Changing practices in the science of turf management

The science of turf management is one that is ever-changing, with environmental factors changing how we conduct routine tasks and the tools available to complete them. Global warming and its resulting weather patterns are prominent talking points once again, whilst changes in chemical legislation and pressure for increased sustainability are all under the spotlight of facilities nationwide. We speak with a number of industry suppliers and manufacturers on the ways they’re responding to the changing industry demands.

“Undeniably, the availability of chemicals is causing a huge shift in the management of disease and pests,” says Nick Darking of Charterhouse Turf Machinery. “Without chemical solutions freely accessible to deal with problems such as worm casts, the sector is turning to cultural remedies to keep on top of them.”

A major headache for greenkeepers and grounds managers alike, worm casts cause issues not just for appearance, but for play and maintenance – providing prime space for weed seeds to germinate. “Keeping the surface clear of leaves and debris such as grass clippings it a great place to start. As a source of food for the worms, it brings them to the surface and leaves casts in their wake.”

In response, Redexim introduced the Top-Brush (see main image) – a 6m wide triple-deck poly-brush to rid the surface of worm casts, organic matter and dew. “Its size makes it ideal for large areas such as fairways, where casts can be more common. Because the brushes can rotate in or against the direction of travel, it can also be used to remove lateral growth and stand the plant upright – contributing to better airflow into the canopy and a cleaner quality of cut.” The Top-Brush is an effective method of incorporating topdressing material – another way of actively minimising worm cast occurrence. “Increasing the sand content improves the growing environment and dries out the soil profile, reducing worm populations and makes any casts that do appear, easier to disperse.”

The reduction in curative chemical availability has been a game-changer, too when it comes to disease management – limiting the option of reactive fungicide applications. Using preventative fungicides to control Fusarium Patch (Microdochium nivale) will continue to be an essential tool in the turf manager’s armoury. However, taking a longer-term, strategic view of turf disease management and producing a grass plant that is strong and more resistant to disease, is important now more than ever.

science of turf management
Fusarium Patch (Microdochium nivale)

Headland Amenity started to explore this area in 2007, carrying out annual trials at the STRI,” explains Andy Russell, the company’s Sales Director. “The result is a number of disease management strategies, which focus on the timely application of nutrients to maximise plant health going into and during, the main disease periods. Headland’s ‘20-20-30’ tank-mix is now a proven strategy which uses preventative applications of liquid plant health products which work together to strengthen the plant, reducing the need for curative chemical applications, thereby lowering costs by up to 50% compared to using fungicides alone.”

The latest approach utilises the ’20-20-30’ mix of Liquid Turf Hardener, Turfite® Elite and Seamac® ProTurf Fe, together with Mantle – a water-soluble micronutrient formulation containing manganese, zinc, magnesium and Harpin Plant Elicitor. Trials conducted in 2018/19 demonstrated an excellent reduction in active Microdochium nivale compared to the untreated control. Andy adds, “To achieve optimum results, a combined approach of pesticidal and non-pesticidal treatments should commence in late summer/early autumn, weather dependant, and be combined with careful cultural practices.”

“One of many key practices that Turf Managers should be doing is keeping surfaces clear of thatch and/or organic matter,” says Vinny Tarbox of MTD Specialty Turf Products. “A thatchy surface that is moisture retentive not only reduces the movement of oxygen and nutrients, it also provides an ideal environment to harbour pathogens.

science of turf management

“The UltraGroomer™ cassette from our renowned TMSystem™ features over 80 tungsten carbide tipped blades, spaced at 5mm apart, to reduce Poa ingress, minimise puffiness and prevent the build-up of organic matter. By improving the plants immediate environment, it then becomes more difficult for disease pathogens to take hold.”

Martin Lucas of GreenMech agrees that maximising light and airflow is crucial for optimising plant health. “Greenkeepers and Turf Managers should be surveying pitch and course surroundings and consider removing anything casting excessive shadows or restricting that vital airflow. It is undeniable that we are also experiencing a shift in our weather patterns, and as a result of this, are seeing an increase in the frequency of storms and resulting damage. Debris and fallen branches and brash should be cleared as soon as it is feasible, not only to allow play to resume but to reduce the damage caused to turf.”

The Environmental Protection Act, along with the Clean Air Act, considers the burning of waste as inappropriate – anyone found improperly disposing of waste risks being prosecuted and fined up to £2000. “Chipping is a fantastic way to quickly and easily remove unwanted material. The chip that is produced can then be used in other beneficial ways – as a weed suppressant on pathways and in flowers beds or scattered around trees to help with moisture retention in the summer months. Tree roots and overhanging branches should also be regularly examined as these can cause problems overhead or underground, and any dead, damaged or diseased wood should be disposed of.”

GreenMech have long been at the forefront of British built woodchippers with a range spanning over 20 models, designed to suit a variety of demands and year-round applications. Their latest model, the EVO 165, has looked at another environmental factor – noise pollution. “We worked on ways to reduce both sound power and sound pressure. For example, we added an additional fan to provide extra air into the system which allows for a lower standard engine operating speed, without sacrificing efficiency. This significantly reduces noise output and fuel consumption. Together with a new lined bonnet and GreenMech’s disc blade chipping technology, the EVO has become one of the quietest chippers on the market.”

The developments in battery technology over the last 10 years have also made massive strides in reducing the issue of noise. “With many facilities, such as bowling clubs and community sports pitches, based in residential areas battery powered equipment like the INFINICUT® pedestrian mower means that previous restrictions on maintenance times can be lifted” says Vinny. “The quiet and smooth operation of a battery as a source of power, is not only less harmful to the immediate environment, it also makes for a more pleasant overall user experience. The reduction in moving parts translates into a notable improvement in Hand Arm Vibration (HAV) levels and should also result in more reliable equipment.”

After considering fuel consumption, one should turn their attention to reducing reliance on water and chemical inputs, says Derek Smith of DLF Seeds. Significant investment in staff and facilities has seen DLF leading the field of technical developments in amenity grass. “Recognising there is an increasing pressure for sports venues to run more sustainably, we’ve been working on varieties to help turf managers establish a sustainable sward – one of those developments is 4turf®.”

“The larger 4turf® seeds contain more energy reserves for stronger, faster establishment and healthy plant development. Its larger root system and genetic stress tolerance also mean it requires less water during any drought-like conditions. It achieves strong growth and exceptional disease resistance without the need for large quantities of additional nutritional input – resulting in better looking turf with reduced expenditure on fertiliser and fungicide applications.”

“We also recently introduced our latest generation of ProNitro® seed coating which has the addition of DLF’s Hydroactive Water Management Technology. New ProNitro® features a targeted combination of fast-acting and slow-release Nitrogen together with improved water distribution, which optimises the delivery of essential nutrients and moisture to the developing seedling – promoting sustainable water and nutrient usage.”

science of turf managementIn trials, ProNitro® coated seed contributed to a 34% increase in establishing plants, improved uniformity and sward density thereby reducing the invasion of Poa annua and broad-leaved weeds. The targeted nitrogen application system also reduces the leaching of unutilised fertiliser into the environment by more than 50%.

With the expectations of facilities to produce ever-better surfaces, it is reassuring that suppliers are working together with Turf Managers to provide them with the tools to overcome the environmental pressures that will only continue to grow in influence over our future maintenance programmes.