Well here we are at the end of another bowling season. It’s hard to believe that it’s that time already. On my travels around I’ve spotted the usual signs that autumn is coming with some clubs still stacking up the top dressing ready for the renovation onslaught. How I wish more clubs would re-think that plan and join the growing ranks of forward thinking clubs.
At this time of year you will hear a well worn phrase oft repeated:
“Time to put the green to bed for the winter”
Nothing makes me shudder more than that phrase as it communicates an attitude towards bowling green maintenance that is completely at odds with achieving a performance bowling green.
The process of putting the green to bed usually involves maintenance practices that many clubs have abandoned on my advice and who are now reaping the benefits of better green performance, more consistent playing conditions and although not the main aim of my program, vastly reduced maintenance costs; a nice bonus wouldn’t you say?
The putting the green to bed plan also assumes that the green should more or less be left alone after the autumn renovation program and I’m here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth, if you want a performance green next year that is.
The autumn and winter period is the most important time of year to get some of the key work done on the green and it should be quite a busy time. The bonus is that you get to be out in the fresh, crisp air in the winter working off the Christmas excess as a lot of what I’ll be recommending is physical work.
In anticipation of all of this, I’ve been busy updating our second best seller; The Autumn and Winter Bowling Green Maintenance Guide. It has grown in size and stature and now includes a lot of new information, recommendations and ideas. However, it is just going through the very final tweaks and checks at the moment and will be officially available in the bowls central shop on Saturday morning (11th September 2015)
If you’ve recently bought the current version, don’t worry I’ll send you a free copy of the new one.
Look out for my message here or in your inbox on Saturday morning about the much bigger and fuller Autumn and Winter Bowling Green Maintenance Guide and prepare for a busy winter!
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:
Full engine service including checking electrics, starting mechanism, new spark plug, all filters and oil change.
Replace bottom blade (new blade ground-in first)
Re-grind (not back lap) cylinder
Check roller bearings and advise if worn (adjust if possible)
Re-set cylinder to bottom blade clearance and check for even cut
Re-set mowing height to that specified by club.
Treat and touch up paint on any areas of rust
Check and adjust clutch settings
Check belts and replace if worn
Check Groomer and re-set to height specified by club
Check and adjust chain tensions
Lubricate all points
Free off and lubricate all adjustment mechanisms and check for proper operation
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!
Thanks to everyone who downloaded the free winter maintenance report at the start of the winter.
Now here we are approaching the Christmas holidays and I don’t think many of you will have been able to implement much of the work that I recommend both in the Winter Maintenance Guide and in Performance Bowling Greens, a practical guide.
This is of course due to it being too wintry!
Well the good news is that if you made even a start to the recommended autumn/ winter compaction relief work by getting one or maybe two passes made with the deep slit tiner, then the frost will be doing a lot of good by getting into the soil and heaving it into fissures in the compacted zone.
However, the bad news is two-fold:
it is going to prove difficult to do any work on greens throughout most of the UK this winter due to excessive frost and snow cover on greens; The winter program is essential and if your particular corner of the nation is free of frost and snow you should bash on with the winter work as much as you possibly can.
The worst effect of this excessive cold weather is that the soil temperature is being forced down to levels that we don’t usually have to put up with very often.
This second point is very important and will become increasingly so in the months and years to come.
What’s the problem?
Well, my old Mum has a saying: “We’ve never died a winter yet”, which of course means that we are resilient and can adapt our approach to life to cope with whatever it throws at us.
Is it time to apply this thinking to our bowling greens; do they need further protection from the winter than we currently afford them?
Although I am not advocating a panic buying type situation I do think it is time for us to look at Read more
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:
the damage that could be caused to the turf and soil by actually doing this work.
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
A couple of years ago we were hit by severe snow and ice in some parts of the country and it raised a few questions about how best to deal with severe winter weather on bowling greens. I am re-visiting this today as a timely reminder now that we are in the winter season. Hopefully this will be a good omen and we wont get any snow this year!
The unusually early onset of winter in 2009 and 2010 created a few problems for most of us and seriously curtailed many winter maintenance programs.
We received a lot of enquiries asking for advice on dealing with the snow and ice on bowling greens and the aftermath of deep snow cover.
The main concern during and after snow cover is the potential for the outbreak of fungal diseases such as fusarium patch; and indeed, fusarium might well be encountered after the snow has melted. Although many clubs will have applied a preventative fungicide in the Autumn, this might not have provided total protection, but should have minimised the risk of attack.
When the snow has gone you might well find active areas of Fusarium and this should be treated with a curative fungicide containing the active ingredients iprodione or chlorothalonil applied as per the manufacturer’s advice.
Many of the enquiries we have received have been related to the actual snow cover and clubs have been worried about the prolonged cover of snow and ice on their turf and have asked if they should be pro-active and do something to remove the ice cover. My advice would be to leave it and allow it to melt naturally.
Attempting to remove ice could result in damage to the turf, soil structure and grass plants.
Please also remember that even after the snow and ice has gone the underlying soil could still be frozen and any activity on the green could result in damage to the root system of the green.
Please make sure that the green has completely thawed by probing the soil before commencing (and catching up) with your winter maintenance program.
Any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
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
Rob emailed with an interesting question about using the old fashioned forking method of aeration during periods when the green is excessively wet, like now probably in many parts. Here is Rob’s full question and my reply to him earlier. If anybody has views on this subject please feel free to share:
Do you know anything about the traditional ‘raise forking’ or ‘graip’ aeration methods that were used? What kind of forks were used? (straight? curved? how thick were the prongs?) and how deep did the go down ? etc.
I am interested in such traditional techniques and yet cannot find out any information about it?
After the snow the greens are absolutely soaked through and I wondered if trying this traditional technique might dry them out with minimum disturbance?
Well, although I have used the method (under duress) in the past, I didn’t have all of the answers I would have liked for Rob:
Hi Rob and Happy New Year
I am not aware of any special equipment for this, but I have done it.
Usually this was with a normal garden fork; the technique was to work backwards and push the fork in as far as possible at intervals equivalent to the space between the tines on the fork so as to create a square hole pattern.
After pushing the fork in to full depth (6 to 8 inches) you wiggled it about and heaved it backwards slightly before removing and moving on to the next.
Back-breaking and very labour intensive mind you.
Before going to extreme measures it might be worth checking that the ground isn’t still frozen at some point below as this might be causing the slow down in drainage.
During the winter I recommend using a deep slit tiner as often as possible, which automates this procedure to some extent and has a very good effect on compaction related problems like this.
It’s nearly time again to be thinking about what to do to the green after the last game has been played.
I still hear the phrases “closing the green down for winter” and “putting the green to bed for winter” all too often and that is a worry.
Of course these are for the most part just harmless terms for the end of the season, but in some cases they still mean literally ignoring the green from now until next March.
Autumn is the only time we can really tackle big issues like thatch reduction and compaction relief in a meaningful way.
We also have to ensure that all running repairs that require re-growth such as over-seeding of bare patches are carried out soon after the season ends to give the work the longest and best chance to succeed.
Moving beyond the autumn renovation plan it is vital that maintenance continues throughout the winter months, especially in terms of compaction relief as this is an ongoing effort and doesn’t stop in winter time. In fact winter is the best time to get on top of compaction by following a concerted monthly program of compaction relied measures.
I’ve updated our Winter Bowling Green Maintenance Guide. The guide is FREE and you can get a copy by dropping your details in the box at the top right of the page.
If you have already signed up to receive email updates from us you will have already received a link to download a new copy.
Good luck with the autumn renovation works and winter programs and remember, if you have any questions just drop me a line anytime.