Normally at this time of year, you will be completing some of the remaining winter works, such as to trees, fences and other structures around the course.
High winds can often cause structure and tree damage. It is imperative to inspect, record and make the site safe. Any structure or tree debris that has fallen down and can be considered a hazard must be fenced off or removed in the interests of public safety.
Any tree works must be undertaken by qualified, trained personnel. If your staff are not suitably qualified in tree surgery and/or operating chainsaw machinery, you must employ specialist contractors to carry out these works.
Continue to brush/switch greens and tees as possible to remove moisture from the grass surface, stopping the spread of disease and facilitating an improved quality of cut.
Mowing frequencies will vary from daily to twice weekly operations dependant on the weather, growth of the grass and the standards set by the course manager.
Mowing heights may vary depending on weather and local conditions, type of course, course expectations, sward type and mower type. The mowing heights are a guide, and will be subject to local weather conditions, but remember not to remove more than 1/3 of total grass height in each cut. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this vital time the better the results further on into the coming season.
Greens: Mowing height should be maintained at around 6-8mm.
Tees: Mowing height should be maintained at around 10-15mm.
Banks: Mowing height should be maintained at 22-30mm
Fairways: Mowing height should be maintained at around 15-25mm.
Rough, semi rough grass areas: Mow and tidy up these areas. Reduce build up of clippings by cutting little and often with a rotary or flail. Mowing height will depend on type of course and the standard of play required. Mowing height of cut during the winter between 50-100mm.
Changing of holes should be carried out regularly, however frequency will be dependant on a number of factors, green size, green construction, tournaments, amount of play and condition of the green. During wet periods it is likely the hole will wear more quickly, resulting in a crowning affect and surface wear. This wear is more apparent if the green has thatch problems. The hole will tend to wear quickly and form a depression caused by the placement of the golfers’ feet. You may be looking to change the hole positions more than three times per week during wet periods.
Aeration of greens, tees and fairways is ongoing when conditions allow. A wide range of solid, hollow or slit aerators are put to use on the playing surfaces. It is essential to keep the greens aerated to maintain air and gas exchange, and to alleviate compaction.
Soil temperatures should and will begin to rise towards the end of March, enabling the grass plant to make use of any fertilisers being applied. The grass plant’s transpiration/respiration rates need to be active to initiate movement of soluble solutions from the soil into and through the plant’s tissue.
Bunkers and Paths
Bunkers: The emphasis will now be on presentation and playability for the coming season, since all major renovation work should now be complete. If general trimming, edging and topping up of sand levels is not already underway, then a start needs to be made as soon as possible. Additional sand should have sufficient time to ‘bed down’ before the new season, but if not then it can be watered and consolidated using a ‘whacker plate’ or roller.
This will help to avoid the ‘plugged lie’ syndrome in bunkers. Since growth around bunkers is likely to be sparse, the removal of excess sand is essential. A back pack blower is ideal for this purpose. Weak areas can be fertilised and where possible, a sufficient length of grass can be left on the bank or bunker face, especially on south facing slopes. Where renovation has taken place earlier in the winter, such bunkers should almost be ready for being brought back into play.
Paths: Once the main work to greens, tees and surrounds etc are complete and following bunker edging and cleaning, paths are likely to be next in the list of priorities for pre-season renovation. Once any holes have been filled and any debris scraped clear or removed, then a light path dressing of the appropriate material should be applied, possibly via a belt dresser type hopper.
Freshly re-surfaced paths can give an enhanced aesthetic appearance to the course and a good practice is to treat and apply on a regular basis as opposed to a full scale and costly renovation. Where path ends have become worn, they should be treated as per green surrounds and given protection from wear as much as possible. If re-turfing has to be carried out, then top dress quite heavily with a compost mix to prevent the turf from drying out.
Course Accessories: This is the last month for these to be cleaned, repaired, re-painted and ready for changing in time for the start of the new season. Any items such as flag pins, hole cups, bunker rakes and so on that are required need to be ordered well in advance to prevent any undue delays. Hazard markers are often painted ‘in situ’, especially if there are numerous ditches or water features present on the course. Wet days are ideal for internal painting and then storing on some form of racking system.
Weather conditions allowing, March is the time for some pre-season renovation work on the greens before competitions get underway and visitor play increases.
Many Course Managers prefer to carry out solid tining or coring work with 10mm tine sizes in March and then follow-up with micro-coring in April.
The downside, however, is that it is more difficult to fill the smaller tine holes with sand, especially when surface conditions are more likely to be moist.The larger 13mm coring operation can then be left until August when conditions are usually ideal for such work and a much faster recovery ensues.
Attempting to deep scarify in March for thatch removal is fraught with potential problems as well as golfer annoyance, so best to avoid if possible.
Prior to any light scarifying, coring or tining work, the greens should be given a spring start-up feed or tonic, but just enough to encourage growth and recovery.
Products containing around 3 to 4% Nitrogen and a higher amount of sulphate of Iron are often popular, especially if moss ‘discouragement’ is required. A main pre-season or base feed, usually with a granular product would then be applied in April.
Top dressing will quickly follow the chosen cultural practice, with as much as 1 ton per green of dressing applied; this depending on the size of the green and whether or not core or deep tine holes need to be filled.
Over-seeding should be held back until soil conditions and temperatures are adequate.
The temptation to reduce mowing height should be left until the greens have ‘settled-down’ and there is clear evidence of recovery, therefore the HOC should remain at around 4.5 to 5mm for as long as possible.
Teeing areas should be fertilised, tined, dressed and over-seeded. Where separate winter teeing areas are in play then any renovation work should be undertaken once they are no longer in use, which for most will be April.
Similar to greens, tee mowing height should remain at a higher height until growth commences and new seedlings have germinated. Any over-seeding that takes place will have a better chance of success if top dressed afterwards and mowing height is not lowered. If ‘unused’ tees are showing high levels of moss, then treat with an appropriate product prior to scarifying work late in the month. It usually takes about two weeks for any product to weaken the moss sufficiently.
Surrounds:– hopefully, towards the end of the month, there should be signs of recovery from winter wear. Heavily ‘trafficked’ areas will be the last to recover and, where this is the case, such areas should be renovated similar to tees. For many courses, this may require tining, top dressing and over-seeding small areas where grass cover is weak.
Green surrounds can be fertilised late in the month if required and conditions are favourable. Too often, ground conditions can dry out fairly quickly if winds are in an easterly direction and such applications should be held in abeyance until warmer and moisture conditions prevail.
Fairways:– This is generally the last month that deep tining work can be carried out before the season gets underway.
As you are reading this in early March, hopefully the horrendous rainfall we experienced from the last couple of weeks in February are now a distant memory. Up to that point, the winter had been fairly kind, with mild temperatures, conducive for small amounts of growth and recovery and the rainfall hadn’t been too significant, which meant that most sites were reasonably dry, given the time of year. Well, what we didn’t get over December and January, certainly came in February, with what has felt like storm after storm.
The recent wet weather has meant that many have had to delay significant maintenance work they may have had planned. There were some who took advantage of the favourable weather very early season and managed to get activities finished before the bad weather hit. Everyone else will have to wait until surfaces become suitable to get back onto the land to carry out the required maintenance. Patience is key here, as going early when conditions are not right can do more harm than good.
Looking ahead to March, more settled weather has been forecast. Typically for the time of year, there is still some rainfall to be expected, but as the month progresses temperatures look set to gradually increase, with night-time lows breaking away from just above freezing to a consistent 5/6 °C. We are already seeing the increase in daylight hours, which is only going to have a positive effect on turf growth as they continue to get longer.
March is often the month that is synonymous with the start of spring. There is a raft of maintenance work to be carried out ahead of the summer season. This could involve small scale ongoing maintenance, or it could be more heavy duty ‘corrective’ maintenance, it all depends on the site and the conditions. Crucial to the success of these types of maintenance is the recovery following the work being carried out. Applying a fertiliser with the most suitable nitrogen sources, with readily available nitrogen for plant uptake, will stimulate growth and recovery.
Nitrate and ammonium are both readily available nitrogen sources. Nitrate is freely available for plants to uptake and can therefore stimulate growth in cooler conditions; it is highly mobile and can reach plants’ roots quickly, providing a quick nutrient supply. Ammonium also provides a readily available form of nitrogen, making it a particularly good choice in the early season. Its ability to fix to soil minerals makes it less mobile than nitrate. As soil temperatures begin to increase, microbes will rapidly begin to convert ammonium to nitrate in the process of nitrification. Utilising a nitrogen source that is not readily available may not give the desired response and growth required. Methylene Urea (MU) is an example of a long release source of urea nitrogen fertiliser. MU’s rate of decomposition is determined by the action of microbes found naturally in most soils. The activity of these microbes, and therefore the rate of nitrogen release, is temperature dependent. Organic fertiliser is composed of natural materials derived from animals and plants. Relying on natural biological and chemical processes, nutrient content tends to be lower, less exacting and released much slower than conventional fertiliser products. As the nutrient release is slower, so is the turf response. For those not carrying out maintenance work where recovery from surface disruption is required, liquid applications of fertiliser to coincide with the increase in temperatures may be adequate to gently ‘wake up’ the turf and give the necessary response ahead of subsequent granular applications later in the spring, when temperatures have risen further.
As the plant’s internal factories start to become more active, until there is adequate light, moisture and temperature for the plant to produce enough of its own energy resources, applications of biostimulants, in the form of carbon rich products such as seaweeds, sugars and carbohydrates will be beneficial to the plant and soil as they can act as a readily available energy supply for the plant and help reduce any stress, such as that from any maintenance works carried out. Reducing stress at this time of year can have an impact on the presence of Poa annua and specifically the flowering seed heads that are produced when the plant is under stress. Across all sports, this is an undesirable grass due to its characteristics, therefore it is recommended that steps are taken to relieve stresses that may induce flowering. Suitable plant growth regulators may also be applied at this stage to regulate the growth and reduce seed head numbers.
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- Make sure all machinery is serviced and ready for the new season.
- Replace any worn tines on your aeration equipment.
- Clean out the shed, sell off any old machinery and dispose of any junk that’s clogging up the shed.