Planning for Autumn Work – A Chance to Decrease AMG
October 2013 article
AT THE end of the playing season the annual problem arises as to what to do with the green.
To come to some conclusion in the approach to off-season work, we should consider the following:
1. Were members satisfied with the green during the playing season?
2. If not, why not?
3. What can the club afford financially to make any improvements?
I have never heard any bowler admit in public that he or she was satisfied with the green. In sport there will always be the ‘rub of the green’ on the day that can determine the outcome of a match.
There may be some alterations to the surface that can influence the behaviour of the bowls and on many occasions these can be rectified during the season.
When mowing, slight depressions can be felt and these can be dressed carefully using dried, sifted hollow core materials to match the surrounds, and apart from a deep green, where a little organic content gives a nitrogen burst, the depression can be corrected.
These slight depressions can be topped up with the aforementioned dressing material and the grass can grow quickly through because it is a period when the grass is growing as opposed to the winter months when only the roots are searching for food and very little leaf production is going on.
Towards the end of September there is little leaf production as it is the end of the period of growth for Fescue and Agrostis, the desirable grasses for bowling green surfaces. Both these perennial grasses wake up in April and May to produce leaves through until the end of September and then the roots take over searching for food throughout the winter months until April.
Unfortunately, most of our greens are composed of Annual Meadow Grass (Poa Annua, now referred to as AMG) which can grow under most conditions and in a variety of soils. Under normal conditions, each AMG plant would consist of a very shallow root – 3mm long with three leaves.
The reason this grass is so unpredictable and unreliable is that in any extremes, hot or cold, wet or dry, excessive or lack of fertiliser, this little plant will produce three or six seeds in order to keep the species going as the parent plant dies out. The behaviour of AMG is entirely different to the perennial grasses, Fescue and Agrostis.
SATISFYING THE MEMBERS
If members were satisfied with the condition and levels of the green then just concentrate on repairs to damage turf by deep hand forking once the turf has been thoroughly saturated, followed by seeding whilst the soil is still warm from the summer temperatures.
If, on the other hand, the players were not satisfied, there must be a general discussion to ascertain what the problems were and what the club can do to rectify them with the finances available.
USE THE RIGHT TOOLS
The greenkeeper will be able to work more efficiently and happily with good tools and this should be a top priority over unnecessary expenditure. It would make sense to share the cost of any large or expensive machinery with another club or consider hiring whatever is required if it’s only needed for a short period.
If, for example, you hire a spiker, then do make sure that everything is prepared and ready for its use and that you make the maximum use of it.
All greenkeepers have to make the most of the tools and equipment at their disposal so strict guidelines cannot always be laid down, but over many years some basic principles have evolved for autumn renovation.
USE COMMON SENSE
It will be obvious that if there is an abundance of thatch, i.e. 8-12mm of dead and dying material, any new seed will not have a chance to germinate as thatch does not contain any soil, so extensive scarifying will be required to remove this debris to clean out the surface before seeding takes place.
If regular scarifying has taken place throughout the playing season then there should be a minimum of thatch accumulated that would need to be removed. What is not generally realised is that fungi, which reside in the soil, will feed on the thatch when conditions are suitable in moist and muggy conditions, so by removing the debris you are reducing the opportunity for fungi (fusarium) which are waiting for the chance to take hold and disfigure the surface.
As a consequence, removing the debris will reduce the need for expensive fungicides which otherwise would have to be purchased to contain the problem.
It is important to remember that scarifying must be carried out in moist conditions. The prime aim is to set the scarifier blades just above soil level whether thatch control or that removal reels are being used.
SCARIFY IN THE RIGHT CONDITIONS
Remember that we are grooming the turf and clearing out the debris of dead and diseased materials. Making the turf moist will assist the work of the scarifier by reducing resistance to the blades because the turf is lubricated and also there will be minimum wear on the blades.
Of equal importance is that the moisture in the turf allows repairs to be done immediately by the grass plant to its damaged leaves and stems, thus aiding general recovery to the appearance of the turf. There is less damage done to the perennial grasses by scarifying as they repair themselves far more efficiently than AMG.
Many AMG grass plants will not be removed completely by scarifying as they have very shallow fleshy roots and do not get well established in the turf. They will die out at the first sign of drought but before doing so they throw a few seeds in the hope they will germinate to prolong the species.
Always remember to set the scarifier into the turf and not into the soil. It is a change of direction that will slowly clean out the debris without altering the height of the blades. Much of the debris can be lifted off the turf with a rotary mower, with box or bag, quite efficiently if your scarifier does not include a ‘catcher.’
With scarifying, the AMG is the plant that usually fills the mower box and the autumn is the ideal time to remove as much of it as possible, the reason being that whilst the turf is thin, spaces will remain to receive perennial grasses which can cope with drought conditions and a minimum of feeding.
APPLYING THE CORRECT GRASSES
Once the soil is clean and thinned out and whilst the ground is still warm, the correct grass seeds can be applied. Fescue seeds (5mm long) need to be placed half an inch down into the soil and the Agrostis (less than 1mm long) should be left to settle in the surface.
If bought as a mix, ensure the Fescue is placed at the correct depth and the Agrostis will automatically settle itself on the surface as it is small and light. Always ensure before commencing seeding that the ground is prepared by being moist to a depth of three inches as the Fescue seeds need moisture, warmth and a period of darkness for germination.
A Brayseed Slotter tool has been designed for the purpose and will facilitate the correct placing and spacing of the Fescue seed into the soil.
There is no need to top dress after seeding as both types of seed have already been placed at the correct depth with the optimum conditions for germination.
A common mistake is to sow the seed on the surface and cover it with top dressing and then water it. The seeds will float to the top and have great difficulty in germinating successfully.