In these unprecedented times the maintenance of bowling greens, along with golf courses and other grass sports facilities, has been classed as essential work.
For golf courses, and by extension, other fine turf facilities, the [email protected] and B.I.G.G.A have produced an advisory document worth having a look at. Go to their web sites for more information.
In this article I will tell you what the minimum requirements are to maintain the playing surface in a way that will enable it to be brought back to full playing condition in a short time when restrictions are lifted.
The normal Spring program would be to gradually reduce mowing heights from the Winter 7mil, to 5mil by the end of April. As the greens are not going to played on this will not be necessary. For the duration of the lock down a mowing height of 6mil will be sufficient to maintain a good surface, and will also help to strengthen the sward.
Mowing frequency is the other factor in maintaining a good surface. I would advise a minimum of twice per week is necessary, for example, Monday and Thursday. Three times per week would be acceptable, but more would be deemed unnecessary.
It will not be required in these times to mow only from corner to corner, as this is purely to avoid giving bowlers lines to follow. More different directions improve the sward consistency, by avoiding any nap forming ( grass lying down due to being cut in the same direction too often).
On days no mowing is taking place it is advisable to switch or brush to remove any dew or worm casts, this helps to avoid disease and weed invasion.
The usual early Spring scarification should be carried out, followed by vertical cutting every two to three weeks. If the mower is fitted with groomers, use them set at 1mil above the height of cut. Except of course, in drought conditions.
Aeration is necessary, and will do even more good than normal as the green is not getting constantly compacted by players. Make sure that the tines being used are chisel or solid to avoid any problem with the slits opening up in dry weather. Once per month will be frequent enough to carry out the operation.
The feeding regime can certainly be reduced at this time as the grass will not be getting stressed by low and frequent cutting, and constant pressure from feet and bowls.
The usual Spring feed will be necessary, high nitrogen with high iron content, for example 18.104.22.168%fe. Watered in if dry weather of course.
For the duration of the lock down, a reduced frequency can be utilised on the normal liquid feed regime. My normal recommendation of monthly applications liquid fertiliser with wetting agent, interspersed with seaweed liquid and wetting agent in between, can be moved out to every six weeks.
The liquid fertiliser I have used with great success over the past three years is a 12 0 4.5 plus seaweed and humate, at five litre per standard size bowling green, with one litre of wetting agent added. At the halfway point between applications I use Bio active seaweed liquid at one litre per green, along with two litres Aquagro wetting agent.
The increase in spacing is because the grass is not being stressed, so therefore certainly will not require the same level of nutrition.
Other work that can be carried out.
Although a great loss to the bowling community, and the wider turf based sporting community, It should be seen from the maintenance point of view as a good opportunity to repair any damage caused by pests or wear and tear, without the strict limitations that play places on these operations.
Hand forking of severely compacted playing heads, over seeding and top dressing with good quality material any thin areas, and repairing broken edges. These are all operations which are much more effective in good growing conditions, not as normally has to be done out of season.
It should be noted that when over seeding the surface should be disturbed enough to make sure the seed is in contact with the soil, not just spread on the surface. Some wetting agent and seaweed will greatly enhance germination.
As I have said, these are very difficult times, but at least we are being allowed to maintain our turf in the meantime. This will allow us to get the surfaces fit for play at very short notice, with very possibly a much stronger sward in place than before this happened.
Please feel free to get in touch with me if there are any questions on the points I have made in this article.
Good luck to all in the industry, I do hope we will get back to normal service before to long.