My Complete Recipe for a Successful Bowling Surface

To start:

  1. Select the correct grass
  2. Understand the importance of suitable soil
  3. Ensure that all the grass requirements are provided
  4. Vital turf culture practices

CAPTION 1: Agrostis grass spreads into any spaces left in the turf by Fesue grasses and complement it well.

CAPTION 2: Fescue grasses are fine and like Agrostis, are perfect for a bowling green.

CAPTION 3: Scarifying can reduce the amount of Annual Meadow Grass on your green.

(1) SELECTING THE RIGHT GRASSES…

The ideal turf for bowling greens is composed of Fescue grass and Agrostis grass. Originally, these grasses were found in sea washed turf in the Lancashire area at the mouth of the River Kent and River Kerr, where the sandy particles had accumulated after being washed down from the Lake District and this was known as Cumberland Turf.

Nowadays, very little turf is cut from those marshes as it is uneconomical and impracticable, so bowling green turf is now grown by specialised companies all over the country.

As an alternative to laying turf, the correct pre-germinated seeds can be sprayed on to a carefully prepared surface by skilled applicators who have many years’ experience in this particular procedure. The techniques of either turf laying or Liquid Sod application are both equally successful, provided they are followed up by the right aftercare.

The reason we have chosen Fescue and Agrostis grasses are because they are both summer growing grasses which wake up in the spring, when it gets warmer, and produce green leaves steadily throughout the playing season.

These grasses are hardy perennials and can cope with being cut short to 5mm and have deep rooting systems. They are also able to withstand hard wear and tear during the playing season and recuperate during the winter months, when they develop stronger roots and store nutrients for use the following season.

These two grasses have different habits, i.e. the Fescue is a fine, tufted grass which doesn’t like competition, whilst the Agrostis, although also fine, spreads by underground creeping stems into any spaces left in the turf by the Fescue.

The Fescue and Agrostis grasses complement each other for a successful surface and are ideal as they are individually affected by different fungal diseases. The Fescue can suffer from Corticium Fuciforme (red thread), which affects its leaf tips as the leaves die and this means that a light nitrogenous feed is needed. The Agrostis, because of its dense root system, may suffer from Ophiobolus (take all patch) which destroys the roots.

(2) UNDERSTANDING THE IMPORTANCE OF SUITABLE SOIL…

Soil is composed of sand, silt and clay. The sand is inert, the silt is unstable and the clay is a colloid, but together, in the right proportions, they form the ideal soil for bowling greens.

When a green is constructed there are different layers involved.

At the bottom there is a drainage raft system about 8” deep, composed of 4” broken stone with large spaces between them so that water can move easily downwards and sideways to the perimeter drains which run beneath the bowling green ditches and are connected to a main outlet.

The next 4”up is smaller broken stone and above that is 2” of pea gravel. On top of the pea gravel is the blinding layer, composed of 1” sharp sand, which prevents the fine materials of the root zone from being washed down through the lower levels, and above this sits 5”-6” of the root zone.

The root zone is composed of fine top soil of a loamy nature with a balance of suitable, coarse, lime free sharp sand which can contain the nutrients for the plants, together with soil life and bacteria to feed on the dead and dying roots as the new turf ages. On top of the root zone will be the final level of the green composed either of turf, normal seed or Liquid Sod.

The different layers of the green ensure that water is continually permeated throughout the soil and any excess is carried away to lower levels for storage for re-use or for removal. Air and nutrients will also be available and incorporated into the different layers with the correct turf culture practices.

(3) ENSURING THAT ALL GRASS REQUIREMENTS ARE PROVIDED…

What is best for the grass plant and the turf?

In the ideal position, these grasses were grown on marsh land and received plenty of fresh air, mainly without pollution from factories and chimneys and so we need to replicate that fresh air as near as possible.

The plant breathes through its stomata (openings) in the backs of the leaves and takes in all the elements that are in the atmosphere and together with the nutrients absorbed from the soil water is able to convert these into sugar and starches using the sun’s energy.

Air is also necessary in and around the root systems for gas exchanges and we facilitate this process by adequate aeration (spiking) as often as possible.

Obviously, good light is essential for successful grass and so the green needs to be as open as possible, with little overshadowing by buildings, tall trees and hedges or any other obstructions. The deflection of prevailing winds is seven times the height of the obstruction before the prevailing wind returns back down to turf level, so hedges need to be minimum height and clean the base to allow air and light to come through at ground level.

If a hedge is two metres high it would mean that the air flow would not come back naturally to the green until it has travelled 14 metres which is almost a third of the green. Brushing in this deflection area in the morning will take much longer to be effective and the area could be more prone to mosses if the conditions are not changed.

Warmth is a necessity and a temperature of 42F to 45F (5C to 7C) is the most suitable condition for the plant to ‘wake up’ and function efficiently. Removing the dew (guttation), by whichever method you choose, will enable the turf to dry off and warm up more quickly and carry on its function producing leaves in the summer months and roots in the winter months. The right temperature assists the production of beneficial bacteria in the soil that break down dead organic material within the turf area and below.

Finally, the plant needs moisture either from natural rain or irrigation during dry periods. Bowling green turf should be kept moist to a depth of 6” to enable successful capillary action which is the movement of water up and down and sideways within the soil.

The soil water contains nutrients and the capillary action facilitates the absorption of them by the plant through the root hairs and root system. The nutrients are provided by the careful measurement and application of fertilisers and also obtained from the breakdown of organic matter by the soil bacteria. Take great care when applying fertiliser, as scorch and damage can occur if overdosed.

Brushing at ideally 8am every morning to remove the dew returns moisture to the soil for re-use by the plant. Failure to brush could mean that the plant stays colder in the morning and the sun and wind dry up that moisture and it will be lost to the plant.

A square metre of healthy turf moves water through the plant at a rate of four litres per hour during the hours of darkness and this is the way that the grass plant passes out its waste materials through the stomata.

If irrigating, the water needs to be applied between the hours of 2am and 4am if possible to minimise the loss of water by wind and atmosphere.

(4) VITAL TURF CULTURE PRACTICES…

  • Brushing to remove the dew each morning if preparing to mow (roughing up the surface).
  • Dew rolling during the season on days you are not mowing (gives two seconds extra on speed of green).
  • Mow a border round the outside of the green (two or six times around) to enable turning at different areas on the green.
  • Mow diagonally, corner to corner during playing season so as not to influence the run of the bowl or provide guidance to the bowlers.
  • Aerate (spike) as often as possible during the season (fortnightly) with solid round tines. Dothis diagonally, corner to corner to avoid influencing the run of the bowl. This assists bacteria to breakdown organic material in the root zone.
  • Aerate as often as possible during the winter months when roots are searching for nutrients. This can be carried out in any direction in the closed season, but it is not advisable to use chisel tines to prune roots after the middle of March because of the chance of a dry spring when chisel marks could dry out and influence the run of the bowl.
  • Scarifying is more intensive in the autumn to remove thatch and debris which should be removed and disposed of well away from the green. Scarifying is improved by many changes of direction to clean out the surface, particularly of the weed grass called annual meadow grass (poa annua). Under no circumstances should the scarifier blades be used as diggers, as many of the grass crowns below grass level could be destroyed. These are your new supply of grasses for next season.
  • Scarify the turf and not the soil.
  • Once cleaning out is completed then new grass seed can be applied where necessary and whilst the temperature is still favourable for germination. Fescue must be placed half an inch deep into the soil, whilst Agrostis grass seed settles on the surface. No need for top dressing.
  • Rolling is also essential for the bowling green in the spring to put the turf back from where it has moved in frosty weather or during aeration. This will ensure that extra air is in the soil during the winter months until the middle of March when light rolling takes place. Gradually increase the weight of the roller until the middle of April.
  • ALL operations on the green during the playing season MUST be carried out on the diagonal.

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