Bowling Green Maintenance at it's best at Ayr Northfield

The ladies World Championships at Ayr Northfield, with the greens in fantastic condition.

Mid February is the ideal time to start planning for the start of the bowling season as by this time the green will have weathered the worst of the Winter. Although not all of it is past unfortunately, it will be obvious where any areas on and around the green have suffered. Now is the time to decide on what remedial action is required to ensure there is a good quality uniform surface to commence play in April.

Bowling Green Aeration

It has been a fairly mild Winter overall, but very wet, so any areas suffering from poor drainage will be showing up as at best, yellowing of the grass, at worst dead grass, so it is important to carry out extra aeration work to alleviate the problem.

In an ideal situation the green will be aerated with a motorised spiking machine at least four or five times between September and March. Unfortunately on many greens finances, and often access problems, make this difficult, so it is down to the physical effort of forking. It is very surprising how quickly, and how effective, forking can be, especially with a few willing volunteers. The fork should be inserted with the tines straight down, then the handle pulled back about a foot or so (35cm) , then pulled out and this action repeated by moving back by roughly the same spacing between the fork tines, giving a square pattern of holes. On bowling greens this is mainly required on the heads as they receive the most wear, and consequently compaction.


This SISIS aerator is ideal for bowling greens as it is very portable and fits through most gates. It is fitted with chisel tines in this picture.

This should be followed by an application of top dressing sand being brushed into the holes, at this time of year about one kilo per square metre. I would also suggest the addition of either ground charcoal or calcified seaweed on any areas that have been soured by standing water which will reduce the acidity and help the grass to recover. The surface disturbance caused by forking should then be levelled by running the greens mower over the area without the blades operating.

Bowling Green Moss and Disease Control

February is a good time to apply a dressing of sulphate of iron which will harden and green up the grass. This will help to stop any disease problems, and will control the moss, which has been particularly bad this Winter because of the wet weather. The iron can be applied either as a ready prepared lawn sand or in liquid form through a knapsack or walk behind sprayer. Either way the application rate should be around a quarter ounce per square yard (7 grms per sq mtr ). Chelated iron is also readily available for spraying but I have always found sulphate of iron much more effective during the Winter months. I will talk more about chelated iron for use in the growing season in another article.

This picture clearly shows how moss can become very prominent during a wet Winter. Forking holes can also be clearly seen.

This is the same area of green little more than a month after an application of iron.

Greensmower Maintenance

The green smower should have been in for service and sharpening at this stage, if not it needs to be done urgently now, as service agents will be getting very busy and the last thing needed is to be without a good sharp mower in the lead up to the green opening. It is false economy not to service and sharpen the mower as blunt blades cause many problems with grass, including disease and very poor appearance and roll quality.  Because the blades are tightened up to get it cutting at all there is increased strain on the engine, clutch and bearings, leading to many more breakdowns, and much more expense.

Assuming the mower is sharp and working it is always good practice to keep the grass trimmed at the Winter height of around a quarter inch (6 mil) during any mild spells to keep the sward even. This also helps any wind to dry the surface, producing a firm, healthy surface. Always remember to check the green for any debris that may have accumulated, and brush off any worm casts, before mowing.

Maintaining Your Banks and Ditches

The banks should be closely inspected for any damage and if necessary repaired using a good quality turf composed of slow growing grasses, see my grass types article, to keep bank maintenance costs down. If constructing a new bank it is worth remembering that it is now not legal to have a bit of an outward slope on the face, but in fact can be sloped slightly inward to deflect the bowl downwards. Ditches can also be cleaned out now as all the leaves are off the trees, and whichever material is used in the ditch bottoms replenished. There is a new product on the market for this purpose which I will tell you more about when I get the details.

Your Checklist for March

  1. Examine the green closely for damage caused by disease, birds, frost or compaction.
  2. Aerate, if not the whole green, the problem areas.
  3. Apply dressings where required.
  4. Treat the green with iron.
  5. Make sure the greensmower is ready for action, SHARP and set properly.
  6. Make sure banks are stable and will last the season.
  7. Clean out ditches.
  8. Carry out any pruning and tidying of shrubs and rosebeds.

As we are not to far away from the start of Spring growth I will write another article in mid March on the procedures and materials required to give your bowling green the best possible start to the season.