Key Tasks for March
Before the mowing season kicks off in earnest, make the most of March to complete some of the remaining winter works, such as to trees, fences and other structures around the course.
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. It is often best to complete tree and woodland works before the trees and woodland begin to flourish with growth at the end of March.
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.
Continue to brush/switch greens and tees daily to remove moisture from the grass surface, stopping the spread of disease and facilitating an improved quality of cut on the dry grass.
Mowing frequencies will vary from daily to twice weekly operations dependant on the growth of the grass and the standards set by the course manager.
Mowing heights may vary depending on 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.
Now is the time for some pre-season renovation work on the greens before competitions get underway and visitor play increases.
Recently, 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 for a few weeks until these current cold temperatures are out of the way.
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 we leave what is likely to prove one of the warmest Februarys on record, we face the oncoming spring with the opportunity for recovery growth from the rigours of winter and a strong start to the growing season. However, the general lack of rainfall over the winter should be of grave concern to turf managers at all levels. The notorious drought of 1976 was a summer statistically not as dry as the summer we experienced in 2018. However, what made summer1976 so difficult was the fact that it followed a previous year's dry summer and a dry winter. As we move towards summer 2019, water reserves in the reservoirs are as low as the water reserves in the soil. If this continues, then there will be intense drought pressure on grass plants, much faster than in 2018, as soils which are already relatively dry lose their moisture content sooner.
March is the month to start applying polymer wetting agents, such that you have enough time for the chemistry to build up in the soil ahead of summer. Prevention is absolutely better than cure when it comes to dry patch, and planning and preparation now prevents poor surfaces later in the year. This is especially important against the context of soils which are already dry. Maximising the absorption of any rainfall which does occur, via a combination of aeration and penetrant wetting agents, is a very wise tactic to employ.
It is worth considering the principles which drive growth during the spring, with respect to temperature; and whilst February has already initiated good growth across most of the country, March and April may yet prove to live up to recent expectations of cold and wet, and cold and dry respectively.
Forcing growth in such conditions, however, is simply not feasible nor sensible. The plant and soil biology know what they need, and no amount of fertiliser will force them to respond when they are not ready and warm enough.
The onset of colder weather is, of course, often accompanied by sunshine, which will provide two benefits on areas which receive direct sunlight. Firstly, photosynthesis and, secondly, localised warming. Plants will use the combination of solar energy and localised warming from the sunlight to produce sugars and start metabolic function. However, the problem with cool air at this time of the year is twofold:
- Warming and photosynthesis happen in short lived concentrated blocks of time.
- Cold night-time temperatures mean the daily base-line soil temperature drops as the soil does not build up any warming momentum.
The result is patchy and inconsistent growth. A useful analogy is to think of it rather like a cyclist trying to get up to sprinting speed as quickly as possible, when every tenth rotation of the pedals his foot slips off.
In relation to inputs, it is a time to concentrate on maximising the opportunities when the plant and soil biology is active, as well as assisting the plant to withstand desiccation and drought from cold winds or a lack of adequate water. The means to do that is with little and often liquid or soluble applications aimed at the leaf, with the intention of maximising rapid uptake and assimilation. Tools to achieve this outcome are:
Nitrate nitrogen – research shows it is absorbed into the leaf over 48 hours, where it then resides in the spaces between cells ready and waiting to be assimilated when the plant requests it.
Ammonium nitrogen – the prime nitrogen source of many fertilisers; ammonium will stay in the soil for longer than nitrate. It is utilised more during warmer periods.
Urea nitrogen – Absorbed quickly into plant leaves; urea applied as a foliar is the faster source to be converted into free nitrogen atoms in the plant. However, a large proportion of its nitrogen content will volatilise into the atmosphere as ammonium gas when applied during dry conditions.
Humic Substances – in particular, micronised formulations containing a percentage of Fulvic Acid, which acts to pull fertilisers into the plant more efficiently.
Carbon – the foundation energy source of plant and soil life; providing carbon increases utilisation efficiency of fertilisers and props up the soil food web.
Seaweed – plant stress hormones prime the plant by eliciting metabolic functions which allow it to better withstand environmental (abiotic) and pathogenic (biotic) stress.
Calcium – strengthens cell walls, creating a more resilient plant.
Micro nutrients – anyone looking to make informed decisions on their soil health will have had a full chemical analysis undertaken. Foliar applications of deficient nutrients in the tank mix will allow you to overcome a lack of supply from the soil, and provide the plant with everything it needs to maximise those concentrated blocks of light energy and warmth.
Two other important factors with regards to nutrition in spring are:
Patience – understand what the plant needs and when; don’t be tempted to input nutrient that cannot be consumed. It will either leach into water courses or sit, slowly degrading, forcing a disease-susceptible and mower-demanding flush when conditions turn warm and wet.
Preparation – store a conventional release ammonium sulphate based granular fertiliser on the shelf, ready to go down as soon as you see and hear the forecasters confidently predicting a consistent upturn in temperatures and available moisture. Preferably, one containing a little calcium for cell division and magnesium for chlorophyll production.
March is an excellent time to treat moss; however, beware of applying too much sulphate of iron if desiccating winds are prevalent, and most certainly hold back scarifying unless strong consistent grass growth is there to repair the sward.
Aeration, as always, provides the bedrock of good turf surfaces. Little and often in multiple different ways is a good mantra, but beware of desiccating winds leading to too much drying of the surface; especially on poa annua dominated swards. As with everything; timing and consideration of local conditions is paramount.
March is a good time to prevent the effects from type two fairy rings in the summer. A combination of aeration, surfactants and azoxystrobin fungicide will allow water and active ingredient to move into hydrophobic regions occupied by the fungal mycelium.
2018 highlighted the weaknesses in many irrigation systems. Prioritising repairs, efficiency and calibration of coverage and timing is a key requirement to prioritise, with an eye to maintaining plant health in the summer. Remember, watering volume should be thought about as a replacement for daily readings of millimetres evaporated from the soil, not in an arbitrary amount of minutes watered. Take the opportunity to engage with irrigation specialists to help implementing this, if required.
Formulating plans of how you intend to monitor and deal with a range of challenges through the year, from leather jackets and chafer grubs to anthracnose, microdochium nivale and leaf spot, enables you to work in a best practice, proactive, preventative manner. As we continue to face the challenges of tightening legislation and climate change, doing what it takes to create and follow a plan becomes more and more essential.
At this time of the year, it is important that all machinery is in good condition and well maintained. Machinery downtime, due to lack of maintenance or poor set-up, can be costly. As the weather continues to improve, you will be all-out to keep your course in tip top condition.
Courses with their own workshop and mechanics will be at an advantage. Those without such luxuries need to be ahead of the game - all machinery should have been serviced and back in action by now.
Having a good wash down facility is an essentail tool for keeping equipment clean; it is a wise investment.