Bowls has always been a popular sport. Many bowling greens are in need of greater, more specialised maintenance as their usage increases. The management of both Crown Green and Flat Rink greens is in essence similar. The management of greens is designed to produce a uniform, fast, well-prepared surface.
The New Green
Once excavation, grading and drainage procedures have been completed the green is ready for the root zone material. The root zone should be 150-250mm in depth. It is important to use root zone materials which have been laboratory tested. This ensures correct drainage characteristics with adequate moisture retention whilst maintaining air spaces.
Seed-Bed Preparation: It is extremely important that levels are within a critical tolerance. Raking and firming are carried out to obtain levels within plus or minus 6mm.
Time of Seeding: As with most new grass areas, the best time for seeding is considered to be the autumn (late July to mid-September), when conditions are often warm and moist and there is reduced risk of annual weed competition. At the time of sowing a slow release fertiliser such as GSR Tri-Phase 18-3.5-8 should be spread evenly over the prepared seed-bed at 25-35g/m2 and lightly raked into the surface. This will ensure even establishment and strong root development in the critical early stages of sward production.
Seed Mixtures: If high specifications have been adhered to in the construction phase it is logical to use a high quality seed mixture. The user of the green will judge the green by the uniformity and quality of the sward.
Traditionally the seed mixture for bowling greens is a combination of:
A1 Bowling Green Mixture
Modern, high quality varieties of fescue are tolerant of close mowing, wear and disease . It is very important that high quality varieties are chosen as lower quality cultivars will not persist under close mowing. Dorianna and Joanna are excellent examples of varieties tolerant of close mowing.
Highland Browntop Bent was once a valid choice in bowling green mixtures, but should now be disregarded as there are so many good varieties of Agrostis capillaries, such as AberRegal and AberRoyal, AberMajesty which exhibit a far finer leaf, greater shoot density and improved ability to outcompete weed grasses and recover after play: all attributes which produce a far superior playing surface.
Sowing: Sowing should be carried out in two phases, the second at 90° to the first, with the seed sown in two halves to give a final sowing rate of 35g/m2.. This seed should then be lightly raked into the surface to ensure good seed soil contact. On no account should the surface be left to dry out during the establishment phase as the seedling grass plants are at their most valuable during drought conditions.
Once the sward reaches 4mm it should be topped, remembering never to remove more than one-third of the length of the shoot if weakening of the grass plant is to be avoided. The final playing height should be achieved very gradually by lowering the mower blades over a period of two to three months.
Maintenance of the established bowling green
The end of the bowling season represents the most suitable and logical time to repair the damage caused after the constant foot traffic of the summer months. The greens should be thoroughly scarified to remove the accumulated thatch and mown to remove any procumbent growth. Of equal priority is the need to open up the surface to relieve the season’s compaction and thus allow free percolation of air and water to the grass root. Generally if compaction is severe hollow tining is preferred, but slit tining is beneficial and this is also to be recommended.
Autumn: An autumn application of a mini granular fertiliser should be applied with a suitable top dressing material to encourage regeneration of the grass roots. Notice that the fertiliser suitable for autumn application has a low nitrogen analysis. This will prevent the succulent top growth associated with a nitrogen application and help to alleviate problems of disease attack.
It is worth carrying out routine soil analysis and pH tests to ascertain the exact fertiliser requirements of fine turf. In some cases high phosphate levels will encourage Poa annua.
Winter: During a mild winter the grass may continue to grow and therefore should be mown when conditions allow to a height of 7mm. Other operations should include switching to disperse morning and evening dew and so reduce the incidence of fungal disease. The removal of worm-casts which tend to provide an ideal seed-bed for weeds and weed grasses is advisable.
During conditions of frost, snow or heavy rain the green should not be worked or played on. This will seriously weaken the sward and damage the soil structure should it occur.
Spring/Summer: Once the conditions are favourable, brushing, switching and mowing should begin. The winter mowing height of 7mm should be gradually reduced to the final playing height over a period of several cuts. At the height of the growing season the green should be cut at least two or three times per week.
In spring over-seeding can be considered though the cutting height of the mower may have to be left relatively high in order to allow the young grasses to establish.