Key Tasks for February
Many courses are suffering wet or waterlogged conditions, with restrictions on play in all parts of the country. Most are allowing play wherever possible, with temporary greens in uses and players having to carry to minmise damage.
Mowing frequencies will vary from daily to twice weekly, 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.
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 alleviate compaction.
Inspect, weed and rake bunkers. Repair any damage from rabbits or other animals, maintain sand up the face of the bunkers to prevent erosion and sand loss. Some golf courses experience flash floods during heavy rain, leaving many bunkers in a poor state (washing out sand from bunker faces). Repair works may be necessary. Continue or undertake bunker construction works, subject to ground conditions allowing for transport of materials.
Inspect greens, tees, flags and hole positions for damage or vandalism. Vandalism often increases during the winter months.
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 winter, 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.
Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. It is during the winter months that most golf course managers/greenkeepers can evaluate the condition and performance of their drainage systems.
Inspect, check and empty all litter bins.
Time to organise winter servicing of machinery.
Keep stock of all materials.
Tidy mess rooms and sheds.
February, officially late winter. The 1st of February is 42 days post winter solstice (21st December) and come the 29th of the month that figure will rise to 70 days. For comparison, from the 1st February the summer solstice on the 21st June will be 141 days away and by the 29th February 113 days away.
This play of the numbers hopefully illustrates that time marches on, and that means so do the seasons. February can often be a cold month, but the planets relentless march around our home star means that the sun will be higher in the sky come the 29th February. To put this into context, day length in Leeds (to pick a central location in the British Isles) on the 1st February will be 8 hours 54 minutes and the altitude of the sun from the horizon will be 11.65°. Come the 29th February, day length will be 10 hours 47 minutes and the altitude from the horizon will be 20.46°. A difference from the 1st of the month to the 29th of the month of 1 hour 53 minutes, and an altitude difference of 8.81°. The reason for labouring this point is to illustrate that almost two hours of added day length and a 56.9% increase in the height of the sun at mid-day will impart more solar radiation on your sports turf surface at the end of the month compared to the start of the month. Now, it might not feel much warmer, because we are coming out of winter, so the bulk air temperature has not yet had time to warm up, but with more daylight means more opportunity for photosynthesis and a higher altitude for the sun means more radiative heat. How do these factors impact your sports turf surface?
Potential for increasing soil temperatures and the ability for the plant to grow and recover from winter damage.
The thing to remember however is it can’t be forced. Day length may be longer and the sun may be higher as the month progresses, but cool residual winter air means weather patterns may well provide us with cold temperatures and overcast days.
The key agronomic principle then for February is to maximising recovery from winter damage whilst also protecting against inclement weather, at a time when the plant has spent the best part of four months surviving in less than optimal growing conditions.
The way to practically achieve this is; Proactively think about and plan for opportunities and threats.
- Cold winds | cold temperatures | frozen ground | snow fall
Preparation here is key; look at forecasts and seek to protect and fortify the plant to minimise stress, lessen damage and promote faster recovery.
Silicon and calcium will help to strengthen the cell walls.
Amino acids will also help to guard against cold weather damage.
Carbon will not be in immediate requirement, but applications now can act as a power reserve into the system helping to promote faster responses from the plant-soil ecosystem once any cold weather breaks.
Microdochium nivale risk is likely to be low in these conditions, however existing scars in particular may reactivate under prolonged snow cover. Thus an application of fludioxonil to target dormant spores prior to snow cover may provide some security.
Aeration close to a cold spell can aid drying out of the soil, however it may lead to even lower soil temperatures which will place added strain on the system. The ideal time to aerate is once conditions have lifted and warmer conditions are returning.
- Mild days | warm night time temperatures | still air | prolonged dews and rain fall
Microdochium nivale risk is likely to be high in these conditions, so turf hardening packages to strengthen cell walls and promote plant resistance are sensible. Systemic fungicides will only be effective if growth is active due to higher soil temperatures.
Avoid biostimulants in these conditions as the organic compounds can promote fungal activity. Use of penetrant surfactants and dew cure products to reduce leaf blade wetness and canopy humidity will be useful as part of an integrated approach. Dews may need removing more than once a day.
Aeration will oxygenate the soil helping to lessen stress on plants in waterlogged soils.
- Sunny days | warm spells of day time temperature | air movement | reduced rain fall
Taking soil temperature readings throughout the month (and year to that matter) will allow you to see when the system has warmed up to the point that metabolic biological activity is commencing. Things will become noticeably functional at soil temperatures of 8-10°. Take temperature readings at different times of the day to learn how your soil responds to periods of warmer brighter weather. The air may still feel cold but sheltered spots exposed to the sunshine will warm nicely, especially towards the end of the month when day length and sun altitude are increased.
Gentle applications of nutrition, based upon soil test results when the system is warm enough to require it, will promote recovery growth. Biostimulants such as seaweed, amino acids, carbon and humic sources will foster a functional soil-plant ecosystem.
Aeration will provide the soil with the ability to respire, releasing waste gasses such as carbon dioxide, methane, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide and allow vital oxygen in.
Microdochium nivale risk is likely to be low and scars will begin to recover.
Of course, defining such complexities into neat little sections is somewhat of an over simplification, but it does help to think about scenarios and the cause and effect relationships those factors will have to the system. The key for February is be prepared to act defensively to the threats, but maximise the sweet spots of opportunity without getting carried away and forcing things. We still have typically cold and wet March, followed by cold and dry April to come before the soil-plant ecosystem takes off with confidence in May. Maximise February’s opportunities as best you can but don’t let a few warmer hours of sunshine in an afternoon trick you into thinking spring is in full flow. There may be a sting in the tail yet to come.
Servicing, repair and overhaul of mowing equipment should nearly be complete. Sharpening of reels and replacement of bottom blades are a key requirement, therefore it is important that all such replacement parts are in stock and readily available.
Now is also a good time to have an early spring clean, conducting a thorough clean up of mess rooms, toilets and garages. It is good Health & Safety practice to keep garages and working areas clean and tidy.