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Understanding your target audience

Today I would like to introduce the concept of “a target audience”

I deal with this comprehensively in Bowling Club Survival and Turnaround and it takes a view that the successful bowling clubs of the future will look quite a bit different to the ones we are familiar with today.

The essence of this is that not all of your club’s revenue will come from bowlers and that you will need to set your sights on a much wider range of “customers” within your local community if your club is to thrive.

This is why I have repeatedly used the terms Member, Customer and User; to try to differentiate between the traditional bowling club member and the future mix of customers a club (the word “customer” of course emphasising the need for clubs to think like businesses) will require to focus on if it is to attract and sustain sufficient foot-fall to thrive in the future.

Of course, people won’t be conveniently Read more

Can we really trust the fertiliser trade?

The somewhat uncomfortable truth is that we as greenkeepers are actually part of the massive worldwide agriculture industry.

Very few products or technologies ever see the light of day based purely on the needs of bowling clubs or even the much larger golf segment of the fine turf and sports industry.

No, most of the things we use are direct descendants of agricultural or other industrial  products or at least are supported by agriculture’s huge global enterprise.

Every chemical pesticide we use is a direct copy of a product which has a use in growing crops; every fertiliser product is a result of agricultural research and manufacturing processes; even our mowers are based on a machine originally used for trimming in the massive Victorian carpet and textile industry.

Its very interesting to see as part of this discussion the current and on-going dilemma that faces farming. The burgeoning world population means that we have to grow more and more food on fewer and fewer hectares of ground. This ensures that agriculture will continue to be a cutting edge area of scientific research and that as a result we can look forward to continued and constant enticement to try out a multitude of new products and techniques on our bowls greens in the future.

However, there is one train of thought in agriculture and in society in general that is much closer to the one we need to nurture for the assured excellence of our bowls greens in the future, and that is ecological sustainability.

To accompany this goal of sustainability within agriculture there is a renewed interest in the common sense concept of healthy living soil and that is where we need to start on our road to an excellent,
high performance bowling green.

Incidentally, there is an excellent program on the BBC iplayer that explains the mechanics of soil ecology very well. You can still access it here.

5 little known facts about creating a Performance Bowls Green

  1. Top dressing is counter productive to producing a Performance Bowling Green
  2. Following the Performance Bowls Green system reduces maintenance costs from day 1.
  3. Doing too much work on your green can be detrimental to its condition.
  4. The performance greens program has the long term effect of reducing the work needed on the green.
  5. Performance bowls greens can be maintained with zero pesticides, another saving.

Pre Season Bowls Green Fertilising

Pre season bowling green fertilising is a key component of the Performance Bowling Green program.

Spring and autumn are the ideal times to make nutritional corrections using granular fertilisers.

During the playing season I recommend that you rely on bio liquid fertilisers applied on a spoon fed basis approximately every 14 days. There is a large range of suitable products available from a variety of manufacturers.

The bio liquid approach to fertilising the green delivers a more consistent growth pattern and the “bio” or carbohydrate component encourages natural decomposition of thatch and release of soil borne nutrients to the plants as and when they need them.

However, the rigours of winter can leave imbalances in the soil due to luxury uptake by the plants of Potassium and the natural leaching processes inherent in the soil.

Due to this it is a good idea to top up the soil with a corrective application of granular fertiliser at this time.

The soil temperature will still be fairly low so the product you use should contain a little quickly available nitrogen (ammonia), as well as a slow release N component. Plants also need a little Phosphorous at this time to aid strong root development, especially if you over-seeded the green in autumn.

More articles on nutrition here.

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.

Sub-Surface Requirements for a High Performance Bowls Green

Perfect Soil

The Sub-Surface Requirements for a High Performance Bowls Green are pretty much set in stone. Get these right and you’re well on your way to a Performance Bowling Green.

First of all then, have a look at the diagram above. This represents the ideal make up of a performance bowls green’s rootzone.

Do you see anything remarkable?

Well, when I explain this to my clients for the first time, many of them are surprised to say the least.

If you look closely at the diagram you will see that the ideal green will be 50% nothing; yes space, just air cavities within the soil. Now, of course I am not going to tell you to get rid of half your green to achieve this, but next week I am going to share with you a program whereby you can get close to this ideal situation of ½ solids and ½ space in your green.

Of course the space isn’t just nothing; half of the space consists of “micro-pores” and half is “macro-pores”. Put simply the micro-pores contain water and the macro-pores contain air. This is very important to understand and is one of the least understood concepts within sportsturf maintenance.

The “nothing” element of the ideal green is the most important factor to get right, because this is where we get the balance between speedy drainage and good growing conditions and it is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of this concept that a very large number of UK bowling greens are in poor condition and can’t be prepared for performance consistently. The only saving grace for these greens is that the UK summer is also very inconsistent and sometimes acts in their favour; so that we occasionally get a very good season’s bowling when the “green has never been better”. This is a false reading in most cases and the problem is exacerbated by the club attributing this success to the latest fad program.

The green which has a well balanced soil as described and illustrated above will naturally:

  1. sustain a firm, fast surface with a minimal input maintenance program
  2. sustain a healthy sward of fine grasses
  3. sustain a high, year-round population of soil microbes
  4. provide a natural cycle of nutrient release from soil organisms and micro-organisms (microbes) working on fresh organic matter (thatch).
  5. resist compaction and therefore resist:
  6. shallow rooting
  7. annual meadow grass ingress
  8. flooding and puddling
  9. head skinning
  10. retain the optimum amount of soil water for healthy growth with minimum requirement for artificial irrigation.
  11. drain reasonably quickly after excessive rainfall.
  12. retain the optimum amount of plant available nutrition
  13. sustain a soil pH within the optimum range for fine turf
  14. resist attack from fungal diseases
  15. resist the onset of Localised Dry Patch and other soil and turf disorders
  16. maintain a tight, dense sward with an upright growth habit which will reduce ingress of moss, weeds and weed grasses.
  17. resist localised settlement and bumpiness due to excessive thatch and erratic thatch decomposition

Comprehensive action plan for achieving the above included in the book below. It costs less than a bag of cheap fertiliser.

Transforming your Bowls Green-the knowledge.

I keep going on about healthy living soil and healthy living turf and healthy living bowling greens on this site.

In my eBook Performance Bowling Greens, a practical guide, I focus heavily on the process of turning bowling greens back in to healthy living eco systems that are pretty much self sustaining.

By self sustaining I mean that they are in a condition that allows them to be set up and prepared for play in a consistently high performance manner with no pesticides and minimal on-going in-put costs.

This relies on the green being converted from a barren, sand laden, resource swallowing beast that is unpredictable at best and disappointing and expensive at worst.

This conversion process demands two qualities in those who seek to deliver a Performance Bowling Green:

Knowledge, that you are doing the right thing and the Patience to spend the time following the program.

Performance Bowling Greens spells out this process in great detail, but here in basic terms are the key points of knowledge that are important to a successful transition:

  1. Soil micro-life is critically important; this refers to the microscopic life in all soils and includes beneficial fungi which help plants to assimilate nutrients (which fungicides get rid of), and soil microbes, which help to turn organic matter (mainly thatch) into plant useable nutrient ions.
  2. Every time you add sand to the green, the abundance of soil micro-life reduces; sand is inert.
  3. Sandy soils generally have a lower Cation Exchange Capacity (the ability to retain the plant useable nutrient ions created by the soil microbes).
  4. There are two distinctly different kinds of pore space in soils; micro or capillary pore space where plant roots take up moisture and nutrients; and macro or aeration pore space where drainage occurs (to stop the soil from being saturated with water), and oxygen (critical to maintaining a large population of soil microbes) is held.
  5. Compaction ruins the structure of the soil and reduces aeration pore space, oxygen content and soil microbe populations. This is why compacted greens seem to need more and more fertiliser. Compaction + More Fertiliser = Thatch and so the downward spiral into the Circle of Decline begins.

These are 5 guiding principles if you like for a consistently high performance green. You will notice that this is not a list of things to do, but a list of key things to keep in mind, to focus on as we patiently go about the transition process. You can be confident that if you are heading in this direction you are heading in the right direction regardless of how long the road is.

And you can be confident that the view will improve (in the shape of performance) around every corner of that road.

does Calcium have a place in Bowls Green Maintenance?

It’s essential for strong teeth and bones; I know that much from school, but where does Calcium fit into a bowling green maintenance program?

When we hear discussion of soil nutrients, it is usually in terms of Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium; the famous NPK, that we see written on fertiliser bags.

However, there are another 3 major nutrients; these are Calcium, Magnesium and Sulphur.

However, the most overlooked macro or major nutrient in bowling green maintenance is Calcium. Calcium is needed by plants to grow and maintain health. It is a key constituent of cell walls.

If calcium availability is low or compromised grass plants can experience a range of difficulties

  • Once fixed, calcium is not mobile in the plant. It is an important constituent of cell walls and can only be supplied in the xylem sap. Thus, if the plant runs out of a supply of calcium, it cannot remobilise calcium from older tissues.
  • If transpiration is reduced for any reason, the calcium supply to growing tissues will rapidly become inadequate.

Calcium plays a very important role in plant growth and nutrition, as well as in cell wall deposition. The primary roles of calcium are:

  • As a soil amendment, calcium helps to maintain chemical balance in the soil, reduces soil salinity, and improves water penetration.
  • Calcium plays a critical metabolic role in carbohydrate removal in plants.
  • Calcium neutralises cell acids.

Therefore the role of calcium in plants must not be overlooked.

In Performance Bowling Greens, a practical guide I go into this in much more detail.

Calcium in performance bowls green management

A regular reader asked this week about Calcium and its role in turf management.

To answer here is an excerpt from my eBook, Performance Bowling Greens

Calcium is needed by plants to grow and maintain health. It is a key constituent of cell walls.

Once fixed in the plant, calcium ceases to be mobile and this means if the calcium supply runs out the plant can’t move it around to where it is needed, it must take more in. This means in times of low transpiration, the grass plant can quickly run out of calcium.

If calcium availability is low or compromised grass plants can experience a range of difficulties

  • Every plant needs calcium to grow.
  • Once fixed, calcium is not mobile in the plant. It is an important constituent of cell walls and can only be supplied in the xylem sap. Thus, if the plant runs out of a supply of calcium, it cannot remobilise calcium from older tissues.
  • If transpiration is reduced for any reason, the calcium supply to growing tissues will rapidly become inadequate.

Calcium plays a very important role in Read more