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How to preserve water.

The winter may well have been one of the wettest on record in some areas of the country, but we still need to ensure that we conserve as much water as possible in case we experience a very dry summer.

The grass on a bowling green requires a minimum of 6โ€ or 150mm of moist turf to enable the roots to benefit from the use of water from the lower levels over and above any natural rainfall.

Sufficient spiking should have been carried out during the winter months โ€“ at least twice a week in the drier areas of the UK โ€“ but much more often in the traditional wetter districts.

It is, therefore, only by knowing your own green, soils and average rainfall levels that you can devise a programme suitable for your green.

With sandy soils, rain leeches out the fertiliser and plant foods during excessive rainfall, whereas soil containing more organic materials do not drain as quickly and thatchy greens fall into this category. Cleaning out the thatch and spiking should solve the problem of a damp surface.

The construction of the green is a vital factor in the conservation of water that has to be used during particularly dry summers. If the green has been constructed correctly, the excessive water will be shed to lower levels for storage and re-used during dry periods.


Removing dew in the mornings (around 8.00am is the ideal time) is essential to make the best use of the water that has come through the plants overnight in its distribution of plant food (guttation).

Therefore, this operation is one of the most important functions of turf culture in preserving the moisture content in the top six inches of the soil. So, do not neglect this practice of recycling the dew.

A healthy turf shifts nine pints of solution (water plus plant foods) per hour, per square yard throughout the hours of darkness. It is worth remembering that dew is a waste product that has passed through the plant and by brushing this waste solution, it is returned to the soil for further use.

A useful tool for the removal of dew, without too much disturbance of the surface, is the Dewmaster, a simple ten foot wide aluminium lute with rubber bristles three inches long (three metres wide and bristles 75mm long). This tool can cover the green in ten minutes at an average walking speed.

Having done the border around the green first, this will enable the border to dry quickly, and then the lute is used diagonally across the whole green so as to not give bowlers a lead with lines that would otherwise remain for them as guides if the green had been brushed at right angles.

You might argue that providing the green has been brushed in the direction of play, it would not matter if the bowlers were bowling across the brush marks. However, when the green needs to be turned, some brush marks could still be visible and would be a guide, therefore brushing the green diagonally should always be practised.

On occasions when it is necessary to mow the green as soon as possible, it is beneficial to brush double, i.e. up and down the same pass so that the grass will dry even quicker and be ready for mowing sooner.

On the days when you do not brush, then a dew roller could be used. The lightweight dew roller is about six feet wide and can complete a green in approximately ten minutes. It is used on days when the green is not going to be cut and will add two seconds more on the pace of the green.

Another method of dew removal, without treading on the green, is the use of a rope or hosepipe stretched across the width of the green. Two members need to be positioned in the ditches on opposite sides of the green and, by slowly walking along the ditches, can cover 95 per cent of the green quite effectively, again in around ten minutes.

The circumstances of why we use a rope instead of brushing is when the green has been fertilised or treated in any way, then to walk on the surface would be detrimental to the turf for that day.

Moss killing and fertiliser should be well watered in after application to ensure that the materials get washed into the turf surface and it is advisable not to walk on that surface until the following day or black footmarks would be the result.

A nylon switch, as used on golf courses, can also be used on the green for dew removal, but make sure this operation is carried out slowly to ensure that the water is not left on the surface.


Undoubtedly, the best way to establish that the green requires moisture is by observing the lack of dew in the mornings. Where there is an absence of dew, it will be clear that the plant has not functioned properly overnight and therefore these areas need to be hand watered by a hose.

A good soak will be necessary and then you need to check the following morning to see if you have used sufficient water to match the rest of the turf, otherwise further watering will be necessary until the dew content is consistent over the whole green.

It is not unusual for areas of the green to differ as some of the green might be shaded by trees or the clubhouse, whereas other parts will be in bright sunshine for much of the day. Therefore, it is obvious that different areas of the green may require more water than others.

With automatic pop-up sprinklers, this can present a serious problem as there is no guarantee of an even covering of water, especially in windy conditions. Therefore, do not rely entirely on the sprinkler system, but use a daily visual check to make sure that all the areas of the green have been covered.


To sum up on the subject of water conservation, much will depend on the amount of spiking carried out in the winter months and your type of soil. Throughout the closed season, I would recommend a minimum of eight hours spiking per week on sandy soils and a minimum of 16 hours per week on wet and thatchy greens.

Do not forget that spiking should also be carried out during the playing season with solid round tines only and at fortnightly intervals. This operation will not affect the run of the bowls and will allow storm and heavy rain access into the green for re-use.

When conditions are very dry, the height of the cut on the mower should be raised from 5mm to 7mm. Such a move will not slow down the bowls because the green will still be dry and brittle, but the foliage protects the soil from the heat of the sun, consequently preserving water.

During drought conditions, mowing should be limited to two days a week.