Greg’s Greenkeeping Blog May 2021

Greg’s Greenkeeping Blog May 2021

Finally we seem to be into summer and I have heard a lot say in the industry this year that it’s been the most challenging year there’s ever been for Greenkeepers. I’m not sure about that, but there’s no doubt circumstances have been a long way from the ideal.

The extremely wet winter, followed by a very dry, cold spring has made it very tough for those of us trying to present golf courses to the standard we would expect, come the start of a new golf season.

Without doubt though, the biggest challenge the industry currently faces is the problem caused by leatherjackets. With this being the case, I’m going to focus on it in this month’s update, highlighting the issue and explaining what we intend to do about it moving forwards.

Leatherjackets

The larvae of the Crane Fly (Daddy Long Legs), up until a few years ago, was controlled using a chemical called Chlorpyrifos which has subsequently been banned. There is no argument with this being the case as it was proven to be harmful and rightly is no longer available. However, now there is nothing available to control the grubs and the resulting problems are proving to be significant. 

The problem is across the industry, with no club that I’m aware of being immune from the difficulties. That said from club to club the degree of damage is wide ranging and it’s impossible to compare one to the next as there are multiple contributing factors.

Damage ranges from imperfections in the turf caused by the grubs feeding, but then also from other animals going after the grubs for their food. Crows and Badgers are the most damaging in this regard, but a number of other birds can lift out turf when pecking for the grubs.

A badly affected green at a local club
Turf damage on a Fairway at a high profile club
Turf being ripped up by Badgers feeding on the grubs

How are they affecting Hunley?

For us though, the damage has been caused by the grubs themselves eating away at the base of the turf. We do see a lot of birds pecking but our fine perrenial grasses having deep root systems, don’t pull up in the same way as weaker turfgrass species do.

What we are seeing is damage on the greens caused by leatherjackets eating around the edges of 12mm diameter tine holes made back in December. What’s interesting is that we carry this out every winter and there was no such issue last year or the year before and it is over 6 years since we stopped using insecticides.

A badly affected area on one of our greens

The obvious difference has been the very cold and very dry spring where we had no growth at all. This has meant that the grubs have been eating away at the turf base quicker than the turf has been growing and as a result the damage has been more noticeable. Because of this, we will have to rethink our aeration program for next winter, as if it weren’t for the holes then I don’t think we would be seeing much evidence of damage, however that does remain to be seen. 

We are also going to invest in some large sheeting to lay across greens at the start of the year in 2022. We can then remove a large number of the grubs from each green 1 at a time as the grubs come to the surface overnight and can then be cleared away. 

Over the last few years we have seen wildlife increase onsite and one species that’s doing better more recently are Starlings. Grubs are their main food source and they do a great job of clearing the turf of the pests without causing any damage. We will be putting up Starling boxes to boost numbers, which will in turn help reduce the numbers of the grubs.

Aeration next winter will be carried out using narrower tines more regularly. This shouldn’t impact too much on soil health but will reduce the ease at which the grubs can feed on the turf in localised spots.

This combination will hopefully prevent any noticeable damage going forwards and with the ever increasing numbers of birds on the course, we believe nature will begin to regulate itself for us.

Course Condition

Despite this, the overall condition of the course is good and feedback has been consistently positive since we reopened after lockdown.

Unfortunately the next challenge is never far around the corner and we recently saw our irrigation pump reach the end of it’s life. Having been 2nd hand when first installed 30 years ago, it really doesn’t owe us anything, but the timing could have been better!

Things have worked out though as we were due to sell one of our mowers at the end of the year and have found a buyer for it ahead of time. This will help part fund a new pump which we have ordered and is due anytime soon, so we hope to have it installed asap with the course drying rapidly in the sunshine.

The early sale of the machine will cause a little inconvenience in the short term but having an irrigation system operational is essential.

Summary

If I’ve learned anything in 25 years of Greenkeeping though, it is to expect the unexpected. The golf course is a constantly evolving environment and you’ve never got it conquered, we just learn and adapt as we go along.

The weather, nature and infrastructure all need managing constantly and we always meet the challenges head on here at Hunley, working together to overcome each and every hurdle .

A big thanks to my team who are currently doing a fine job despite the difficult circumstances. Lets hope for some more favourable conditions for the remainder of the year and I sincerely hope you all continue to enjoy the course.

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