead of working towards a healthy sward/soil relationship.

There was in excess of 3 inches of smelly, waterlogged, yellow, anaerobic thatch on every green. There isn’t a fungicide in the world that could keep disease at bay in such conditions.

Disease Forecasting

I know this scare-mongering tactic has caught on in recent years as a fungicide selling tool, but come on! This is absolute nonsense for all of the reasons noted above. Regardless of what the disease forecast says; if your green is in healthy condition as per our performance green standard, disease will not get a hold to any detrimental degree.

There are more in depth articles on turf disease, its causes and cures here.

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: Read more


Bowls Greens don’t have beds!

I often hear the phrase “putting the green to bed” at this time of year.

It is the most frustrating thing to hear because I don’t know of any club that can afford the luxury of stopping work on the green now.

The autumn and winter period is the most important time to get on top of a range of big problems that blight bowling greens.

For example Thatch encourages diseases such as fusarium, insect pests like leatherjackets and chafer grubs and contributes significantly to the onset of Localised Dry Patch the modern scourge of bowling greens throughout the UK. As if that wasn’t enough excessive thatch also saps the speed from your green and causes heavy, unpredictable rinks, contributes to un-even surfaces, causes bumpiness and bad rinks, reduces the efficacy of fertilisers and encourages weed grasses such as annual meadow grass to predominate the sward.

Then there is Compaction which impedes natural drainage, causes shallow rooting of grasses (which leads to skinning on heads), impedes irrigation and rain penetration and causes root break. And that’s before we even consider its expertise at encouraging weed grasses such as annual meadow grass, its ability to severely reduce the efficiency of irrigation, efficacy of fertilisers and its major contributory role in the creation of un-even surfaces and loss of grass cover on edges and heads.

If you only deal with these two issues this winter you will have gone a long way towards creating a performance green; they won’t go away by giving the green “a rest”.

I recently uploaded a new 18 page special report on autumn and Winter Maintenance of the Bowling Green to the Shop which shows you how to deal with thatch and compaction this Autumn and Winter as well as a host of other problems like Insect Pests, Fungal Disease, Localised Dry Patch and Moss.

Dealing with Snow and Ice on Your Green

A couple of years ago we were hit by severe snow and ice in some parts of the country and it raised a few questions about how best to deal with severe winter weather on bowling greens. I am re-visiting this today as a timely reminder now that we are in the winter season. Hopefully this will be a good omen and we wont get any snow this year!

The unusually early onset of winter in 2009 and 2010 created a few problems for most of us and seriously curtailed many winter maintenance programs.

We received a lot of enquiries asking for advice on dealing with the snow and ice on bowling greens and the aftermath of deep snow cover.

The main concern during and after snow cover is the potential for the outbreak of fungal diseases such as fusarium patch; and indeed, fusarium might well be encountered after the snow has melted. Although many clubs will have applied a preventative fungicide in the Autumn, this might not have provided total protection, but should have minimised the risk of attack.

When the snow has gone you might well find active areas of Fusarium and this should be treated with a curative fungicide containing the active ingredients iprodione  or chlorothalonil applied as per the manufacturer’s advice.

Many of the enquiries we have received have been related to the actual snow cover and clubs have been worried about the prolonged cover of snow and ice on their turf and have asked if they should be pro-active and do something to remove the ice cover. My advice would be to leave it and allow it to melt naturally.

Attempting to remove ice could result in damage to the turf, soil structure and grass plants.

Please also remember that even after the snow and ice has gone the underlying soil could still be frozen and any activity on the green could result in damage to the root system of the green.

Please make sure that the green has completely thawed by probing the soil before commencing (and catching up) with your winter maintenance program.

Any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Why is Thatch the single biggest problem in Bowls Green Maintenance?

We have had a few queries asking about thatch; actually a few readers asking for a definitive description of thatch and its associated problems, so here it is:

What is it?

Thatch is the name given to the mat of dead roots and shoots that accumulates on the surface of the green. Where moisture, nutrition and cultural practices are optimised for the desired grasses, thatch rarely becomes a problem. However, when soil air content is low, or if drainage is poor and the fertiliser program is not optimised for the prevailing conditions, thatch can become a problem. In severe cases the major root mass might only exist within this layer and this leaves the green susceptible to drying out in summer and to the heads “skinning” (loss of turf cover) in wet weather. Thatch is also a major contributor in the Read more

Fungal Pathogens-Myths dispelled

You don’t have to be involved with bowling greens for very long before you encounter the infamous Disinfectant Tray at the gate or at the side of the green.

No, there hasn’t been a new foot and mouth epidemic, just a mild outbreak of paranoia.

To accompany this you will hear a series of myths banded about as follows:

  1. the green keeper brought in disease on his boots
  2. the visiting team last week brought disease in on their feet from their disease addled green.
  3. the contractor brought disease in on his mower

While it is perfectly possible that some or all of the above can import disease spores, these won’t result in a disease attack on your green unless conditions are optimal for this to happen.

A recent article covered this and other “fungal myths” in more detail.

The Circle of Decline—why many bowls greens never improve.

The diagram below 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.

The top 3 issues on all fine turf are:

1. Thatch Control

2. Compaction Control

3. Turf Nutrition

the Circle of Decline, the reason many greens never improve

In addition to the top 3 there are of course other important issues such as irrigation management, topdressing etc, but if these 3 big issues are under-managed then the green will spiral into what I have called the Circle of Decline.

Simply put this is the course of events that go on largely un-noticed by many bowling clubs until it is too late to effect a quick recovery.

A lack of attention to thatch build up (see other posts under the thatch category) results in a thick mat of un-decomposed  dead grass shoots, roots and leaves. This mat gradually effects the turf’s ability to put down roots and take up water and nutrients. In advanced cases a root break will occur and Localised Dry Patch is a very common symptom of excessive thatch also (see other posts under the LDP category)


In winter, thatch can hold water like a sponge and encourage fungal diseases such as fusarium patch to take hold. This sometimes results in over use of chemical fungicides which kill off the disease and many beneficial fungi into the bargain.


Grass relies on beneficial microbes, such as fungi to make best use of the available nutrition and so begins to have difficulty obtaining the necessary nutrition from the soil.

This often results in over fertilisation, as much of what is applied is not made available to the plants due to the anaerobic conditions which now prevail.

By now conditions are highly favourable to the weed annual meadow grass which is a very shallow rooting species. The finer fescue and bent grasses are compromised and in an effort to keep the meadow grass alive excessive irrigation is required.

This contributes even further to the excessive thatch layer as meadow grass is a prolific producer of thatch and we are back to the beginning of the cycle.

Action must be taken to break into the circle of decline, take action before its too late for your green.