Up to the last week in November, many parts of the country where still experiencing spells of mild weather, soil and air temperatures in double figures, with grass still growing. This mild weather was also exacerbating a lot of fungal disease, with outbreaks of fusarium and red thread causing the most concerns.
This mild weather, if it lasts, will also require the green to be mown. There is no such thing as putting the green to bed and forgetting about it until the spring. It is important to keep the sward cut (topped) at between 10-12mm, and carry out regular aeration and brushing to keep the surface clean and open to the elements. A dose of liquid iron would not go amiss, this helps harden the grass plant and maintain some colour.
However, some clubs are now considering keeping their greens open during the winter month. And why not? I know of one club in Shropshire, Donnington Wood BC, who are into their third year of operating a winter play policy. However, play is usually restricted to one day/evening a week. Kevin Moult, their HG, is happy with the arrangement; it just means he has to be mindful of how he goes about his autumn renovations; he also has the flexibility of having a second green to use if required.
Early in the Month 1st - 15th December
With temperatures falling and early morning frosts perhaps becoming more regular, grass growth will have slowed down dramatically. It is essential to keep the surface free of debris and aerated.
The use of a sarel roller will be sufficient to keep the surface open and free draining. The need to cut the grass on a regular basis is not so necessary. You should use this spare time to carry out some other works in and around the greens, clearing out ditches, pruning and cutting hedges to keep them tidy and manageable.
Later in the Month 16th December - onwards
Continue to clean up any leaf debris; leaves, when wet, can be a slip hazard, keep walkways and paths clean and tidy.
Keep your ditches free of unwanted debris; ditch infill materials need regular cleaning and levelling. Clubs use an array of ditch infill materials ranging from sand, bark, corks, rubber mats and rubber crumb. Moss, algae and weed material can soon build up in poorly maintained ditches.
Many greens are surrounded by fences or hedges, these will need some maintenance; natural hedges may need a prune/cut to keep them tidy and manageable.
Key Tasks for December
Frost on the grass leaf blades tells us that the water inside the leaves is frozen. Remember that 80+% of plant tissue is made up of water, the primary component of plant tissue. When this water is frozen, foot traffic on the turf causes the ice crystals in the cells to puncture through the plant's cell walls, thus killing plant tissue.
When they are frozen, the leaves of the turf get easily bruised by players' feet. After thawing, the affected turf turns black or brown and becomes sparse. The turf can often remain thin for long periods if damage occurs early in the winter. The fine turf on greens becomes more susceptible to disease and the surface becomes very uneven.
More long-term damage can be caused when play takes place, as the turf is thawing after a prolonged freeze. Under these conditions the top surface of the turf may be soft, but the underlying soil can still be frozen. Root damage occurs easily from a shearing action as players' feet move the soft top surface against the frozen sub soil.
The process of damage to the turf normally occurs in the following pattern:
* Bruising and damage to the leaf
* Loss of turf colour
* Severing of grass roots
* Compaction of the soil
* Thinning of the swards
Remember to keep off your bowling greens during frosty conditions
Useful Information for Frost conditions
The need to cut the grass on a regular basis will have diminished. However, it is still a good idea, when weather conditions prevail, to keep the sward topped at between 10-12mm (winter height of cut).
Many greens may well be still recovering from the season's wear and tear. It will be essential to get some life back into the green, improving the gaseous exchange in the soil profile whilst, at the same time, increasing the capacity of the green to drain more efficiently during the winter months.
This will be achieved by some frequent surface and deep soil aeration. However, care should be taken when choosing the type and size of tines to be used. Remember, you do not want to be aerating at the same depth all the time, as this will eventually cause a pan layer to form which, in turn, will cause you more problems. Ideally, you should be using a range of tines at different depths within the range of your soil profile.
Pest and Disease
Earthworms may be a problem, particularly with the recent heavy rains, so regular dragbrushing will be necessary. Brushing can be daily when conditions are right. Regular aeration to keep the surface open will aid drying. A drier surface may help towards reducing the effects of the earthworm activity near the surface.
Diseases have been widely reported, particularly Fusarium. These outbreaks have been mainly due to the heavy dews and changing climatic air temperatures we have recently experienced. Moisture on the leaf will allow diseases to move and spread easily. Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the moisture from the leaf is an important maintenance regime to deter an attack of disease.
Useful Information for Pest and Disease
Remember to check the condition of your machinery, and plan to get it repaired/serviced during the winter months. Check all moving parts and ensure they are properly greased and topped up with the right recommended lubricants. With the winter weather kicking in, with heavy falls of snow and a long term forecast of cold weather in many parts of the country, many greens will be covered in frost and snow, preventing any real tangible maintenance work being undertaken.
It will be a case of keeping off the greens and spending time doing other jobs. Some that spring to mind are winter overhaul of equipment and machinery, a good time to take stock of what you have in your shed and what condition it is in. Take the opportunity to repair and get any equipment serviced.
You will also need to check your watering systems, it is important that you close the system down (drain down) to prevent any potential frost damage to pipes, tanks and pumps.
Even your hand held sprayers should be checked over. Remember to protect your sprayer's spray lines, pump and pressure regulator by leaving anti-freeze in it over winter. This saves split junctions and writing off pump or pressure regulator housings, and nozzle holders damaged by expanding ice.
Other Tasks for the Month
Irrigation Systems:- Drain down any automated watering systems, to prevent any potential frost damage occurring.
Repair Structures:- Bench seats, scoreboards and any other fittings around the green.
Machinery:- Check and overhaul all machinery. Make arrangements to get mowers serviced.