Peter Jones: Autumn is the best time to create a soil structure that will cope with winter

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 30, 2011 14:42

Peter Jones: Autumn is the best time to create a soil structure that will cope with winter

Autumn is perhaps the most important time for implementing the surface management practices that will help to pay dividends the following spring, and getting things right before winter arrives can not only help to limit unnecessary damage, but ensure that the golf course is looking in great shape before the Augusta tournament hits the TV screens.

One of the most simple, yet most effective ways of limiting damage and managing surface wear is to rope off key areas where winter wear is a problem, thus enabling these areas to be de-compacted and renovated well before winter sets in.

A target date of no later than the first of November is recommended if the worn compacted areas are to benefit fully. Choice of ropes and the manner in which they are put out on the course can have an effect on how well they are received by golfers, and barriers which look smart and fuctional are normally well adhered to by golfers.

Management of the greens surfaces is the main focus throughout the whole year, but the autumn renovation period is perhaps the most important opportunity in the calendar for addressing the specific needs of the greens and creating the right conditions in the soil and the grass plants to help them over winter and maximise the health of the sward for an early start to the following season.

The benefits of an appropriate, well thought out autumn renovation ‘package’ can be the all important key to how well the greens perform through the winter, which is particularly relevant to older parkland courses where there are inherent problems with soil types, poor drainage and shade from trees.

‘Getting the slitter out’ during the winter on greens with the above problems is generally detrimental to the soil, and in turn the health of the grass, as the weight of the equipment and the compacting and smearing effects of the slitting tines can increase the compaction problems on greens when the rootzone / soil is in an optimum moisture state for being compacted.

Far better then, to address these problems earlier in the season when the soil / rootzone is in a friable state, by de-compacting the rootzone and creating a good soil structure using one of a range of appropriate aeration methods. The old greens slitter can then be kept under lock and key through the winter, giving way to more effective methods of aeration.

A recent converter to these principles is greenkeeper Steve Brockenhurst, who said: “I was dubious about the change of regime at first, but happy to give it a try, and was amazed by the improvement this spring compared to the previous years using the old system.”

Solid tine systems which create ‘heave’ and relieve compaction by increasing the volume of the rootzone area are very effective, as are tines which inject air into the soil helping to break compaction and increase the proportion of macro pore spaces running back up to the surface. This helps to make oxygen extensively available to the roots and create the continuation of pore spaces’ required gas exchange and for roots to grow more easily and reach the colloids which hold the nutrients required for healthy turf.

The timing of this work is key, because creating a good soil structure when the soil is in its most friable state is of great importance, and therefore this work should not be attempted when the greens are particularly wet.

Hollow coring of greens is often an operation which many clubs also carry out in September or October after the last important club fixture. Some have the advantage of being able to do this work in August if the course is quiet but for the majority of clubs it has to be done as late as possible in the autumn.

Achieving the most benefit from the hollow coring operation is what everyone should set out to achieve, and there are a couple of good tips which I recommend (where appropriate) for maximising the benefits of this once-a-year (or perhaps twice-a-year) operation.

The choice of top dressing which is applied following a hollow coring or deep tine operation is of great importance, and sometimes a re-think is required about what the main objectives (and opportunities) are for improving the performance and properties of the rootzone to achieve a more ideal healthier growing environment.

In summary, creating a good soil structure early in the autumn is as good as putting money in the bank to last you through the winter ahead as far as the health of the grass and the management of putting green surfaces are concerned. If this work is done on a timely basis it can pay you attractive dividends, which are held there in reserve to help you get through more stressful periods.

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 30, 2011 14:42
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