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Feeding the Roses with Pound Notes

Most clubs have great looking roses!
Most clubs have great looking roses!

I have lost count of the words I have written, conversations I have had and arguments I have inadvertently started about one of  greenkeepings greatest follies;  routinely top-dressing your green with high sand content top dressing composts year in and year out. During my greenkeeping career over 3 decades and during countless hours of research I have been amazed to find clubs where 5, 7 or even 10 tonnes of top-dressing is being applied every autumn.

The really tragic thing about this practice is that in every case the club are paying for a contractor to hollow tine (core) the green and then apply this material.

Let me ask you where the cores from your green go after they are lifted?

I would hazard a guess that you either spread them on the rose beds around the green or give them away to members for their gardens.

Now hollow tining is typically carried out to a depth of 100mm (4 inches) and usually only 10-15 percent of the core is unwanted thatch.

So that means that 85-90% of each core is made up of all of the expensive top-dressing you have been applying over the years. No wonder the roses look so good!

With top-dressing now costing around £160 per tonne, its easy to see how hundreds of pounds are wasted like this on nearly every bowling green in the UK every year.

In addition to this there are a lot of negative agronomic impacts associated with this practice.

Localised Dry Patch is exacerbated by excessive sand content. This causes areas of the green surface to become impervious to water and dry out completely. The end result is an un-healthy, bumpy green which becomes susceptible to disease, moss infestation and loss of grass cover.

This is just one instance of good money being thrown after bad at just about every bowling green across the land.

Now this is not to say that top-dressing is never required or isn’t a valuable tool in the greenkeepers arsenal. There are times when top-dressing is absolutely the right thing to do.

However, there is generally no need to blindly apply several tonnes every autumn, only to keep the roses looking good!

Soil Chemical and Peak Sand (Texture Analysis)
Soil Chemical and Peak Sand (Texture Analysis)
Comprehensive Chemical Analysis and Peak Sand (Texture Assessment) of your green's soil (rootzone). You will receive a soil sampling kit with instructions for taking and returning (freepost) your soil samples to the lab. The results will come back to you from Bowls Central with a full report detailing all Primary, Secondary and Trace elements, Cation Exchange Capacity, Base Saturation, Electrical Conductivity, Organic Matter, pH and your soil's position on the Soil Texture Triangle (assessed by the Laser Diffraction method and alerting you to your greens proximity to Peak Sand). Includes a full report written by a Master Greenkeeper with comprehensive 12 month greenkeeping program for your green. Unlimited support and further advice will be provided as required.

Syd’s Aerator

Syd with his spiker

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:

 

John
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,

Regards
Syd.

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?

Watering Bowls Greens-the least you need to know

irrigation management is critical but straight forward

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.

So what are the answers to these questions?

There is a detailed article on this here.

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:

  1. Around 25mm per week.
  2. 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.

Break with Convention for a Performance Bowls Green

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.

The top 3 issues on all fine turf are Read more

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!

Top Dressing Bowling Green

(s)Top Dressing!

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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:

  1. 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!
  2. LDP has the capability to ruin your green beyond economical repair.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. In the book there is a clear plan for getting over LDP and moving your green to a consistently high performance surface.
  3. You will save a lot of cash by taking a more natural, less abusive approach to green maintenance.
  4. 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”

Bowls Green Performance v Tradition

Performance or Tradition?

Over the years I have come up against a lot of friction when I have proposed that a club stops top-dressing its green with sand laden top-dressing compost.

The reasons for stopping this practice are well documented on this site (recap here) so I won’t go over old ground here today.

My guess is that a lot of greens, especially in the South East of the UK will be seeing some of the performance issues related to this “tradition” coming home to roost this year. The major disruptive force in bowling green maintenance is Localised Dry Patch (LDP) and this is a perfect year for it to show up at its worst. Again, LDP is extensively discussed on the site (recap here).

Another tradition which I suppose first came about for reasons of economy Read more

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