Key Tasks for September
With usage gradually getting back to normal, you should be back into an almost a full maintenance regime.
Greens mowing frequencies should remain high, with mowers set at their summer heights. As levels of competitions increase, there will be an emphasis on ensuring that the quality of the playing surface remains high, with many trying to attain good green speeds and consistency of roll as a priority. Dropping the height to reach these speeds is an obvious temptation, but should not generally be used as a tool to achieve this. Instead, look at utilising rollers within your current maintenance programme to ensure good speeds without placing undue stress on your sward.
Remember, do not bring the cutting heights down to more than a third of the total height of the plant at any one time. As the cutting units are used more regularly, the sharpness of the blade is of paramount importance to reduce the incidence of pressure from disease. If disease does occur, a judgement call will need to be made as to whether it will ‘grow out’ with good growing conditions, or the situation is not likely to improve.
Horizontal growth should be controlled through the use of regular brushing and verti-cutting, with the latter occurring between every two to four weeks depending on your own situation. This should help keep on top of thatch accumulation as we move through the growing season. Grooming and brushing the greens to stand horizontal growth up before mowing will encourage a denser and more attractive sward.
Hole changing should be done once or twice a week depending on golf traffic, wear or competition requirements. The first and most important is good judgement in deciding what will give fair results. Study the design of the hole as the architect intended it to be played. Know the length of the shot to the green and how it may be affected by the probable conditions for the day - i.e. wind and other weather elements, conditions of the turf from which the shot will be played, and holding quality of the green.
There must be enough putting green surface between the hole and the front and the sides of the green to accommodate the required shot. For example, if the hole requires a long iron or wood shot to the green, the hole should be located deeper in the green and further from its sides than should be the case if the hole requires a short pitch shot. In any case, it is recommended that generally the hole be located at least four paces from any edge of the green. If a bunker is close to the edge, or if the ground slopes away from the edge, the distance should be greater, especially if the shot is more than a pitch. Consideration should be given to fair opportunity for recovery after a reasonably good shot that just misses the green.
As we head into August, the levels of grass growth should be at a peak for the year. This means a lot of mowing for greenkeepers but, more importantly, a greater requirement for essential nutrients. Playing surfaces should be monitored closely for signs of nutrient stress and, allied with soil sample results taken in the spring, fertiliser choices can be made to suit the conditions and type of grass/soil present. The increased growth rate will lead to accelerated thatch accumulation. Utilising the various ways of reducing this is of paramount importance to reduce the occurrence of disease and other problems further down the line.
Moisture management could also potentially be a key feature of the month. Many greenkeepers have invested in weather stations to inform of potential evapotranspiration rates within their sward. Remember not to let the soil dry out too much, but keep irrigation practices as natural as possible. Soaking the playing surface every few days is better than religiously watering at set schedules. Moisture meters are available to help you have a greater understanding of the situation beneath your putting surfaces.
Tees - Mowing requirements are unlikely to be more than twice per week unless conditions are damp and growth remains strong. HOC will also remain at around 12mm for most courses but should be raised for non irrigated tees that are suffering from drought stress. Playing levels are likely to remain high, therefore daily movement of tee markers and regular divoting will be the norm to maintain good surface quality and presentation.Any additional watering should be sufficient to aid recovery and maintain turf vigour, but largely aimed at developing a good root structure. Solid tining with no more than 13mm width tines may be an option to help with moving water quickly from the surface.
Keeping surfaces clean and free of divots and broken tees must be a daily task as well as the need to clean and maintain all course accessories.
Fairways - By August, definition between fairway and light rough can often fade due to the dry conditions. Much will depend on the amount of rain that falls unless of course the fairways are irrigated. Mowing is likely to be less frequent than in June and July but the HOC will remain the same, with most courses cutting at between 14mm and 17mm. At this time of year, divot damage may be slow to recover, therefore divoting of the worst affected areas may be required.
Roughs - Mowing frequency of many areas of rough will be less in August, unless it is a wet month and growth is continuing. As before, the main areas of rough are likely to be rotary cut at 50mm. Any areas of intermediate rough will still be cut weekly, but this is limited to just one or two 'bands' wide. Cutting areas of deeper rough should continue, with the aim of collecting the grass and lowering the nutrient levels to encourage the finer and slower growing grasses to thrive.
Lastly, keep tabs on playing qualities (PQS) as well as aesthetic qualities within the sward. A whole host of factors could conspire to reduce either within the putting/playing surfaces. Monitoring them closely, and on a regular basis, will provide you with a better understanding of your course. Recording findings gives an ability to compare results from previous years. Checking practical elements such as consistency and height of cut, using macroscopes and prisms, will also provide insight during a busy period.
Traditionally, September marks the beginning of autumn. A time when conditions can be more favourable for carrying out maintenance tasks such as seeding and turf recovery. The temperatures can be more generous without the extreme heat and long dry spells (location dependant) which can cause issues through the height of summer and there is typically more moisture around which really helps drive seed germination, establishment and growth.
The long term forecast for the month ahead currently looks favourable with a mixture of sun and showers. Average daytime temperatures in the late teens and average night-time temperatures in the low teens. Therefore, it should provide those who weren’t able to get any renovation work carried out in August the opportunity to take advantage of favourable conditions in September. Ultimately at this time of year attention also starts to focus on autumn nutrition and integrated pest management (IPM) plans. With a focus on disease management and keeping surfaces in quality condition as environmental conditions (such as dew formation) become more favourable for disease outbreaks. Therefore, at this time of year moisture and water management are key factors to build maintenance practices around.
When undertaking renovation activities that incorporate seeding, good contact with the soil will ensure the seed can utilise any moisture and use the favourable ground temperatures to establish. Applications of plant growth regulators, such as prohexadione- calcium and trinexapac-ethyl prior to the operation, can assist in holding back competition from the existing mature plants already in situ. Which would otherwise compete against the seedlings. A simple technique which helps freshly germinated grass plants to establish in a more favourable environment.
Establishment and recovery from any maintenance operations can be assisted from ensuring adequate nutrition is available, so that once the seed has depleted its own resources there is sufficient available to maintain growth and likewise for any turf recovery situation. An application of energy from phosphorous helps to synthesise ATP, the energy currency of all cells. Calcium will provide the raw ingredients to drive cellular generation at the growing tips of roots and within new leaves. Additionally, it will strengthen the primary cell wall, strengthening defences against pathogenic fungal attack, particularly as cooler nights coincide with warm days to produce heavy dews, an environmental factor mentioned previously.
Applications of high levels of nitrogen on fine turf surfaces should be avoided as this can lead to an increase in severity of a disease outbreak. Research has shown that balanced late autumn fertiliser applications can result in better spring performance. Essentially, avoid over applying readily available nitrogen which would result in excessive, soft top growth that is more susceptible to pathogen attack.
Worms will now start to become a focus for turf managers; as the moisture levels in the soil increase, it will coincide with an increase in activity. There are no legal controls for earthworms and any product which is applied to directly affect them is done so illegally.
Cultural management continues to be the only route currently available which can include a combination of practices such as localised surface acidification, removal of grass clippings to reduce their food source and sanding of surfaces to assist in the drying out and dispersal of casts, leading to less negative lasting impression on the surface from the cast.
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.