Key Tasks for March
It has been a miserable couple of months weather-wise, with no sign of it abating anytime soon. 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. With the current conditions, these are best left well alone, unless there is any emergency work to be carried out.
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.
Research has shown that a series of complex chemical signals are triggered in plants as soon as it starts raining. Myc2 is a protein which, when activated, causes thousands of genes to spring into action to prepare the plant’s defences. These warning signals travel from leaf to leaf and induce a range of protective effects. Why would plants panic when it rains? Rain is the leading cause of disease spreading between plants.
When a raindrop splashes across a leaf, tiny droplets of water ricochet in all directions. These droplets can contain bacteria, viruses or fungal spores which have evolved to utilise this means of transmission to a new host. A single droplet can spread these up to 10 metres to surrounding plants. Evidence also suggests that when it rains, the same signals spreading across leaves are transmitted to nearby plants through the air.
One of the chemicals produced is a hormone called jasmonic acid that is used to send signals between plants. If a plant’s neighbours have their defence mechanisms turned on, they are less likely to spread disease, so it’s in their best interest to spread the warning to nearby plants. When danger occurs, plants are not able to move out of the way, so instead they rely on complex signalling systems to protect themselves (Moerkercke et al. 2019).
It’s a good time of the year to undertake training updates, and during a recent education session that was provided to some members of our internal teams, I was reminded that the most diverse ecosystem that exists is in the environment immediately around the plant’s root system. The impact upon playing surfaces, of the volumes of water that we’re experiencing, is as direct consequence of the affect that saturated soils have upon the plant’s capacity to cope with inundation.
Apart from increased levels of disease, the disruption caused to the plant in the form of appreciably reduced populations of micro and meso-organisms, apparent in the amount of worms floating about on the surface trying to obtain respite from a saturated environment.
It would appear that the intervals, or opportunities to undertake the timely operations necessary to maintain sports surfaces to a good standard, appear to be diminishing – speaking to managers over the winter, for some renovations were incomplete or lacking at the end of the season and the start of this period is proving to be troublesome.
As I get older, I appreciate my capacity to forget, and I can say with confidence that once the sun shines and the grass is growing vigorously, thoughts of this water will evaporate and more pressing problems will emerge for our attention.
Alex Van Moerkercke, Owen Duncan, Mark Zander, Jan Šimura, Martyna Broda, Robin Vanden Bossche, Mathew G. Lewsey, Sbatie Lama, Karam B. Singh, Karin Ljung, Joseph R. Ecker, Alain Goossens, A. Harvey Millar, Olivier Van Aken (2019) 'A MYC2/MYC3/MYC4-dependent transcription factor network regulates water spray-responsive gene expression and jasmonate levels', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , 116(46).
- 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.