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Dr Ian Plummer

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Lawn Care
Croquet Lawns: their Construction, Maintenance and Development

Editors: John Beech BA.NDA, Chairman of The Croquet Association Lawns Advisory Group and Jeff Perris B.Sc, Head of Advisory and Consultancy Services, STRI.

Contents

Introduction
Playing Area
Lawns from Existing Turf
Construction of New Lawns
    (a) General
    (b) Minor Levelling
    (c) Major Levelling
Drainage
    General
    Topsoil Drainage
    Subsoil Drainage
    Other Drainage Options
Irrigation
Cultivations and Final Levelling
Establishment
    General
    Seeding
    Turfing
Early Care

Maintenance
    Mowing
    Grooming / Verticutting
    Aeration
    Rolling
    Improving Levels and Top Dressing
    Top Dressing
    Fertilising and Lime
    Irrigation
    Turfgrass Diseases
    Weed Control
    Worm Control
    Moss Control
    Insect Pests
    Pesticide Legislation
    Environmental Considerations
The Greenmasters Calendar
    January, February, early March
    March - April
    May - September
    September - October
    November - December
Basic Maintenance Equipment


Introduction

This booklet provides basic information on the construction, maintenance and development of croquet lawns.

For professional advice on the development of croquet lawns one should use the services of a Turfgrass Agronomist. The Croquet Association (CA, Tel: 01242 242318) recommends the individuals listed on the Register of Independent Turfgrass Agronomists (RIPTA) - see their website, www.ripta.co.uk.

The Sports Turf Research Institute, St Ives Estate, Bingley, West Yorkshire, BD161AU (Tel: 01274 565131, Fax 01274 561891) is the main body in the UK dealing with sport turf consultancy, research and associated matters. Their website, www.stri.co.uk details their activities and services (including probably the most comprehensive list of publications dealing with all aspects of sports turf).

The Institute of Groundsmanship, 19-23 Church Street, The Agora, Wolverton, Milton Keynes, MK12 5LG (Tel: 01908 311140, Fax: 01908 311140) is, as the name suggests, an organisation to assist groundsmen, particularly through the provision of courses in groundsmanship and various publications. For further details see their website, www.iog.org.

Reference made in this booklet to "The Laws" means "The Laws of Association Croquet and CA Tournament Regulations for Refereeing" published by the CA.

The contents of this booklet are based on a mixture of research and current best practice. The information, nevertheless, is only in basic form and is not intended to convey any Specification of Work. Neither the CA, nor the editors of this booklet can accept responsibility for the actions of Clubs or their members in pursuing these guidance notes.

Playing Area

The playing area of a standard full-sized croquet court is defined in Law 2 as a rectangle 35 yd x 28 yd (32 m x 25.60 m). It will be noted that the ratio of the length to the width is 5 to 4. These dimensions are of the playing area measured to the inside of the definitive boundary lines. The Laws do not define the boundary lines except that they shall be marked out clearly. They are usually chalk or whiting lines 50 mm to 75 mm in width. It is important that they should be as straight as possible.

The playing area of a short croquet court is 24 yd x 16 yd (21.95 m x 14.63 m), but the practice in most croquet clubs is to bisect a full court with a string line so giving two short courts each 28 yd x 17.5 yd (25.60m x 16 m).

If the ground available is too small for laying out a full-sized court the dimensions may be scaled down, keeping to the 5 to 4 ratio for the length and breadth. For details of recommended Modified Court see Law 2.b.6.

It is desirable to have at least 1 yard all round the playing area of similar surface to allow for free backswing of mallets but, more important, to make possible the moving of the court one way or another periodically to permit the moving of the hoop positions. Wear tends to occur between the upright of the hoops due to constant passage of balls through them, particularly in wet weather, and to relieve wear on corner spots groundsmen need to be told how important boundaries and corners are to the game. A tolerance of 6 inches (15 cm) is allowed on all court dimensions of 7 yards (6.40 m) or more to assist with this problem (Appendix 1, Laws of Association Croquet).

The ideal surface for croquet is a perfectly level area of even, fine and closely mown grass that forms a firm, fast and uniform surface (similar to a first-class flat bowling green or tennis court).

Lawns from Existing Turf

It is quite feasible to develop a croquet lawn from an existing lawn in a garden or hotel (even if neglected) providing that the turf is reasonably level. It is even possible to develop a general sports turf area for croquet, subject to it being reasonably well-drained and basically flat. A high quality turf surface may, however, take some time to establish using this method but it is usually considerably cheaper than new court construction. A long-term regime of top dressing, aeration, scarification, mowing, nutrition, weed and pest control, as well as in some cases overseeding, will repay all the hard work with better quality finer turf. Advice on each of these turf improvement treatments is given in the section on maintenance. Croquet lawns prepared in this way can cost significantly less than the cost of new court construction. Whilst it is true that "you get what you pay for", development from existing, reasonably flat lawns is well within the capabilities of willing volunteers in a Club. The highest element of the cost of contracted work is labour.

Construction of New Lawns

(a) General

The way in which a croquet lawn is best constructed will reflect many factors such as: -

  • Existing site conditions
  • Climate
  • Intensity of play
  • Standard required
  • Maintenance capabilities
  • Finances available

Bearing in mind the above factors, the range of construction options and thus costs can be considerable. If, for example on a slow-draining, heavy clay site in a high rainfall area there is a requirement for a firm, dry, high quality turf surface, even after torrential rain, then it is likely that a free-draining construction profile, as exemplified by the United States Golf Association (USGA) guidelines for putting green construction would be needed (see later). The cost of such a free-draining profile, as exemplified by the USGA guidelines would be high - maybe £40 - £50 per m2. In contrast, on free-draining soils construction work can be quite simple - maybe just ensuring a level surface with a uniform topsoil cover - and would be relatively inexpensive (if seeded maybe £2 - £3 per m2 or less).

In nearly every instance it is likely that new lawn construction will best be carried out by a specialist sportsground contractor. It is important that all development works are embraced in a clear contract between the Club (Client) and the contractor. Contract documentation would normally include a Specification of Work, Bills of Quantities, Contract Drawing and conditions of Contract. A Turfgrass Agronomist, as listed in RIPTA, could assist with initial site assessments and the compilation of appropriate Contract Documentation (and maybe thereafter undertake a monitoring role on behalf of the Client). Planning, detail and correct execution of works are fundamental to successful construction projects. You should also be aware that larger projects may require the works to comply with CDM regulations. (Construction, Design and Management Regulations 1994).

Construction work should only proceed when suitably dry site conditions prevail. In essence, this usually means construction work proceeding between April - September, dependent upon site conditions and climatic influences. Moving or working soils when they are wet can lead to a loss of natural soil structure and what originally may have been a decent, free-draining soil can end up with very much inferior drainage characteristics.

(b) Minor Levelling

The minor levelling approach can be considered when there are gentle undulations (not exceeding, say, 15 cm unless there is a great depth of topsoil). It is likely that this method of construction will suffice for most new croquet lawns unless there are major level discrepancies or slopes. This method of construction is meant to produce a level surface within the depth of topsoil on site. In most instances it will involve the destruction of the vegetative cover unless you are fortunate enough to have good quality existing turf, in which case the turf should be cut, removed and stored for future replacement after levelling. Where it is necessary to destroy the existing grass cover prior to levelling there may be merit in cutting down an excessively long cover and thereafter applying a translocated total herbicide (perhaps such as one based on the chemical, glyphosate). Such a weedkiller may take 2-3 weeks to effectively kill the sward when thereafter the surface should be subject to deep rotovation (with a hand rotovator or a tractor-mounted rotovator according to circumstances. The loosened soil should then be redistributed to create a level surface but you should make sure that filled areas are properly firmed as part of the levelling process. This technique of construction by minor levelling is only successful if at the end of the exercise there is a minimum 15 cm depth of topsoil in which to grow the grass. With the minor levelling method it is not uncommon to find that there could be a significant variation in topsoil depths on different parts of the site, in which case it is also possible to see some variation in grass growth owing to the varying moisture contents in differing soil depths. After levelling within the topsoil there may be merit in some sand amelioration in some circumstances as well as pipe drainage and pipe/slit drainage according to topsoil and subsoil characteristics. Occasionally there can be merit in importing some compatible topsoil to help produce the desired levels especially when there is limited depth of topsoil to start with.

(c) Major Levelling

This technique is adopted when there are major variations in surface levels or slopes. It involves the removal of the topsoil, ensuring that the work is carried out carefully and that there is no contamination with subsoil. The topsoil should be conveniently stored and then the exposed subsoil graded with appropriate equipment to a true level ±3 cm. Where it is necessary to cut and fill to achieve the necessary levels then fill areas should be built up in no more than 25 cm layers, subjecting the surface to proper firming before adding the next layer, etc. It is only by this method that you will minimise the risks of future settlement. In an ideal world one would not build a croquet lawn on an area subject to major levelling works owing to the risks of settlement, even if good constructional techniques were followed. After the subsoil has been properly levelled the preserved topsoil should be re-spread to create a uniform thickness (as indicated in the minor levelling technique, you cannot expect to develop a good grass cover without a minimum of 15 cm firmed depth of topsoil). It may then be necessary to ameliorate the topsoil as well as carry out other works to ensure adequate drainage within the topsoil and subsoil (namely pipe drainage and slit or pipe drainage (see Drainage below).

Drainage

General

Unless you are very fortunate to have naturally free-draining topsoil and subsoil, it is almost certain that work will be needed to improve drainage in the topsoil or subsoil or both. Hopefully professional advice will have been taken on the construction development works and this should have embraced drainage requirements.

Topsoil Drainage

Heavy clay topsoils often have slow drainage characteristics, particularly if they are compacted (as perhaps may happen during the course of construction or possibly later when subject to play and machinery traffic). Whilst subsequent maintenance works such as aeration and sandy top dressing can improve topsoil drainage, it is often a wise investment to improve topsoil drainage at the construction stage by amelioration with sand. Professional advice should be taken on the amount and type of sand best used as well as how the mixing of the sand and the soil is best accomplished.

Subsoil Drainage

This will involve the installation of perforated plastic drainpipes in the subsoil. Figure 1 shows a typical drain profile.

Cross Section through a Typical Pipe Drain

Figure 1. Cross Section through a Typical Pipe Drain

Key factors for ensuring successful drainage in the subsoil are: -

  • An effective outlet point for the drainage water. This could be a nearby ditch or stream or perhaps even linking into an existing drain. A soakaway should only be considered as a last resort, especially if the soakaway has to be formed in very heavy impervious clay subsoil. The Environment Agency should be consulted concerning the discharge of drainage water.
  • The drainage system should be appropriately designed, taking into account the depth and position of the outlet point in relation to the lawn(s) as well as the nature of the subsoil. The distance between drains may vary from 3-8 metres, dependent upon the porosity of the subsoil.
  • Drain trenches should be at least 50 mm wider than the diameter of the drainpipe (main drains would normally be 100 mm diameter with laterals of 80 mm diameter).
  • Drains would normally be introduced at 50-60 cm depth on a firm base, ensuring a fall along their length of at least 0.5% (1 in 200) or better still, 1% (1 in 100).
  • Drainage aggregate should be carefully chosen. It should be clean, hard angular material. Avoid soft limestones.
  • A suitable blinding layer is important. Do not omit this feature or replace it with a geotextile membrane.
  • If the original topsoil was of a clay loam nature it should not be replaced on top of the blinding layer unless it is heavily ameliorated with a suitable sand. An alternative would be to discard the clay loam topsoil and replace with a lighter sandy soil mixture.
  • An inspection chamber/silt pit would be desirable within the drainage system - perhaps several if a number of lawns are being constructed.

Other Drainage Options

Figure 2 shows the formation of a slit drainage system, which comprises an intensive series of narrow, shallow slits at close centres, these slits linking into the stone backfill of an underlying pipe drainage system. The slit drainage technique is very effective in allowing water to "bypass" heavy, almost impervious topsoils and is often more effective than ameliorating very heavy topsoils.

Slit Drainage System
Figure 2. Slit Drainage System

Figure 3 shows the profile based on the USGA guidelines for putting green construction which allows the most effective drainage. Choice of materials is crucial for the success of this method and professional advice is fundamental, otherwise the construction could be a very expensive mistake.

USGA Drainage Schemes
Figure 3. USGA Drainage Schemes

Irrigation

During construction development works you should not forget the installation of a suitable irrigation system. Remember that lawns with effective drainage will also be prone to drying out during long dry spells and thus good drainage must be complemented by suitable irrigation facilities. Ideally, specialist independent advice should be taken on irrigation - various systems may be considered, ranging from portable or travelling sprinklers operating from hose pipes via hydrant points or, if finances allow, perhaps the installation of an automatic pop-up watering system.

Cultivations and Final Levelling

After the earlier phases of general levelling and drainage the final stages of lawn construction need equally high standards of workmanship and finish. Several cultivations through the top 75 mm will help facilitate the production of a clean surface, although if there have been delays prior to the finishing works a significant weed problem may prevail which could necessitate the application of a non-residual translocated total weed killer such as one based on glyphosate.

The shallow cultivations will loosen the immediate surface to facilitate final levelling works. The use of specialist final grading machinery controlled by laser technology would be ideal but there remains a role for traditional heeling and raking as part of this final but crucial levelling phase. With skill, care and patience it should be possible to produce an evenly firmed final surface for seeding or turfing with tolerances of ±6 mm. As part of surface preparation, all stones with a dimension of 10 mm should be removed and then an application of fertiliser (and possibly lime) should be made. A representative soil sample should be analysed to determine any nutritional requirement.

Establishment

General

The decision as to whether to seed or turf will be determined by: -

  • Requirements for play. If the new lawn is needed for play within 2-3 months then turfing is the only option. Seeded areas will generally need at least 12 months to produce a suitably dense and strong grass cover capable of withstanding wear.
  • Time of establishment. Late summer is usually the preferred time for seeding but there is no reason why seeding cannot take place at any time between April and late August/early September as long as there are adequate irrigation facilities available. It is possible to turf at any time of the year (except of course during frost or snow) but again there would be a requirement for good irrigation facilities if turfing was carried out during the spring/summer period.
  • Cost. You could think of seeding perhaps being about a tenth of the price of turfing.

Seeding

In the past most croquet lawns have been seeded with 8 parts by weight Festuca rubra commutata (Chewings fescue) with 2 parts by weight Agrostis tenuis (browntop bent) at the rate of 35 g/m2. There is no reason why such a seeds mixture should not continue to be used as the fescue and bentgrasses can produce a high quality fine turf. It will be important, however, to ensure that the best cultivars are used.

In recent years the much improved cultivars of Lolium perenne (perennial ryegrass) have been used to establish turf areas subject to intensive use but where a reasonably fine sward is required. Certainly many of the modern ryegrass cultivars have fine leaves and are able to withstand relatively close mowing heights (say, down to 6 mm). Where ryegrasses have been used on relatively fine lawns they have been used as a monoculture or possibly blended with some fescue (and maybe even a little bent). It is also worth remembering that ryegrass has quite different agronomic requirements to bent and fescues (the latter perform satisfactorily on low nutrition and irrigation inputs, whereas ryegrass is more demanding of these aspects of management). If ryegrass is used it will also be crucial to ensure that the mowing equipment is in pristine condition in terms of efficiency of cut, and to combat any slight tendency for the ryegrass to get a little "leggy" you should also be prepared to provide adequate scarification from time to time.

The grass seed should be sown by hand, spinner or by seed fiddle at the rate of 35 g/m2. Ideally the total quantity of seed should be divided in half and then each half sown in different directions. The seed should be lightly raked into the surface.

Turfing

Whilst supplies of smaller rolls of turf (1 yd x 1 ft) are still readily available and frequently used to turf croquet lawns, bowling greens and golf greens, etc. one should also seriously consider the significant advantages of using big roll turf (approx. 15 m x 1 m). Using big rolls allows an area to be turfed much faster (completion of a croquet lawn within a day) and the turf will produce a playing surface much more quickly - because there are fewer joints. The following are also crucial when considering turfing: -

  • Only use quality turf of the desirable grasses, do not use cheaper meadow-turf. Ideally the turf should be purchased from a member of the Turfgrass Growers Association (website www.turfgrass.co.uk) stipulating certified turf of the chosen grade.
  • Make sure that the turf is grown in a soil compatible with the rootzone upon which it is being laid.
  • After laying the turf should be rolled with a 250 kg roller or similar and thereafter in the following weeks/months some occasional appropriate top dressing given to develop the smoothest and truest surface. Irrigation will also be crucial if dry weather follows turf laying.

Early Care

Following establishment by seeding, stone picking should take place when the grass is about 15-20 cm in height, removing all stones with a dimension of more than 10 mm. When the grass reaches a length of about 40 mm the sward should be gradually trimmed back to 25-30 mm and in subsequent weeks further gradual reductions made in mowing height. Never remove more than one third of the length of the leaf during any mowing. If seeding took place in the late summer and there is decent autumn growth then hopefully the grass will be trimmed to 12-15 mm before growth slows down or ceases in the winter. During the following spring a programme of light top dressing, appropriate fertilising and gradual reduction in mowing heights as sward density and levels improve should be the objective. Certainly the seeded croquet lawn should be available for use during the second spring after seeding undertaken in September. Indeed some limited, uncontrolled play may be possible towards the end of the first full growing season.

On turfed areas the main requirement will be a little top dressing provided on a regular basis to quickly develop the best and truest surface. It is important that this work only proceeds whilst there is good growth taking place. Dependent upon growing and weather conditions, it may be possible to use a croquet lawn established with the big roll system after 2-3 months.

Maintenance

The following operations/treatments are considered essential in the maintenance and development of good quality croquet lawns.

Mowing

A cylinder mower of some 45-55 cm width with a 10-12 blade cylinder providing a minimum of 150 cuts per metre should be capable of providing an excellent surface for croquet. Ideally such mowers should also have a grooming facility as part of the cutting head mechanism. Some older mowers may have combs which fit between the front roller and the cutting cylinder.

Other mowers with fewer blades in the cutting cylinder can provide a reasonable finish but no mower should be used that achieves any less than 80 cuts per metre. Sites with several lawns could be maintained with large, approx. 92 cm wide machine with trailed sit-on roller. Alternatively, a state of the art ride-on triple mower could be employed but these are very expensive although they also offer the capability to groom, verticut and prick open the surface with different head attachments.

During the summer the lawns should be mown at 5-6 mm and for any "topping" required in the winter months to remove any growth made during mild spells the mower should be set at 8-10 mm. Mowing frequency during the summer should be at least three times per week during periods of good growth and indeed on the best lawns subject to high standard play, daily mowing would be best. Cutting should be undertaken in different directions to prevent any "nap" or "grain" forming within the turf and, to produce the cleanest and firmest surface, the clippings should be boxed off at all times. Particular care should be taken to regularly check your mower to ensure that a uniform height of cut is achieved across the width of the machine and that the cylinder is always "on cut" in relation to the bottom blade. Adjustments and service requirements, as detailed in the mower handbook, should be rigorously pursued.

Grooming / Verticutting

Where groomer facilities prevail on the mowing machine they should be used regularly during the growing season, probably setting the groomer some 1-2 mm below the height of cut. Groomers certainly assist to prevent the development of immediate surface thatch, help remove flat growth and generally improve the speed of the surface.

Dedicated, single unit verticut machines or possibly verticut units on ride-on triple mowers are also valuable in combating thatch development and procumbent growth. Again, good growth is important for verticut treatments to proceed and the severity of use should be carefully controlled so that the verticut blades again only penetrate the surface 1-3 mm - any deeper during the main playing season could leave a marked surface which could be prone to drying out or even affecting the run of the ball. Immediately at the end of the season, but whilst strong growth still prevails, a deeper verticutting should proceed where there is a significant thatch accumulation at the base of the turf. Various verticut or scarifying machines have different interchangeable blades or tines which create different effects on the surface.

Aeration

There is a wide range of aerating equipment available for use on fine turf, ranging from machines with tines fitted to a revolving drum, to machines with tines which operate with a piston-type punch action. There are also machines that aerate by means of pulses of high pressure water jets and also machines that release compressed air below the surface. The more conventional drum type or punch action aerators invariably operate to a depth of 10-15 cm but more specialist deep aerating machines (such as the Verti-Drain) can aerate to 35-40 cm depth, with a heave facility as a further benefit. Other machines that "aerate" are vibrating mole ploughs, discs and also perhaps on a smaller scale, even a small, spiked (Sarel) roller.

The objective of aeration is to increase air content in the soil which will hopefully stimulate bacterial action which in turn gives rise to many indirect benefits (thatch breakdown, nutrient release, etc.) Aeration equipment that de-compacts will also assist root growth as well as water infiltration. There are a variety of aerating tines available on the more traditional machines such as hollow tines, slit tines and various diameter solid tines. Hollow tines are usually employed at the end of the season, whereas solid tines can be used throughout the whole year (say about once a month if ground and weather conditions permit). During the summer if solid tines are used many machines will often accommodate very small diameter "pencil" solid tines which can operate at quite close centres without any significant disruption or lasting visual effect on the surface. Slitting can be useful through the late autumn and winter (again about once a month) but care should be taken if slitting proceeds during the late spring and summer owing to the risks that the turf may dry out and the slit marks open up. Where deep compaction prevails, use of a specialist deep aerating machine such as the Verti-Drain has often transformed turf quality and performance. Verti-Draining in the autumn before the soil becomes too wet is often a very good time.

Rolling

A light rolling in the early spring (250 kg roller) could prove helpful to settle the surface after any winter frosts and firm the turf for the season ahead. Two passes, the second pass in a transverse direction to the first should be sufficient. Any further rolling during the playing season should be confined to perhaps occasional use of a small tandem type roller (e.g. Trulevel), particularly before more important tournaments and competitions when there may be a wish to put a "polish" on the surface. Heavy rolling should be avoided; it does not provide the answer to an uneven surface but invariably produces unwanted compaction and poorer surface drainage.

Improving Levels and Top Dressing

Many lawns have some level discrepancies for one reason or another. Indeed quite simply not moving hoops often enough can contribute to the problem. If there are concerns about levels the best approach would be to have the lawn surveyed, recording spot levels on a grid pattern at no more than 2 m centres. 1 m centres would be better still in terms of producing an accurate contour map from the level points on, say, a 1 in 100 scale plan. An accurate survey will determine where the low spots prevail and where it may be possible to rectify the problem by additional selective top dressing over a period of time (normally level discrepancies of say 20 mm can be addressed by the top dressing technique). Where the survey shows that there are high spots, these again would best be tackled over a period of time by perhaps hollow tining and avoiding subsequent top dressing of such areas. Indeed, if a lawn has a high ridge running through it a light rolling after hollow tining can prove helpful in assisting the process of level reduction. Once again, this approach of hollow tining and avoiding top dressing can prove successful where high spots are no more than 20 mm.

Where level discrepancies are greater than ±20 mm it may prove more positive and quicker to address the problem by carefully removing the turf from the affected parts, adjusting the soil as necessary to create the desired level and then relaying the turf (this would be a job for the end of the season).

The best way to survey areas these days is to use Computer Aid and Drafting systems (CADs). The CA Equipment Committee has access to such a system which may be available for Member Clubs to hire. Printouts are available to illustrate the court contours. (See Appendix 1 [absent]).

Top Dressing

This practice involves the application of screened and sterilised sandy soil or sandy compost and is primarily intended to improve general levels and the smoothness of the playing surface. There is no requirement for top dressing to include any nutrient, indeed as it is likely that more top dressing will be provided to some parts in comparison to others, there is a distinct advantage in having a low nutrient top dressing mixture (uneven amounts of top dressing containing significant nutrients could produce noticeable variable growth). There is an increasing interest in using the grass clippings from lawns with which to build compost heaps, certainly this could be considered if you have the facilities (i.e. somewhere to store the clippings whilst they rot down and where any leachate would not contaminate groundwater, as well as having space to make compost heaps and the facilities to screen the ultimate product).

Top dressing is usually provided as part of the end of season maintenance programme (after aeration) and normally 2-5 tonnes per court is appropriate, although a little more could be given if there is any significant surface levelling to complete. What is important is that low areas are not dressed so heavily that the grass cover is smothered - it would be best if low areas could be dressed two or three times in the autumn at slightly lighter rates as long as there is reasonable growth taking place for the grass to grow through the dressing. Late top dressings can often encourage disease activity, especially at sites where disease risks have historically been high. It is also essential that the top dressing is well worked into the surface on each occasion, perhaps initially with a long straight edge (3.5-4.0 m) such as a Levelawn, and then further worked into the turf with a drag brush. It is also possible to lightly top dress during the playing season but at very light rates and preferably if a court can be briefly taken out of play, as may be the case if there are a number of courts and it is possible to operate rotational closure from time to time.

Fertilising and Lime

Nutrient and pH (the latter being a determination of acidity or alkalinity) are best determined by the analysis of a representative soil sample carried out by a reputable independent laboratory. Some fertiliser companies may offer this facility but be aware of some of the subsequent advice that invariably follows the analysis results. It is worth remembering that bent and fescue turf usually does best in moderately acid conditions, whereas ryegrass prefers less acidic and indeed neutral type soils. Nutrition and pH values are likely to be influenced by factors such as soil type as well as perhaps the quality of the irrigation water (alkaline "hard" water can raise soil pH, that is make the soil less acid and more alkaline).

Bent/fescue turf has low nutritional requirements and normally some nitrogen and potash often proves adequate on most soils. In contrast, turf containing ryegrass may need more feeding to perform satisfactorily. Fertilisers come in a variety of forms; the main types for turf are mini granules or liquid applications. There are slow-release formulations and others containing trace elements and soil conditioners, etc. The question of the most appropriate fertilising programme is one that has to be very carefully considered as it can have a dramatic impact on turf quality and all sorts of secondary matters such as disease occurrence. Probably the best guidance that can be given on this subject is for the Club to initially seek some good professional advice before committing to a fertiliser programme.

Irrigation

Moisture control within a croquet lawn is fundamental for optimum turf performance. Good drainage should be ensured at the construction stage and hopefully appropriate maintenance will also ensure good infiltration. It is important, however, to consider the question of being able to apply water efficiently and effectively as part of moisture control. Invariably those lawns that drain efficiently will have the greatest need for a good irrigation system. Certainly, professional advice should be taken with regard to identifying the best type of system for a site after considering site characteristics, monies available, availability of water volumes, etc.

When it comes to the actual application of water one could generally consider about 20-25 litres of water per m2 each week as being a likely requirement during a spell of hot, dry summer weather. From the agronomic viewpoint the way that this amount of water is best applied would be through two or three applications each week, allowing the immediate surface to dry out between applications. If, however, the croquet courts are in daily and important use and there is a need to ensure consistent conditions from day to day, then it may be necessary to apply the 20-25 litres of water per week through daily irrigation. It is important that whatever irrigation system is employed, the water is applied evenly across the entire croquet lawn area. It is not uncommon on many lawns to find a tendency towards dry patch development; this problem is best tackled by ensuring monthly aeration to keep the surface open as well as providing some additional hand watering to developing dry patch areas. The use of a wetting agent to ensure better infiltration is also advised. One final point on irrigation - it really should be kept to a minimum so that there is just enough moisture to keep the grass alive and with sufficient growth to withstand wear and tear.

Turfgrass Diseases

The most common turfgrass diseases found on croquet lawns are fusarium patch disease, red thread, dollar spot, anthracnose of annual meadow-grass and also fairy rings. For a fuller description of the symptoms and cultural methods of control of these diseases one should refer to appropriate publications such as shown in the book section of the STRI website. Of particular value would be the booklet on Turfgrass Diseases and Associated Disorders. The STRI also provides a CD-ROM showing the classic symptoms of the most common turfgrass diseases.

Weed Control

If there are just a small number of broad-leaved weeds such as daisies or plantains present in the turf, the simplest and safest answer may be to carefully remove them with a sharp knife. If there are a few small patches of finer-leaved weed such as clover or yarrow, these could possibly be simply "spot" treated very carefully with an appropriate aerosol weedkiller. Where weed infestation is more general, then chemical control measures should be considered, ensuring that only approved products for turf use are applied and that they are sprayed on to the turf exactly as detailed by the manufacturer (to do otherwise would be illegal). There are a range of weedkillers that could be considered, ranging from those that simply contain one chemical such as 2,4-D (very useful against broad-leaved weeds) to various mixtures such as 2,4-D and mecoprop/dicamba, etc. for a range of broad leaved and fine leaved weeds. For further guidance on the type of weedkiller best employed the Club should seek advice from an agronomist or maybe a technical representative from one of the leading turf chemical companies. Timing of application (still conditions with good growth taking place and no rainfall likely for 24 hours), combined with the correct use of the most appropriate weedkiller are the keys to a successful kill.

Worm Control

Whilst a few worm casts can be tolerated (dispersing them before mowing and play with a brush or fibreglass switch), significant numbers can be a serious nuisance possibly leading to a deterioration in immediate surface drainage as well as encouraging the development of coarser grasses and weeds. Modern wormkillers (lumbricides) are effective but the duration of their control seems short-lived (often only 2-3 months). Lumbricides based on carbendazim or thiophanate-methyl could be used but again advice from an agronomist or technical representative from a chemical company should be sought as the legislation regarding all kinds of pesticides is continually being reviewed and some of the chemicals so readily available and used in the past are no longer being permitted. To deter earthworms from casting turf soil acidity should be encouraged. As the pH drops towards 5.5 spraying will become less necessary. The cheapest way to lower the pH is to apply Calcined Sulphate of Iron at ¼ oz (7 gm) per yd2.

Moss Control

Moss is encouraged by excessively wet conditions, thatch, low fertility, over-acidity or excessively close mowing. The best solution to moss is to diagnose the reason for its presence and then remove that cause of the moss growth. Seasonal infestations during very wet weather are not uncommon and can be persistent, in which case control could be attempted through applying lawn sand (a mixture of ammonium sulphate and iron sulphate) or a mosskiller containing dichlorophen.

Insect Pests

Leatherjackets, cockchafers and frit fly may be troublesome, requiring control measures. Insecticides based on chlorpyrifos are effective against leatherjackets and frit fly but for controlling chafer grubs there are no permitted chemical treatments and one may have to resort to the use of nematode preparations (which really is effecting biological control of the chafer grubs). Again, professional advice should be sought regarding the treatment of insect pests in turf.

Pesticide Legislation

No pesticide may be used in the UK on sports turf unless it has been approved for such use. The application of pesticides should meet the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986 (COPR) which prohibit the advertisement, sale, supply, storage and use of pesticides unless they are approved. Those involved in applying pesticides will also have to be familiar with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1994 (COSHH). Furthermore, COPR (1997) impose a general duty on all those who use pesticides to ensure that they have received adequate instruction and guidance in the safe, efficient and humane use of pesticides and are competent for the duties which they are called upon to perform. Personnel at Croquet Clubs who apply pesticides should have a certificate of competence, or otherwise use the pesticides only under the direct and personal supervision of a person who holds such a Certificate. Information on obtaining certification can be obtained from the National Proficiency Council, Avenue J, NAC, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, CV8 2LG.

Environmental Considerations

Good light and air movement are fundamental to grass growth. Shade from nearby trees or hedges can certainly weaken adjacent turf. Shaded areas can often be more prone to disease (especially fusarium) as a consequence of shaded areas often staying damper than those areas in open, sunny conditions. High hedges can also restrict air movement, which again in turn can create a damper surface prone to disease activity. It is also not uncommon with some trees to find that roots invade adjacent croquet lawns. Often a deep trench between the lawn and the tree to severe the roots can fetch about some improvement, albeit just for a few years. Trimming back trees or hedges to improve light levels and air movement would certainly be well worthwhile to improve the environment and subsequent grass performance.

The Greenmasters Calendar

This is offered as a general guide, but requirements will vary with type of lawns, drainage, intensity of use, etc.

January, February, early March

Operations subject to suitable ground and weather conditions. Avoid work whilst there is frost or excessively wet conditions.

  • Mowing - keep grass length to about 10 mm, never letting it exceed 12-13 mm.
  • Fusarium control - if necessary.
  • Aeration - every 3-4 weeks with solid or slit tines if ground conditions allow.

March - April

  • Mowing - as growth improves, slowly reduce the mowing height to 5 mm.
  • Worm control - if required apply a lumbricide in mild, moist weather.
  • Fusarium control - if necessary.
  • Scarification - commence when reasonable growth gets underway.
  • Aeration - continue once a month fitting solid tines.
  • Rolling - firm the surface to settle any slight upheavals caused by winter weather.
  • Fertiliser - once genuine spring growth is apparent apply a lawn sand or a proprietary spring/summer fertiliser dressing.
  • Moss control - the lawn sand should help tackle this problem, otherwise use a product based upon dichlorophen.

May - September

  • Mowing - 3 times each week when there is good growth about, setting the machine at 5 mm.
  • Fertiliser - a further one or two treatments with a suitable spring/summer fertiliser dressing should be provided.
  • Scarification - regularly use the groomer facility if part of the mowing machine. Light verticutting should be carried out every 3-4 weeks when good growth is taking place.
  • Aeration - continue monthly aeration with thin solid tines (pencil tines) as well as possibly carrying out occasional Sarel rolling.
  • Disease control - fungicide treatment may be necessary.
  • Weed control - apply a suitable selective weed killer during a period of strong growth.
  • Irrigation - apply water when necessary, but take a minimalistic approach, namely just enough to keep the grass alive and with sufficient growth to withstand wear and tear. Where dry patches are developing, undertake treatment with a wetting agent.
  • Ball stop boards - move to new positions at each mowing to maintain healthy grass.
  • Line marking - once per week.
  • Rotational closure - if a number of courts are available, it is often helpful to rest a court from time to time by means of rotational closure.

September - October

End of season works such as deeper scarifying, thorough aerating, possible overseeding and top dressing should be completed relatively early in the autumn so that recovery is relatively quick and certainly complete before poorer weather arrives. Where a number of courts exist, they could be gradually taken out of play through September.

  • Mowing - raise the mowing height to 7-8 mm as growth slows down.
  • Disease control - immediate fungicide treatment should be carried out if any disease activity is seen.
  • Aeration - in October after the general end of season programme has been completed, a policy of monthly aeration should be commenced using solid or slit tines.

November - December

  • Mowing - continue topping as necessary with the machine set at about 10 mm.
  • Aeration - continue on a monthly basis when ground conditions permit.
  • Disease control - as necessary.

Basic Maintenance Equipment

The following should be considered as the basic equipment necessary to maintain a croquet lawn in good condition.

  • 45-55 cm wide cylinder mower achieving a minimum of 150 cuts per metre. Ideally complemented with groomer facility.
  • Verticut machine (with various knife or wire tine reels).
  • Aerator, which can be fitted with solid, slit or hollow tines.
  • Fertiliser distributor.
  • Spraying machine.
  • Line marking machine.
  • Level lawn, brushes and lutes.
  • Irrigation equipment.
  • Top dressing machine, if there are several lawns to maintain.
  • Roller (e.g. Trulevel).

This equipment should be housed in safe, dry accommodation. If pesticides are kept, they should be stored in a suitable container that meets the pesticide legislation requirements.

Reformatting and links updated Aug 2009, Dr Ian Plummer.

 

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Updated 11.iv.16
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