EVEN GRASS HAS NEEDS

Follow Dave’s instructions for a better bowling green.

Five essential factors that will improve your green…

A bowling green needs a number of things in order to survive and thrive. Here are the five most important attributes that must be adhered to in order for you to practice good green management.

1. LIGHT

The bowling green needs as good a light as possible to help the manufacturing of plant foods that the turf needs. The light is essential because the plant uses the sun’s energy to manufacture the sugars and starches that it needs to exist.

If turf is in a dark or very shady area where not much light can penetrate, then it will be very weak, prone to disease and susceptible to infiltration by weed grasses. The surrounding soil will also inevitably be damp and this gives the optimum condition for the spread of moss, low growing weeds and fungi. The damp and wet conditions, created by this lack of light, are ideal for worm activity which is not conducive to a good bowling surface.

2. FRESH, CLEAN AIR

This will enable the plant to absorb and exchange the oxygen, carbon dioxide and all the elements that it takes in from the atmosphere during the day through its stomata. The stomata are little guard cells found on the underside of the leaf that control opening during the day for breathing and re-open at night during the hours of darkness to expel the waste produced by the plant.

So that is a simple explanation of what the stomata is for and where they are found in the back of the plant leaf.

3. WATER

Water exists in the soil and in the plant in several ways, but in this instance the water is absorbed from the soil through the root hairs into the plant structure and transported in weak solutions of plant foods, extracted from the soil solution, and distributed throughout the whole plant.

All plant foods need to be extracted from the root area of the plants consequentially and this is why we need to get the plant roots as deep down as possible into the root zone where the solution exists.

At night time, the plant distributes the water to wherever it is required for new growth and the waste is expelled and appears as dew on the leaves in the early morning. So we have to realise that during the day, in the presence of sunlight, the plant is manufacturing the food obtained from the soil solution into sugars and starches and passing its waste out through the stomata at night. Technically, this process is called photosynthesis.

During the winter months, much more water needs to pass through the plant, as it is in the process of searching through the soil for food to store, ready for the production of green leaves throughout the summer months. It is said that a really healthy square metre of turf in good condition is moving nine pints of water per hour during the hours of darkness.

This brings us on to the subject of the soil solution, which is available to the plant through the capillary action of water being able to move up and down and sideways in the soil, attracted by dry areas.

The soil solution is composed of water and whatever it extracts from the soil which contains particles of sand, silt, clay and humus and dead and dying debris from old plants, roots, stems, leaves and thatch which are in turn broken down by soil life. Initially, the debris would have been broken down by worm activity which is now discouraged.

Aerobic bacterial activity in the presence of air is beneficial to turf culture and the health of the plant. Anaerobic bacterial activity in the absence of air is detrimental to plant growth. To encourage beneficial bacteria and soil life, we need to keep the bowling green free from waterlogging which is an anaerobic condition and change it to an aerobic condition.

This turf culture practice is done extensively by the use of aeration – spiking, solid and chisel tining which the plant roots can follow down quite easily once the tine has been used. Consequently, the more aeration we can get into the green during the winter months when, because there is more water about, the soil is well lubricated, the more the turf will benefit.

The green will get the reward in the spring where the plant has had adequate aeration when it changes from a very wet, cold turf to a drier, well aerated soil which can warm up quickly. We, of course, as greenkeepers, play our part by regularly removing the surface dew and guttation (this is the proper word used for the waste water coming out of the plant through the stomata at night).

We brush at every opportunity to raise the temperature so that the plant will grow and produce roots, because we have provided space for the food during the winter months. In spring, the plant will wake up when the temperature rises to 42F-45F (5C – 7C).

Whenever water is available in the soil it will contain a solution of whatever material is present so that forms a solution and we have to keep this solution at about the right consistency to supply the plant foods for the plant to use.

If we can keep the soil temperature as warm as possible during the winter months by brushing and removing the dew, this will enable maximum root temperature to develop during the closed season. Obviously, during frosty weather, we keep off the green because in the main as we do not want to damage the grass plant cells, because they will be frozen and brittle during a cold snap.

4. FEEDING

There should be an absolute abundance of plant food available within the root zone to provide a very healthy growth situation for your turf, provided the correct turf culture practices have been carried out.

However, if these practices have been neglected, as is often evident by the many soil profiles I have taken, and the turf needs feeding, we can supply it with nutrients by applying fertilisers. If, as a result of a soil test, the feeding programme is worked out for your crop, then this is analysed to include soil nutrients that are advised to be used for the future in the proportions given by the report.

It must not be overlooked that there is an abundance of food available in the root zone and, depending on the amount of aeration that has been a carried out, this will result in the feed that is available for use within the plant. If a soil sample hasn’t been taken, there will still be an abundance of food in the root zone because that is what it is for – it stores food and it depends on the amount of aeration that has been done in the winter months’ feeding.

Consequently, for good turf culture practice, spiking (aeration) should take place ideally twice a week, and take a minimum of six hours, to open up through the winter months and this should supply enough food for that turf up until the spring. So as soon as possible, get knocking holes as this assists the gaseous exchange from out of the root zone. Sometimes, when hollow tining, it is possible to smell the putrefied gases from the soil where it had been trapped lower down. The hollow tining allows an escape route for these gases.

5. FUNGI

Fungi is a subject that is not always understood. We will look at fungi in two parts – one being the bit we see and the other one the bit we don’t see.

The most noticeable fungi in turf are toadstools, mushrooms, puff balls and various other fruiting bodies that contain the spores of the fungi waiting until ripe to distribute them into the atmosphere. They are included as a plant, but haven’t got a plant like growth because they are not able to manufacture their own sugars and starches themselves. They therefore feed on debris that already contains the sugar and starches that they need – sugar for the energy it gives and starch as the basis of its cell structure.

What we see are the fruiting spores and not the fungi itself. In a simple form, fungi would normally feed on dead or dying, single or groups of plants, maybe grasses, maybe shrubs, maybe organic material in the soil. The fungi are looking for debris either below the soil level, on the soil line or above the soil level, depending on the type of fungi that it is.

Some fungi exist below the soil level and spread out their filament like structures throughout the pore spaces in the soil, the type we see on the surface such as the toadstools etc are the fruiting spore and the ones above the soil level, which are on the grasses, can be seen as red thread or Corticium. They have one common fungi function which is that they simply accumulate sugars and starches from dead and decaying plants. They can be either parasites living on some dying parts of the living or saprophytes which live on dead materials.

As far as fungi go, they reside in the soil, are always part of the soil and they are waiting for debris and old organic material to accumulate enough in the soil or turf until the conditions are right for them to produce fruiting spores containing the next generation of fungi to go forward as it has temporarily run out of food at this stage.

So relating this to turf, if the cleaning out of the debris in your turf hasn’t been done efficiently and there is an abundance of food for fungi to feed on, that is when you will get catastrophic results. So that gives us a message that with regular aeration and scarifying of the old dead plant material, your turf will remain much healthier than if the job is neglected. Remember that when scarifying, it is not the soil you scarify because the dead plant material is laying above the soil level, most of which has fallen from the mower box during mowing operations.

Useful tip – empty your box when it is half full and in doing so preventing debris getting into your turf. However, we haven’t always got time so that is why we need to scarify or verticut at every opportunity in the summer months to keep the turf as clean as possible. Just mowing short is not successful to maintain height above the soil line.

Every club greenkeeper should be able to decide the depth of thatch by using a key or penknife in an attempt to keep the green as clean as possible. After all, thatch is the major cause of a slow bowling green surface.

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