July 2012 – Speeding up a Sluggish Green

First of all we must be aware of correct turf culture and the needs of the grass plant which is under our control:

  1. It needs water
  2. Correct amount of feeding.
  3. Constant ambient temperature
  4. Bacterial activity
  5. Regular and appropriate turf maintenance
  6. The correct summer growing bowling green grasses of FESCUE and AGROSTIS

Originally, most bowling greens were composed of the most suitable grasses which are the fescue and agrostis families because they will both accept mowing down to 5mm, are reasonably drought resistant, produce leaves throughout the summer and roots during the winter months. However, in the summer months, because both of these grasses constantly produce new leaves which in turn die off we need to remove the dead, dying and diseased leaf regularly, otherwise they will be available as fungi food and contribute to turf debris. If the debris is not regularly removed by brushing and scarifying it will accumulate and form thatch which will prevent water from permeating into the soil. Thatch will also prevent the surface of the green from warming up efficiently and is one of the major contributors to slowing down the speed of the green.

Here is a list of ESSENTIALS for a fast running green…


Water is of paramount importance as it is necessary for water to move through the plant to carry food from the soil to mix with the sugars and starches that the grass blade produces. In transporting these elements from the soil and the atmosphere to within the plant it is essential that the roots of the plant are in moist soil. For optimum efficiency, the soil should be moist to a depth of 6 inches or 150mm to enable the grass plant to complete its function of producing new leaves and recover from the mowing process.


The best way for a greenkeeper to ensure that the soil is moist to the correct depth is to carry out regular spiking (aeration) throughout the winter months with solid, chisel or hollow tines – whichever is necessary and fortnightly throughout the bowling season with only solid round tines to cope with excessive rainfall and summer storms. Solid round tines will not affect the draw of the woods and this is why we use only these during the playing season. All spiking and any other operations during the season must be carried out on the diagonal from corner to corner. Again, this is so that the draw of the wood is not influenced in any way.

Each morning it is essential to remove the dew from the green to recycle the moisture that has been produced during the hours of darkness. This can be accomplished by brushing or by using a dew removal roller or by swishing with whatever you have available – whether it be a switch, a rope, a hose pipe, or a drag mat. What must be considered is if you are intending to mow that day. If you are going to mow it doesn’t matter what you use to remove the dew as you will be following up with the mower. However, if you are not going to mow that day the least disturbance to the surface in removing the dew the better. In other words, using a dew removal roller would be advisable as it could speed up the green by about 2 to 3 seconds.

The best time to irrigate the green is either late evening or during the hours of darkness when the soil has more chance to soak up the moisture and there will be less wind and heat to cause evaporation. Clubs with pop up sprinklers need to check the spray pattern to ensure correct coverage over the whole green and not its surrounds.


The main element needed during the growing season will be composed of nitrogen and phosphate which can either be miniature solid granules or in liquid form. The advantage of liquid feeding is that it tremendously reduces the chance of scorching the turf and it is also cheaper and easier but it will have to be applied more often than granular feed. Do ensure that the application is calibrated correctly and it is a good idea to have two members who with practice can become proficient at this process. The only advantage that granule feed has is that it lasts longer in the soil and can be slow release depending on weather conditions. However, extra care must be exercised in using granular feed as spillage and incorrect speed of application can cause scorching and irregular colour changes over the green. To avoid spillage damage, it is always best to fill the distributor away from the green where it cannot spoil the appearance of the surface.

It is advisable to check with your supplier what materials are needed and when they should be applied. Always read the manufacturers’ instruction to ensure the correct dosage is used and keep any machinery in tip top condition. After application make appropriate notes in the day book for future reference on the efficacy of the material used and calculate the time lag for when it kicks in.


The temperature of the turf needs to be kept between 4C to 7C for the best results. Removing the dew at about 8 am will assist in raising the surface temperature and enable the grass to function. A warmer surface will speed up the green.


The micro climate which is 13mm above the soil level and 25 mm below the soil is where the plants and bacteria function subject to root depth and this micro climate will control the condition of the turf.


MOWING must be carried out regularly on a weekly basis in the playing season i.e. Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Grass gets used to being mown regularly as opposed to spasmodically.

Height of cut will be ideally 5mm subject to levels on the green. Cutting at 5mm on very uneven turf is not advisable. The greenkeeper needs to avoid scalping where the bottom blade of the mower is rubbing on the top of the grass of any high spots, consequently bulldozing the grass flat will eventually lead to bald spots allowing moss and low growing weeds to colonize.

SCARIFYING is used to control the grass plant and not the soil. A quick check will see how much thatch has accumulated on the surface of the turf and although most of the scarifying to remove thatch is done in the autumn, we must bear in mind that when mowing much of mowings, particularly if the thrower plate is not adjusted properly, will if it is windy miss the box and land on the green and thereby contribute to thatch. This is the kind of material that we need to disturb for the box to pick up. Normally two passes of the scarifier on the diagonal with the scarifier set just above soil level will have a big impact on the thatch that is disturbed and can be removed into the box. This should be carried out once a fortnight during the playing season.

Remember that you must never allow the scarifier blades to touch the soil because a) any disturbance of the soil below grass level will affect the draw of the woods and b) much of the new grass crowns will be removed by the blades digging in the soil resulting in bald patches. The grass crowns sit only just below the soil surface.

Scarifying is to rake between the grasses (verticutting) and not dig into the soil. Mowers with groomers attached behind the front roller but in front of the cutting cylinder can be used all the year round as the action is very gentle but effective. One of the aims of scarifying is to lift the stalk of the grass plant up to meet the mower thus preventing it from seeding. This stalk could otherwise easily affect the draw of the woods.

ROLLING. When turf gets wet it swells up to allow the water through and can become temporarily waterlogged because the pore space is filled with water instead of air. We need to firm the turf back into shape so pressing the soil and the turf back together where it was before it was swollen up by excessive rain. Rolling can be carried out whenever the turf is loose perhaps with a Sisis Truelevel roller or a 5cwt hand roller and adjust the speed accordingly. Rolling will prevent a lot of the “skidding” which occurs when the woods are delivered from above the surface instead of on it.

Plan of Attack for a Faster Green…

Now that you are aware of what the plant and the green ideally require you can plan how to speed up your green with other club members.

With a normal maintenance of brushing and cutting the standard of the green will already be set. However if you want to start to speed up the green you need to adhere to any of the following plans depending on the staff available and ensuring that all the machinery is in good condition and the operator’s manual is to hand.

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