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TECHNICAL


Practice Courts - March 2019


This doesn’t mean that we are going to stop using fungicides, but rather we’re trying to reduce our reliance on using fungicides to as close to zero as possible while we still have them as a safety net option


profile up to any sort of depth, but helps to get moisture away from the surface more quickly, in part by opening the very top of the profile up, but also helping to break up any moss ingress which will otherwise help to hold moisture at the surface. All of this aeration has contributed to keeping the courts drier through the winter months, which in turn has allowed us to move to applying foliar feeds with more regularity. That being said, aiming to keep the courts and the soil profile drier is generally a good idea regardless. It promotes a healthier soil profile which in turn aids turf health. It also helps to reduce incidence of disease by keeping the profile drier, reducing the opportunities for disease pathogens to spread.


Having a drier profile, and surface, have helped us to reduce disease incidence. However, it isn’t the only thing we have done which will have helped to reduce incidence of disease. For the winter of 2018/19, we made the decision to lower our winter height of cut from 15mm to 12mm, in effect a twenty percent reduction. The reduction in height has allowed for greater air movement across


the turf sward, reducing disease pressure. Additionally, the shorter height has allowed us to spot potential disease more quickly and deal with potential signs before they result in serious outbreaks. Because our disease pressure has reduced so much, with the management plan we now have in place, we are in a position to spot treat potential signs, rather than spraying whole courts. This offers a huge cost saving as a bottle of fungicide goes a lot further this way, and also reduces the probability of pathogen resistance building up.


In truth though, reducing the height of cut was not actually primarily a tool for easing disease pressure. In fact, the direct rationale for reducing our winter height of cut was to allow us to manage worm casting better on the courts. Anyone who has read our previous articles on managing casting worms will know that we prefer to take a more holistic approach to dealing with the issue. Therefore that is why, as mentioned above, we pay so much attention to soil pH, in order to deter worms in the first place, rather than other methods. Even before Carbendazim lost its licence approval, we were already


moving towards other control methods, and since then we’ve avoided the temptation to use other products off-label to stimulate a side-effect solution.


Ultimately then, we do have to accept that we will have casting worms within our profile, and as a result we will get some casts (albeit a diminishing amount as the pH becomes less hospitable) on the surface. This is something we accept because the positive impact of having worms within our profile outweighs, in our opinion, the negatives related to the casts they leave. Worms aid with aeration, they help to filter our organic matter and they aid nutrient availability. This does however mean that we have to come up with a way of dealing with the casts that do occur.


This is where the idea for the shorter mowing height came in; if the grass is shorter, it is much easier to clear the casts up. The biggest problem we have faced in previous years with worm casts has been trying to clear them up prior to carrying out work on the courts; no matter how much time was invested, it’s incredibly difficult to find and clear every cast from the surface when the grass is longer. As a result, when mechanical operations such as mowing took place, the outcome was a lot of smeared casts on the court surface, which then had to be addressed.


Our plan therefore, was to reduce the height of cut through the winter to make it easier to clear casts from the surface prior to mechanical works, thus avoiding the smearing in the first place, rather than having to address the problem afterwards. In addition to reducing the height of cut, we’ve also adjusted the way we clear casts off the surface. Whilst on sandier soil types using a dew-switch cane can be effective in breaking up casts, we find on clay soil the cane just smears the casts in to the grass. The same can be said for drag brushing, and even drag matting.


Match Courts - March 2019


As a result, we’ve taken to bolting dining forks to 3 foot lengths of wood; this has resulted in some fairly strange looks from passers-by, but has been incredibly effective


PC April/May 2019 133





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