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Top Dressing Bowling Green

The Great Top-Dressing Debate

At its most basic, the answer is that excessive use of sand on bowling greens causes the under lying soil to become inert; lacking life or the complex web of interactions that go to make healthy, high performance turf. The natural balance of the soil/turf ecosystem is upset and the green will never be capable of consistent high performance for as long as the folly of top dressing is allowed to continue.

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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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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.

Autumn Bowling Green Maintenance Question Time

Autumn Bowling Green Maintenance Question Time

Autumn Bowling Green Maintenance always raises a lot of questions. Top dressing continues to be the most concerning topic for many readers. Should we top dress? Is it OK not to? And...if we do, what should we use? Master Greenkeeper John Quinn answers readers' most pressing queries about Autumn Bowling Green Maintenance.

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End of Season Bowls Green Maintenance

Its time again for clubs to be thinking about the end of season maintenance program and many of these programs will follow “tradition” and will include the application of several tonnes of high sand content top-dressing.

However, one of the most prevalent problems on bowling greens in the UK is that of Localised Dry Patch LDP a condition that causes soil to become hydrophobic (water repellent) and which is undoubtedly related to excessive sand content in rootzone

The autumn renovation program is the only real chance clubs have to start to make inroads into the major problems with their greens and the only time when it is possible to make large corrections to thatch and compaction; and you’ve guessed it, thatch is another major problem associated with LDP.

Localised Dry Patch creates large dry areas on greens where grass dies back and the surface is disrupted. All attempts to re-wet these areas by watering the green are doomed to failure due to the water repellent nature of the underlying soil.

The application of yet more sandy top-dressing is not going to make this better; indeed it will in most cases make the problem worse next year.

It would be more beneficial to start the process of recovery by following a program that includes thatch reduction, wetting agent application and overseeding. All autumn programs should include the application of a granular fertiliser to correct any underlying deficiencies, usually a low N and high K product.

Where moss is a problem; and with LDP it usually is, you should use a proprietary moss-killer or lawn sand between 2 and 4 weeks before thatch removal work.

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 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 Greens and Money Saving

The autumn is traditionally a busy time for bowling green contractors, greenkeepers and club officials as they decide, plan and carry out the autumn renovation works on the green before putting it to bed for the winter.

Now have a look back over that last paragraph; if you didn’t wince at least twice, then it’s possible that you are about to embark on a program of work that will actually harm your green.

It probably won’t be dramatic like the sudden death of your green for ever, but it will probably have a negative impact on the future of your green’s ability to be presented for play consistently well, and maybe even on your club’s chance of survival in these harsh economic conditions.

The points I am referring to are Read more

For a Performance Bowls Green, start a new tradition!

In less than a week my new book, Performance Bowling Greens will be launched on this site; 15th of February to be precise. In the lead up to the launch we have been looking into some of the obstacles that stand in the way of the average bowling club achieving the performance they desire from their green. Today I want to look at one of those obstacles more closely and that is the obstacle that Tradition puts in our way. The trouble is that many of these “traditions” are really not that old. One of the most damaging of these is the “tradition” of top-dressing our greens with high sand content dressings every year.

Now I should warn you at the outset that this is a long one and you might want to grab a coffee before we get started. The reason for the length of this article is that I don’t just want to discuss the process of top-dressing; I also want to show you how damaging it can be to your green and how damaging it can be to your wallet. To do that I am going to re-present to you 3 of the most clicked on articles we’ve ever published on this site (which shows, I think, that many clubs already understand the problem). So here we go:

At most bowling clubs the end of September is when thoughts will start to turn to the autumn renovation program or the “closing of the green” as many clubs call it. Bowling clubs throughout the UK will take delivery of between 3 and 10 tonnes of very expensive top-dressing compost, which will be applied to the green after hollow tining or some other aeration operation, in the belief that Read more

10 reasons why you shouldn’t top dress your bowls green

I still get incredulous emails and phone calls about my advice to generally stop top-dressing.

In the last 10 years I have only visited one club where I recommended sand top dressing as part of the renovation program and this was due to total neglect and lack of any real maintenance other than cutting and fertilising for a very long time before that. The club in question unfortunately didn’t get as far as implementing the renovation plan and has now been replaced by 4 new family homes!

The top dressing “tradition” has become so ingrained in bowling greenkeeping that it is very difficult for a lot of people to get their heads around it when someone says “don’t do it”.

Here are my top ten reasons not to top dress:

  1. It makes healthy soil inert and unable to provide plant nutrition
  2. It encourages thatch build up due to low soil microbe populations
  3. This saps green speed
  4. and encourages fungal disease
  5. It results in Localised Dry Patch (LDP)
  6. This results in bumpy and uneven surfaces
  7. It is expensive and unnecessary
  8. It causes layering and root-break in the turf
  9. It contributes enormously to the Circle of Decline
  10. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, don’t be surprised when you keep getting what you’ve always got!

More info on why you shouldn’t be top-dressing here.