Life after pesticides for bowling clubs

Bowling News

Another episode from that sage of looking after your bowling green, John Quinn and the Bowls Central website. John provides numerous free tips and all-year-around care programmes for bowling greens. This is a dip into his latest contribution which examines the impact of legislation that will minimise the range of chemicals we are allowed to use in caring for greens.

Pretty soon (5-10 years) we won’t have any pesticides available to us to use on bowling greens or golf courses in Europe. Should we be worried by that? The answer is a double-barrelled one:

  1. If your maintenance program is based around waiting for symptoms to appear so you can kill or get rid of problems like fungal disease, hydrophobic soil and insects, then yes you should be concerned.

  2. If however, you have a performance greens program that aims to maintain a healthy living green, alive with soil microbes and with a fine, dense, firm turf surface, you probably haven’t had to reach for the bottle in a while and there’s no reason to think you’ll have to in the future.

The fact is, that we actually won’t have a choice, but that is a good thing. It will hopefully awaken the real greenkeeper in a lot of us and force us to work with nature instead of against it.

All of this will be good for bowling greens as they will have to be maintained using common sense greenkeeping practices that focus on playing surface performance. The only way I’ve seen to reliably maintain greens for high performance is to work with what we can observe and to work with nature.

For too long, too many clubs have been at the mercy of an industry that wants to sell them chemicals that simply perpetuate the problems they are supposed to fix. The issues we are seeing all over are caused by blind adherence to what we’re told and not looking and learning for ourselves.

The industry is of course supported by a huge number of product suppliers and they all have to make a crust. Some of this is good, i.e. we get innovation in equipment etc, but on the product side it causes greenkeepers to get stuck in ruts they find it hard to get out of again. I’m speaking here mainly about the proliferation of using pesticides for every symptom and the continued folly of sand top-dressing without understanding.

I get a lot of emails that start off “John, I know you are totally against topdressing… but”

The fact is I’m not totally against top-dressing and in the work I do in the golf world I’m one of the biggest advocates of USGA greens, so I’m not anti sand either, but there is a very great deal of misunderstanding of USGA greens and the role of sand in rootzones and topsoils.

What I am against is blind adherence to traditions regardless of the evidence in front of us.

Thatch is largely a symptom of the maintenance practices we have employed, killing anything that moves and making the soil inert, hydrophobic, acidic, lacking in oxygen. Over-watered, over fertilised and simply sick. A lot of the greens I see (golf and bowls) have excessive thatch, yet the clubs still follow intensive fertiliser programs, when they probably don’t have to worry about fertiliser for a very long time, other than a bit of Nitrogen when the grass is growing.

On greens that have been subjected to the now traditional round of pesticides and sand and where there is almost always deep, dense, matted thatch, there is no time like the present to get started on the Performance Greens Program.

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