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Thatch Layer

Fix your bowling green step 2

In this article we take the soil samples you removed in Fix your bowling green Step1 and look more closely at them to discover what's going on under your green. This is one of the most valuable practices that any greenkeeper can undertake as it can reveal a wealth of information about the condition of your green that you could previously only guess at.

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green maintenance

Bowls Green Maintenance

A very general title for today’s article, but it reflects the current industry desire for a fix all solution to achieving a good bowling green.

Most clubs are unhappy to some extent with the performance of their bowling greens.

This leads to an open ended search for solutions where the searcher i.e. the bowling club or bowling club management official simply looks for information from whatever source to help with the perennial problem of the bowling green.

If this is you, if you simply don’t know where to start in your quest for the truth about achieving a consistently good bowling green here is my suggested reading in order of importance. You can click on these links for more in depth information:

  1. Top-dressing
  2. Thatch
  3. Compaction
  4. Green Speed
  5. Green Consistency

 

 

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.

Bowls Green Maintenance Basics-Thatch

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.

Thatch on the bowls green

thatch builds up quickly on unhealthy greens

After LDP there is probably more information on this site about Thatch than anything else.

Thatch production by grass plants is a natural process.

Thatch is the layer at the very top of the green surface between the green grass blades and the brown soil beneath.

Simply put; the bigger the distance between the green and the brown, the bigger a problem you have.

The denser and wetter and smellier the thatch layer between the green and the brown the more likely it is that you will be suffering other problems like fungal disease, slime, algae, moss, weeds, localised dry patch, bumpy surface, lack of green speed, lack of green consistency, grass growth problems, recovery problems, skinned heads, slippery surface and loss of grass cover.

Thatch is not an isolated problem; it usually comes along with some or all of the above.

To get a more thorough understanding of the processes going on here, have a look at this article.

For more detailed information on thatch, there are more articles here.

Performance Bowling Greens eBook is here.

Dry patch on greens

The condition known as localised dry patch (LDP) which is so prevalent on bowling greens throughout the UK is a very frustrating problem for many bowling clubs.

The frustration comes mainly from the fact that LDP isn’t a disease so it can’t be eradicated by a simple application of fungicide or any other chemical.

LDP is instead a disorder of turf that causes the soil beneath some areas of the green to become hydrophobic or repellent to water.

LDP causes large areas of the green surface to turn brown and sometimes even recede below the main surface level, causing bumpy, uneven surfaces and an increasingly poor bowling experience as the season progresses.

Like almost everything else that goes wrong with bowling greens LDP is merely a symptom of other issues present on the green; in this case excessive sand content in the green’s rootzone profile (topsoil).

The excess of sand makes the rootzone inert and unable to retain moisture or nutrients. More importantly, the soil can’t sustain a big enough population of beneficial soil micro-organisms, which would assist with the decomposition of thatch and produce essential plant useable nutrients.

The recovery process can take several years, although there will be notable improvements to the green surface throughout the recovery process.

To overcome this problem, it is important to adopt a completely new approach to green maintenance along the lines of the performance greens program and the single most important part of this process is to stop throwing tonnes of sand at the green every year.

More information here: LDP

Thatch Problems

Rootbreak is a common feature on greens where thatch is out of control

As bowling green maintenance specialists we get lots of questions every week about thatch. So here is a quick crash course on it; what it is, what it does and how to deal with it:

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 Read more