A move away from long-cherished turf care regimes is set to deliver dramatic results for one bowling green, as Bill Bedford reports
Parliament Hill Fields bowling green in north London has completed a programme of deep sand slitting in a bid to eradicate turf troubles that have accumulated over the years. The 1930s flat bowls green, run by the City of London Corporation, has long suffered from the build-up of organic matter but the quantity clogging the surface had reached undesirable levels.
Both a public facility and private members’ club, the green was a playing surface in distress – the regular maintenance programme was unable to suppress the build-up of thatch, leaving the sward struggling for space and aeration. As a result, growth was fitful and there was concern about the future playing characteristics of the surface, though the green had been playing well.
“The high level of thatch had become so great that the root zone was largely detached from the plant,” Horticultural Grounds Supervisor Gary Vyce says, “leaving us with a composty layer that was proving difficult to shift. We had to look at an alternative maintenance regime.”
After consultation with Sports Turf Research Institute (www.stri.co.uk) agronomist John Lockyer, who had worked as a consultant with the club for a number of years prior to plans being drawn up for a new strategy, the idea of deep sand slitting took root. “We’d conducted a scarifying programme a year before and saw some positive results,” adds Gary, “but the percentage of successful grass growth was small compared to what we wanted to achieve.”
John Lockyer put Gary in contact with Keith Kensett, a specialist company (www.kensettsports.com) that offers deep scarifying. “It’s a cutting edge service,” explains Head Groundsman Robert Grove.
Deep sand slitting works by channelling down into the soil, dropping a mix of sand and seed (in this case, a Rigby Taylor straight bent grass mix) into the grooves, reducing the need for topdressing. “It’s a simply process yet one that some are still reluctant to take on,” adds Robert.The club has tested similar treatments over the last year, for example quarterly micro-coring. “We’ve had good results so far,” reports Robert, “seeing some changes in the thatch layer, with the older grasses drying off to create a healthier-looking sward, and the bent grasses especially taking to it well.”However, he believes that deep sand slitting will surpass these results and with the programme completed at the end of September, only time will tell.
“It’s early days but already we’ve seen good levels of germination and the process has the added benefit of taking away the general need to topdress as the seed and sand are put into the soil at the same time,” Robert Grove explains.
The initial slitting was undertaken only in one direction on the green - the common practice usually requires two - but Robert Grove was keen to let it prove its success before deciding whether to adopt a fuller programme.
“It’s important that we can prove that deep slitting will bring positive rather than adverse results.” The jury is out on its success but he feels confident about what lies ahead – for both the maintenance team and the players.
“We’re hoping that this time next year we’ll have less disease, less thatch and subsequently less need to apply pesticides. In the short term, I’d expect to see results comparable with those we saw after last year’s basic scarifying, but I’m confident that after the winter, the benefits will start to show.
The slitting will also probably save money in the long term by reducing the need for topdressing materials, he adds. “As far as time is concerned, the fact it can all be done in a day is a real bonus.”