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Autumn Bowling Green Maintenance Question Time

Autumn Bowling Green Maintenance Question Time

It’s that time of the year again when the question arises about the autumn bowling green maintenance program.


Of all the greenkeeping operations we do, top-dressing is certainly the most dramatic as it requires the delivery of bulk supplies of the top dressing medium of choice; usually something very sandy. And due to this relative drama; the big lorry delivering it over the hedge with a crane maybe and science and art of getting it spread evenly on the green by means of special machinery or sheer blood sweat and tears, it seems like it must be doing a lot of good.

It’s also at this time of year I start to get a lot of emails about top-dressing, many of which assume that I am dead set against it and for the most part, I am.

However, there is no one size fits all solution to the questions:

  • Should we be top-dressing?
  • Is it OK to hollow tine without top dressing afterwards?
  • Is it OK to not top-dress a Crown green?
  • Should we use 70/30, 60/40 or straight sand?

…and the many other questions that arise at this time.

The autumn renovation program you employ will very much depend on the current condition of your green and there’s no other way to know that other than going and having an educated look.

There’s no need to have chemical soil analysis reports and spreadsheets created for this, just a pressing need to get to grips with your turf and soil and to develop a deep understanding of your green eco-system that isn’t based on here-say or rumour.

I’ve written a series of articles to help with this assessment process starting here:

Autumn Bowling Green Maintenance Questions Answered

Top-dressing and hollow tining.

Q. If a crown green is hollow tined as part of autumn renovations, I always thought that it needed to be top dressed to refill the holes. Is this correct?

A. There’s no “one size fits all” answer to this and I’m certainly not anti-top-dressing. However, in the vast majority of UK greens there is already too much sand and it contributes to greens becoming inert, lifeless and susceptible to localised dry patch. 70/30 top-dressing is of course 70% sand.

It’s perfectly fine to hollow tine without topdressing. It depends what the purpose behind your decision to hollow tine is and the current condition of the green and soil.
Hollow tining is primarily a thatch removal tool, but even with jumbo tines (5/8″ at 2″ centres) you will only remove about 5% of the green surface area (5% of the thatch), so I usually recommend the use of the Graden GS04 or Sisis 600HD after the hollow tining. Using the Graden over the top of the cores can increase thatch removal to 20% when combined with hollow tining like this. This method also separates most of the thatch from the soil/rootzone. After brushing and cutting, the green is back to a fairly firm surface with no visible hollow tine holes and no need for top dressing as very little soil is removed by using this method.
Hollow tining is also used as a means of soil exchange when greens are very heavy (unimproved clay soil). By removing plugs of soil/thatch the holes can then be refilled with a sandier medium or straight sand if that is required.

What top-dressing should we buy?

Q. When ordering top-dressing for the green should we buy 70/30 or straight sand?
A. This will depend on current green conditions which can be assessed using the method detailed here. In addition to making an assessment of the need for top-dressing, the question of what type is a bit more complex than 70/30 or straight sand. In the quoted ratio the 70 refers only to the proportion of sand by weight in the top-dressing and the 30 refers to the material it has been ameliorated with such as peat or soil.
This tells us nothing about the actual material being purchased. The physical texture of the product is the most critical information to have. This is defined by the Particle Size Distribution (PSD). This measurement tells us what the actual contents are in terms of Sand, Silt, Clay and organic material.
Particle shape and hardness are also important and to a lesser extent the pH of the product.
More information on PSD and Soil Texture here.

Acid soil?

Q. Following core sampling we have up to two inches of thatch in the wetter area of our green, the thatch is sour smelling and moss is more of a problem there as well. We were told that the soil registered as acidic. We want to help reduce the thatch thickness, correct the acidity and promote healthy grass growth.

 A. The acidity will be part and parcel of the thatch and the associated compaction and anaerobic conditions. When you deal with the thatch and compaction, the soil pH will stabilise quite quickly.Regarding the correct program, you should probably leave out the top dressing and switch from a standard scarifier to something like the Graden GS04 after hollow tining at 2″ centres with jumbo (5/8″) tines. This will remove around 20% of the green surface (thatch), introduce a huge volume of air and get your microbes working on the thatch that remains. You might well have to repeat this next year.

Here’s my suggestion (you’ll have to decide if it suits your current conditions):

  • Apply Chelated Liquid Iron (for moss) 14 days before the following:
  • Hollow tining (5/8″ tines) at 2″ centres
  • Graden (or 600HD Sisis) over the top of the cores
  • Clean up debris, brush and clean up cut with mower (>6mm)
  • Carbohydrate application in form of Caviar, CMS Shoot (molasses) or Liquid Seaweed 50%
  • Autumn fertiliser (K recharge or similar)
  • No top dressing.
  • If your green also has Localised Dry Patch, it would be wise to apply a wetting agent as well.
  • Twice monthly deep slit tining (Sisis Autoslit or similar) October to March.
  • Twice monthly cut (after slitting and when conditions allow) at 7 or 8mm
  • Further Carbohydrate applications monthly as above during winter.
  • Spot treatment of disease outbreaks with curative fungicide: no blanket or preventative treatments if at all possible.

Some guidance on assessing the soil and turf conditions here

Questions Please.

If you have questions of your own about autumn maintenance or any other aspect of green maintenance, pease feel free to drop me a line using the contact form, or if you’re a Bowls Central member, you can use the Help page to send more detailed info.

You can also drop a question in the comments area below.

Happy autumn renovations!

Autumn and Winter Bowling Green Maintenance Guide
Autumn and Winter Bowling Green Maintenance Guide
The ultimate guide to Autumn Renovation and Winter Bowling Green Maintenance detailing the essential maintenance your bowling green needs through this most critical of maintenance seasons. What you do now will determine how the green performs next season. INSTANT DOWNLOAD ebook more details


  1. Ray Swinnerton says:

    I recently downloaded your ebook Performance Bowling Greens and find it really helpful and informative but one thing I find confusing. At the back you show some maintanence programms and you only show using pencil tines in March. Am I wrong to pencil tine throughout the summer? I thought that the more you spiked the green the better.
    Ray Swinnerton (Sandy Town Bowling Club)

    • John Quinn says:

      Hi Ray

      Although more isn’t necessarily better, if your green is thatchy or compacted or affected by dry patch, then more pencil tining will usually be beneficial.

      Low disturbance is the eventual aim of the Performance Greens Program, so I recommend sarrell rolling as a means of keeping the surface open during the summer months, but pencil tining more is perfectly OK if it fits with your current conditions.



  2. Robert Lee says:

    Bent Grass
    John was very interested in your article concerning round up ready bent grass. We all have thought it was dead for years and years.
    A good friend, Pat Christopher from WSU, did his Masters on the problem of its ability to move many miles with wind, birds, ect.
    I’d best do some homework today and find some answers. Scary times!
    Thank you for your very informative impute, guess we’ve just started scratching the surface

    • John Quinn says:

      Thanks for your interest Bob

      I’m afraid I don’t know much more than what you’ve read already, but I agree it seems crazy.

      If your friend Pat has published anything on this, I’d be interested to read it.



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