Main Picture
by: Peter Joyce

PETER JOYCE believes that by combining new environmentally friendly turf treatments with time-honoured work practices, the quality of bowling greens can be greatly enhanced. It,s all a matter of adopting an integrated approach.

With the advent of autumn, the groundsman,s mind turns to the renovation of bowling greens, a process that has remained virtually unchanged for decades. The advent of more modern tools has had a marginal impact, but essentially time-honoured practices have continued without keeping pace with the more sustainable management movement that has swept through horticulture recently. What I would like to do here is to introduce some new ideas which readers may not have considered.

Taking a holistic view (considering a growing medium as an integrated whole) involves obtaining naturally good conditions for growth, which are very often missing in sports turf, including bowling greens. There are a number of reasons for this. Very often greens are suffering from anaerobic conditions caused by sterile sand/peat rootzones. Neither are conditions always very good in soil-based greens affected by trampled and compacted soil, and suffering from the effect of chemicals such as nitrogen fertilizers and fungicides, which can create acid conditions.

The results of all of this are a very low level of soil bacteria, and very often a build-up of thatch. Soil bacteria levels in healthy soils are normally high, and are essential in breaking down this dead plant material. In addition they release nutrients to plant roots. In many ways, the conventional addition of artificial products such as fertilizers and fungicides can create the very problems which they attempt to solve. Fertility is reduced, and the normal levels of bacteria (which often run to one-billion per gram of soil) become many times lower.

The type of treatment used will depend, to a large extent, on the state of the green. However, there are a wide range of "green", or environmentally friendly, products which are suitable, dependent upon whether prevention, care or maintenance of good conditions are paramount.

Black layer is very often caused by poor drainage, compaction, shade and heavy use of chemicals. Hollow-tining or spiking is necessary to the top of the black layer, and special black layer treatment products can be spread and brushed into the holes after being bulked-up with sand. The product itself will contain saprophytic micro-organisms, which biologically degrade the black layer to break down toxins, and to release nutrients direct to the turf roots. Play is possible the day after application, and improvement should be evident within one month.

Another biological control available is for the eradication of thatch. This is applied into the autumn on sandy greens, and in spring and early summer on soil greens. It can be spread with sand or other top-dressing. It consists of saprophytic micro-organisms, and has activating nutrients and trace elements. It has the effect of biologically degrading the thatch, and as with a biological black layer treatment, releases lock-up nutrients to grass roots.

Case study 1. Ernest Brewin, project officer in Sheffield,s parks unit, was faced with considerable problems when called in to deal with some of the borough,s bowling greens three years ago. Following summer drought he was asked to inspect greens at Hillsborough, and found them denuded of grass, but covered in huge patches of thatch 25mm (1in) thick, with a consolidated further layer of 20 to 30mm (¾ to 1¼in) thick underneath. This followed overplaying and insufficient irrigation. However, Mr. Brewin did not want to destroy the surface of the greens, some of which were laid in the early years of this century, and therefore decided on cultural methods to deal with the problem.

He conducted a spiking programme and reseeded, but owing to drought restrictions the amount of irrigation had to be limited. He used Tildenet sheeting to cover treated areas but found that after it was removed fusarium formed and killed off all new grass. Despite extensive fungicide applications, the fusarium proved impossible to eradicate.

Having exhausted conventional treatments, a new approach was clearly required. The Symbio company,s Thatch Eater product was used. Affected areas were extensively re-spiked and more seed was applied. Because the product was in very find powder form, Mr. Brewin applied it with a conventional top-dressing. After approximately one year, the greens returned to presentable shape. The fusarium infestations gradually decreased, and water started to permeate through the surface.

A biological growth activator in granular form was then used, and the sponginess caused by thatch disappeared. This was followed by a biological resister, which was used to out-compete the fusarium by increasing the natural resistant of the rootzone and sward. The bowling greens are now in excellent condition. Although Mr. Brewin believes that traditional cultural methods are still an essential part of good greensmanship, he is now convinced of the value of naturally occurring green products as part of an overall programme.

For greens which suffer from fungal diseases such as fusarium, the natural answer is to use another set of saprophytic organisms including microbes, fungi, phytohormnes and micro-nutrients. These naturally occurring bacteria and fungi work with the beneficial resident population in the ground, and help plant growth and nutrient uptake as well as suppressing disease-causing fungi. It can be applied in autumn until November when day temperatures are greater than 5°C as well as in spring. A starter product is also available, and contains microbes and fungi which rapidly reproduce beneficial microbes in the rootzone. It can be used once a month from mid-summer to September, or in early spring.

One such example is Farmura,s Inhibiter, which stimulates the specific soil bacteria, Actinomycetes. This inhibits fusarium and increases natural resistance to microdochium nivale. Since 1991 it has been undergoing evaluation at the Sports Turf Research Institute, and testing under field conditions by greenkeepers throughout the UK. The results of STRI trial results over the three-month period from November to February indicated that the level of fusarium patch disease in untreated areas varied from 8 to 21% where high disease levels were evident. Treated levels varied from 0.5 to 3%. In areas with low disease levels during a two-month period spanning October and November, untreated levels of fusarium patch were at 3 to 10%; treated levels were as low as 1.5 to 4%. Thus the product exhibits typical characteristics following use in keeping with an integrated disease management programme, resulting from a combination of cultural and biological practices.

There are also bacterial and fungal mixes which are powerful growth activators, and help to establish newly constructed greens, or those which are thatchy, poorly rooted or disease prone. As with the other products previously mentioned, a drop-spreader is the best method of application. This should be carried out twice a year, in autumn and spring. It is advisable to thoroughly soak treated areas in the first three days to activate the microorganisms. A thicker growth should result and disease resistance should be such that fungicide treatments can be reduced.

Case study 2. One such product is Symbio,s Green Circle. This was trialled in 1993 by Mike Ede, a region manager for the London Borough of Sutton,s parks service. The green at Mellows Park was treated in conjunction with a progamme of manual slitting and aeration. After one year the trial was so successful that it was extended to all six of the borough,s bowling greens, since when no artificial fertilizer or fungicides have been applied. Interestingly, the increased cost of slitting and aeration was more than offset by the savings from chemical application.

After some months, a mottled light yellow and dark green appearance became evident as the meadow-grasses and fescues present in the turf began to thrive under the new regime. This highlighted the need to regularly overseed with fescues, which in itself has helped to improve the state of the greens. In late spring of every year, core and tissue samples are taken, and analyzed to ascertain what feeding is required. This year, the level of nitrate actually needed was very low indeed, owing to the improved state of the greens. All that has been required has been a light pre-August application of the formulation derived following sample analysis, in conjunction with spot-treatment of any residual patches of fusarium.

Maintenance of good conditions
There are also green products which can be used to boost nutrient uptake, prevent thatch build-up, reduce fungal infections and improve root growth. A combination of the granular product which introduces a broad range of bacteria and fungi, and the liquid product, will provide maximum performance from the applied microbes.

Case study 3. The London Borough of Bromley decided on an alternative to conventional fertilizer when they relaid two bowling greens recently. Excellent establishment results were achieved using Farmura,s Kelpak. This product combines bovine and seaweed extracts, and contains essential growth hormones such as gibberellins and auxins, and it complements and enhances prevailing soil conditions.

In conclusion, there are a number of other green techniques and products which can be used to supplement or replace many of the chemicals and techniques traditionally used in the cultivation and renovation of bowling greens. This article has confined itself to the use of a number of biologically-based products currently on the market which have demonstrated striking success where more conventional methods on their own have failed. A better understanding of the way soils and grasses work have helped to show how results can be obtained by working in tandem with nature, rather than utilizing standardized techniques regardless of prevailing conditions. The future must lie in a balanced holistic approach, where greenkeeping techniques are complemented by the latest green technology.

Peter Joyce established the consultancy Sustainable Environmental Solutions (SES) last year to assist local authorities and other landowners with environmentally-based solutions to land management. He has 26 years experience in landscape management, latterly as head of parks for the London Borough of Bromley. SES (Tel: 01737-354288) covers a wide range of environmental disciplines, and uses associates in areas as diverse as ecology, landscape, architecture, grounds maintenance, parks strategy and integrated pest management. The development of Agenda 21 initiatives is at the forefront of the company,s policy.

Reprinted courtesy of Parks, Golf Courses and Grounds, October 1998, Volume 64, Number 1.

For more information on Parks, Golf Courses and Grounds contact: Alan Guthrie, Editor, Clarke and Hunter(London) Ltd., 254 London Road, Staines, Middlesex, TW18 4JQ.

Turf Line News October/November 1999