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Winter Mower Servicing

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:

  1. Full engine service including checking electrics, starting mechanism, new spark plug, all filters and oil change.
  2. Replace bottom blade (new blade ground-in first)
  3. Re-grind (not back lap) cylinder
  4. Check roller bearings and advise if worn (adjust if possible)
  5. Re-set cylinder to bottom blade clearance and check for even cut
  6. Re-set mowing height to that specified by club.
  7. Treat and touch up paint on any areas of rust
  8. Check and adjust clutch settings
  9. Check belts and replace if worn
  10. Check Groomer and re-set to height specified by club
  11. Check and adjust chain tensions
  12. Lubricate all points
  13. Free off and lubricate all adjustment mechanisms and check for proper operation
  14. 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!

Bowls Green Maintenance Basics – Surface Consistency

Have you ever played a great game of bowls when everything on the green was perfect; you read every twitch on the rink and it seemed like you had finally got the green the way you wanted it.

The disappointment when you return to the green the very next day, prepare the rink in completely the same way but get totally different and inferior results is maddening.

What went wrong? or maybe what went right?

Like green speed, there is much debate about surface consistency, both in terms of consistency across the green surface and consistency of playing conditions over the season.

In order of their impact on green surface consistency these are the top 7 factors that you should bear in mind. Obviously there are others such as weather patterns, level of play etc, but these are largely out of the greenkeepers control and in any case do not figure highly in the management of green consistency.

  1. Fertiliser Policy; yesterday we talked about the role that Bio-Liquid fertilisers can play in producing Performance Bowling Greens. The use of these products is recommended primarily in order to help in the improvement of the underlying soil; but this has a knock on benefit of smoothing out the peaks and troughs of fast and slow growth to a more steady and slow growth pattern. I’ve made this my number 1, issue in achieving green surface consistency.
  2. Irrigation Management; understanding the water requirements and in particular soil water balance is an important aspect of green management. The finer grasses we seek to encourage can root more deeply than the weed annual meadow grass and as such our watering policy should be deeply, not daily.
  3. Localised Dry Patch Management; the scourge of many greens over the last 2 decades due, primarily to the overuse of sand top-dressings and the neglect of the soil/plant relationship. Localised Dry Patch is a condition (not a disease) that causes the soil to become hydrophobic (water repellent) and can cause major disruption to the surface levels. Localised Dry Patch is also a season long problem in most cases regardless of how much rain or irrigation there is; once it takes hold it is usually very difficult to overcome.
  4. Mowing Frequency; we looked at this issue in more depth last week. Mowing frequency is at least 100 times more relevant to green consistency than mowing height. Shaving the green down to 3mm is damaging to the grass plants and counterproductive in producing a performance green in the longer term. If we truly want a consistent green, we need to make some hard decisions on how we are going to manage the workload.
  5. Thatch Layer Control and Management; closely related to, and the catalyst for most other green maintenance problems, thatch is only a problem on intensively managed turf such as bowling greens. One of the most commonly discussed topic on this site.
  6. Compaction Control and Relief; one of the major catalysts for the build up of excessive thatch is the process of compaction of the soil. This causes the soil to become lacking aeration pore space and oxygen as a result.
  7. Sward Composition (grass types); a low priority on this list but none the less important in respect of the overall aim of the Performance Green Program. By doing the work required to encourage a tight sward of finer grasses we automatically do the things that encourage a healthy living soil and that is the key to a performance bowling green.

Green Speed pointers

The most popular subject in bowling green maintenance is…Green Speed.

The main factors affecting green speed are in order of importance:

  • Sward Composition
  • Thatch control and management
  • Mowing frequency
  • Control of compaction
  • Control of LDP
  • Mowing height


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mowing is critical to greenspeed

Think laterally for bowls green speed

Green speed is always a hot topic at this time of year and the most popular methods for achieving increased speed are usually to turn off the water and set the mower down; both of which can cause long term damage to the green.

Mowing the green regularly below 5mm can really start to harm it in terms of sward composition, drought resistance and general turf health. Rooting depth is directly proportionate to the amount of leaf that remains above, so at the very time that the turf needs deeper roots to seek out deeper lying moisture, we restrict its ability to put down roots by shaving the leaf off to within a millimetre of its life! Shaving the green too low can cause irreversible damage to the crown of the grass plants, which causes bare areas or at least areas of weakened turf, which will inevitably be taken over by meadow grass, weeds and/or moss.

The other big mistake that many clubs make is to turn off the water in an effort to induce greater green speed. Although droughting will rarely kill a green off completely, we are seeing some very high temperatures this summer and it is possible that greens will fail if not given enough irrigation. But that’s another story which you can read about here.

So, what can be done to increase green speed without causing damage to the green?

Well, to really get the speed up we need to be thinking about reducing the lateral growth on the green. There are a number of factors that can help to increase green speed and consistency for play and we’ve set them out in our guide which you can find by clicking here.

Today however, I want to concentrate on lateral growth and its affect on green speed. On many greens I visit I am told that the green is being cut at 4mm and that the members are still complaining about the green being heavy! On most occasions when confronted with this, it is possible to take the palm of your hand across the turf and tease some of the grass up to 10 or even 15mm in height!…now think about that for a minute; how “heavy” would the green be if cut at that height?

This phenomenon is due to a problem called lateral (or sideways) growth where the grass plants exhibit a  recumbent growth habit and don’t stand up straight, meaning that they are not cut at the required height.

What’s the answer?

To overcome this problem we need to make allowance in our maintenance program for dealing with lateral growth. This can be achieved by several means, in order of importance these are:

  1. regular verti-cutting; I would suggest twice a month between April and September. Verti-cutting does exactly what it says, it cuts vertically through the turf surface to slice up lateral growth and tease up the turf prior to mowing, which is usually carried out straight after a verti-cut operation.
  2. use of groomers on the mower; again a very useful operation to be used sparingly. On many of my visits I see groomers being used as verti-cutters with the blades set well into the turf. You should never do this, as it can cause a lot of turf damage and even greater damage to the mower as it can put it under a lot of strain. Groomers are designed to be set slightly above the height of cut, to simply tease up the lateral growth or “nap” prior to cutting.
  3. brushing the green prior to cutting can improve the green speed also by teasing the grass up from its lateral growth habit prior to cutting.

There are many more tips on green speed in our green speed section here.

Smooth and fast greens!

As always this season has started off with many greens playing “slow”. The usual reasons apply of course; mowing heights are still above summer level, the frequency of cutting is still low in many cases due to a really slow start to growth in many areas. Many greens are also thatchy and there has been a lot of moss about as we come out of winter, due partly to the excessively wet end to last summer and more significantly to long term Localised Dry Patch problems which are inherently linked to persistent moss problems. Oh yes and of course we are all still Read more

Annual Meadowgrass

Poa annua ad infinitum

Yes I’ve come over all Latin today; and no, it’s not because I can’t believe my old jeep sailed through its MOT yet again last week!

Even the garage owner was amazed that he couldn’t find anything wrong with it.

He sent me off with “I’ll get you next year!”

No, the Latin was inspired by a photo I received from a regular reader who sent it in to illustrate a problem he had on his green with red-thread.

However, the reason for this post is not to discuss Latin, or Red-Thread for that matter.

The clump of grass in the centre of the photo is annual meadow grass, or Poa annua to use its botanic name.

It’s not that we greenkeepers are more cultured than the average man in the street, more to do with college lecturers who insisted that we learned to identify and remember the botanic names for hundreds of grasses, trees, shrubs and weeds.

Incidentally this came in useful when I was leaving the MOT station, as I casually threw in a final, killer comment of “you need to get your Tarixicum officianale (dandelion) sprayed before it takes over the yard!”

Back to the clump of meadow grass.

This is actually a weed ( an unwanted plant in its current state and location) as we are really trying to create and maintain a sward of finer fescue and bent grasses for the best bowling surfaces.

Unfortunately, almost (probably all) all of the bowling greens in the UK will be infested with this grass.

Even newly built greens constructed on sterile rootzone material will show signs of this weed within 2 years as its seed blows in from the surrounding area.

From the picture you can see it at its worst aesthetically, which it usually is at this time of year. Right through May and June it will show up as unsightly clumps of lime green grass which contrasts vividly with the other darker green species.

Also at this time it will be seeding like mad.

The visual problem recedes as the summer progresses, but it does actually produce seed all year round.

Scarifying, verti-cutting and close mowing are of minimal value in removing the seed heads and to some extent can actually help annual meadow grass to thrive in the summer.

This is because it has a very low and prostrate growth habit which keeps the majority of the plant including seed heads below the cutting blades.

Excessive scarification and verti-cutting can actually weaken the finer fescue grass leaving the annual meadow grass with a stronger chance of survival.

It does have one Achilles heel and that is water.

Poa annua is a very shallow rooting grass and the Performance Greens program is designed to allow greenkeepers to keep the surface of their greens a little drier than most, thus putting the weed grass under pressure.

This is achieved by managing irrigation to ensure that the green is watered deeply, but irregularly which also has the effect of encouraging deeper rooting of the finer, desirable grasses.

The program also calls for a more sensible approach to cutting heights, whilst using other methods to achieve green speed. This allows the finer grasses to put down even deeper roots and also strengthens plants against drought and wear.

Poa annua is however likely to be with us ad infinitum as it is a very adaptable grass.

This adaptability is actually a good thing in the end as over time the grass becomes finer and blends in more readily with the finer grasses.

It is perfectly feasible still, however, to have a green that is predominantly fine and to keep Poa annua under control over the long term by following a sensible program that encourages the development of a healthy living soil which in turn will support a strong and dense sward of finer grass.

Growth Habit and its effect on turf performance

Agrostis stolonifera 

The grasses we use to produce fine turf playing surfaces fall into 2 main categories in relation to the way they grow and spread. These are Bunch Type Grasses and Creeping Grasses. The creeping grasses are split into 2 further groups, namely those that spread by use of rhizomes and those that spread by means on stolons.

Bunch-type turf grasses, spread almost exclusively by tillering. Tillering is when new shoots occur  from the crown of the parent plant. This means that Read more

Mowing Height and the British Weather

It can be very tempting to get the mowing height on the green down as quickly as possible when the new season starts.

However, the weather can  be very unpredictable at this time of year with sudden and welcome warm spells being chased by almost winter conditions in a very short time frame. As a result there is a need for caution at this time of year when deciding on how quickly to reduce the mowing height on the green.

Performance Greens readers and regulars on this site will know that I generally recommend a mowing height of around 8mm through the winter months.

This should be reduced gradually to the summer height of 5mm with 4.5mm being the lowest recommended height for fine grasses.

At  this time we can sometimes be enjoying temperatures that we will be lucky to see even in July, and with a deft change in the wind direction our little island can seem like a completely different place and we are plunged back  into winter without notice.

Grass that has been chopped down quickly will suffer and I recommend that you stay up at 6mm even for opening day, aiming for 5mm in May, unless it’s snowing of course!

Bowls Green Maintenance Basics-Green Speed

There are some less than obvious essentials required to achieve consistently agreeable Green Speed

The great debate about green speed has raged on since the beginning of the game. But what are the factors known to affect green speed?

In order of their impact on green speed these are the top 7 factors that you should bear in mind. Obviously there are others such as weather patterns, level of play etc, but these are largely out of the greenkeepers control and in any case do not figure highly in green speed management.

Thatch Layer Control and Management; this means knowing the thatch levels on your green and having a feel for how quickly thatch builds up at each point in the year.

Typically thatch will be much quicker to build up in the main growing season and it can easily take greenkeepers by surprise if they don’t keep a watchful eye on the situation.

Reducing a troublesome thatch layer significantly is a job best left for the autumn when severe measures can more safely be taken, but following the Performance Greens program will ensure that you are minimising the occurrence of new thatch through the production and maintenance of a healthy living rootzone and turf.

You can find more in-depth articles on thatch here.
Compaction Control and Relief; Second only to thatch in causing green problems, Compaction is a Read more