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Dr Ian Plummer

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Lawn Care
The Maintenance of Croquet Lawns

Contents

1 Autumn Work
1.1 Scarification
1.2 Repair
1.3 Aeration
1.4 Worm Killing
1.5 Insecticides
1.6 Fungal diseases
1.7 Feeding
1.8 Top-Dressing
1.9 Over Seeding
2 Winter Maintenance
3 Spring Work
3.1 Rolling
3.2 Brushing
3.3 Scarification
3.4 Fertiliser
3.5 Fungicides
3.6 Worm Killing
4 Summer Work
4.1 Chemical Treatments
4.2 Mowing Regime
4.3 Irrigation
5 Costs
5.1 Worm Killer
5.2 Surfactant (Wetting Agent)
5.3 Insecticides
5.4 Fungicides
5.5 Moss Killer
5.6 Fertiliser (Feeds)
5.7 Top-Dressing
5.8 Seed
5.9 Turf

1 Autumn Work

1.1 Scarification

Scarification is one of the main tasks for Autumn. This is a deep raking, normally done by machine although with some effort a manual scarifier can be used. Its purpose is to lift all of the dead matter from between the living grass, hence improving the flow of air preventing moss growth. The lifted material is subsequently removed from the lawn generally by using a mower or a brushing machine.

1.2 Repair

Areas which have been badly worn should be repaired by seeding or returfing, for example corner spots and hoop runs. Seeding is the usual method provided that the temperature has not fallen to levels where the seed will not germinate nor grow.

1.3 Aeration

Once repairs have been done the lawn should be aerated. Both shallow and deep spiking should be done over a period of time (four to five weeks). It is generally considered advantageous to tyne as deeply as possible. Tyning has three main effects; it allows air to reach the roots, it can break up the soil pan improving drainage and finally it encourages deeper root growth as the grass roots follow the holes. Serious damage can be done if the sward is over-spiked.

There are various types of tyning machines which drive spikes into the sward at ~4" intervals. It is generally considered advantageous to tyne as deeply as possible. Smaller machines with spikes on a barrel former will tyne to 3-4" at a diameter of up to 1/2". Larger tractor driven machines can tyne 14" deep with 3/4" spikes. For a dedicated person a garden fork could be used. Some tyning machines have the action of slightly lifting the whole area of soil, as one would by leaning on a garden fork. Provided that the grass is well rooted this is advantageous as the soil is broken up without damaging the grass. Sophisticated tyning machine have adjustment to affect the amount of lift. If the grass is shallow rooted the grass can lift off on tyning, the roots die and the growth be arrested.

An option with tyning is to use hollow tynes, these are tubes with a side slot which allows a core of soil to be pulled from the turf and ejected when the next core is taken. This leaves the lawn littered with the cores. By rubbing the cores back into the hollows on the lawn (luting) soil can be transferred from the high to low parts - the holes in the high spots collapse lowering the level. A lute is a metal frame on a handle which is rubbed back and forth over the turf to rub in soil between the grass; the back of a rake makes a substitute. Using hollow tyning to change levels is a slow process and you may, if fortunate, be able to effect a 1" change over 5 years.

1.4 Worm Killing

Given that we go to the effort of aerating the soil it may seem strange to want to kill worms which do the job for us. Worm casts however act as sites for weed growth, blunten the lawn mower and encourage birds on to the lawn. They can start lifting the turf as they peck at dark spots on the lawn - creating larger dark spots.

The best time to control worms is during their mating season in October/November when they are most active near the surface. The effective old method was to use Chlordane which unfortunately is now banned for use in this country. The more modern solutions are not so effective.

1.5 Insecticides

Other insecticides may be required if there are specific infestations such as leather jackets. Dose according to the manufacturer's instructions

1.6 Fungal diseases

Fungi can appear as mushrooms, surface fungal growth or as subsurface growth. These leach nutrients out of the soil and choke the grass. Common infections are 'faery rings', red thread and snow mould.

Fungicide should be applied as directed by the manufacturer.

1.7 Feeding

October is the time to apply a low nitrogen Autumn fertiliser if required. It is not necessarily a regular action.

1.8 Top-Dressing

After scarification, spiking and other operations the final job during the autumn is to top-dress with one or more of the following: light soil, sand and peat. The proportions will vary according to the type of green and the preferences of the groundsman. A typical mixture would be 10 parts light soil, six parts lime free sand, two parts fine peat and one part pin-head charcoal.

Top dressing needs to be evenly applied, the following method is suggested:

  • Stretch two strings about 1-2m apart down the length of the lawn.
  • Starting at one end distribute a few small heaps of top dressing between the lines with a shovel
  • Work in the dressing with a lute, using a back and forth action, drawing it down the strip. As the material starts to diminish deposit another small heap about 1ft ahead of that edge and continue to work it in. The intention is to work the soil in between the blades of the grass so that the grass is not smothered.
  • Repeat the operation to the end of the strip.
  • Move both strings 50cm across the lawn and repeat the process until the entire lawn is covered.

If the ground is soft top dressing should not be started. The top dressed areas should not be walked on other than to brush in the material.

Once the whole lawn has been covered it should be brushed or a drag mat pulled over it. A drag mat is a frame stretched with chain or similar about the side of a bed frame which is pulled over the turf.

1.9 Over Seeding

From time to time it can be necessary to over-seed the entire lawn with a more desirable species of grass. Naturally the weather must be warm enough for seed germination and growth. Two dressing are desirable: one after scarification, the second after completion of the maintenance work.

A typical grass seed mixture would be 80% Chewings Fescue (e.g. variety Koket or Highlight) and 20% Browntop Bent (Tracenta or Oregon). A 1 cwt. bag of seed costs ~£80 and 1-1.5 bags are needed per lawn.

2 Winter Maintenance

Once the lawn has been top dressed, regular mowings and occasional brushing are required as and when necessary throughout the winter. Brushing, swishing (using a long cane similar to a fishing rod) or using a drag mat will help dry out a lawn by breaking up water droplets on the grass and encouraging evaporation. This is a priority on the dewy mornings in Autumn and early Winter to discourage moss growth when it is wet and warm enough for growth. This can be discontinued further into the winter.

Deep spiking is not to be done during winter as it ruins the turf.

3 Spring Work

3.1 Rolling

The grass can be rolled using a normal motor mower with the blades disengaged in late February or early March - provided the lawn has been cut and brushed as required during winter.

Subsequent rollings should be with a 2 cwt. roller and the lawn should be rolled in as many directions as possible. In the early stages it is important not to over do the rolling as the soil will become compacted, this spoils drainage and prevents air reaching the grass roots. During this period an occasional spiking with needle spikes can be carried out to relive any surface compaction caused by the initial rolling.

Frost causes the turf to lift and can occur during March and April, requiring further rolling.

Towards the end of March the weight of the roller should increase subject to local conditions to approximately 3 cwt.

3.2 Brushing

Brushing, swishing or using the drag mat should continue to remove the dew throughout this period.

3.3 Scarification

Scarification may be required at the start of spring to remove detritus if there has been an accumulation of fibre during the winter.

3.4 Fertiliser

A feed fertiliser should be used during the spring for example a 12 part Nitrogen, 6 part Phosphorus and 6 part Potassium mixture.

3.5 Fungicides

Preventative applications of fungicide are necessary in spring if the lawns are susceptible to fungal infection.

3.6 Worm Killing

If the lawn was not worm killed in the autumn then it can be done in March, April or May, however the worms are not particularly active at the surface during this period. Worm killer is best applied during warm spring weather when the moisture content is reasonable high and the worms are active near the surface.

4 Summer Work

4.1 Chemical Treatments

During summer you may need to carry out further applications of fertiliser, fungicide, moss killer and worm killer.

4.2 Mowing Regime

In ideal circumstances the lawn should be mown every day. Most sites would however settle for a cut every other day, with a cut prior to any matches. When mowing a lawn, especially in the late spring, the cutters on the mower should be gradually lowered towards the final cut height. For a croquet lawn this is approximately 3/16", depending on conditions. Obviously in extremely dry weather the grass must be allowed to remain higher to preserve moisture. When lowering the cutters on the mower there is a rule of thumb that you never remove more than a third of growing height of the grass in any one cutting.

4.3 Irrigation

During dry weather the lawn should be watered. This is best done in the morning, evening or at night when the rate of evaporation is low. Also watering in strong sunlight can lead to burning on the leaves due to the magnifying glass effect of the droplets lying on the leaves. Normally however the effect of watering is much more beneficial than possible side effects.

The best form of watering system is the built-in type having pop-up sprinklers which can be programmed to operate at night. For most sites however hose pipes and sprinklers are all that are available. The majority of these systems can at best cover a third of the lawn area and hence require frequent moving. Better systems include sprinkling booms which stretch the length of the lawn, or self powered sprinklers which draw themselves up a lawn through the action of a turbine in the water flow and a mass of reducing gears powering a cable winch.

5 Costs

This section gives some indications of commercial products used for croquet lawn maintenance and their price. Obviously bulk buying can greatly reduce costs. As an example the difference in price between bagged top soil and a loose lorry load is immense.

There are now strict regulations in Britain about which chemical products can be used and the protective measures which must be in hand when these chemicals are used. In addition all chemicals must be stored in chemical safes. Details on restrictions are available from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fish and Food (MAFF).

Quantities used to calculate the cost for lawn coverage below are very approximate. Lawn area = 1100 sq.yds excluding a 1 yd playing area outside the boundary.

All prices are as of summer 1998

Catalogues of turf care supplies can be obtained from:

STA-BRITE, Unit 7 Bessemer Park, Bessemer Rd, Basingstoke, Hants. RG21 3NB. (01256) 811811

5.1 Worm Killer

Every year the effective chemicals seem to be taken off the market. You will probably have to contact a wholesaler to get the better products

Please see the separate article on Worm Control.

5.2 Surfactant (Wetting Agent)

Product: Aqua-Gro Primer
Cost: £70 per 5 litres. Approx 2 litres per lawn 

A wetting agent causes the droplets from the sprayer to coat the grass as a film and soak into the soil rather than sit as droplets on the surface. As such dew formation can be reduced removing the need for brushing and switching. It also assists the uniform movement of water-borne fertilisers and pesticides throughout the root zone. In essence it is little more than washing up liquid and this was used in the old days before legislation. It is mixed with other liquid treatments to enhance their action and reduce wastage.

Stephen Brown, Products Manager, Supaturf Products Ltd the European manufacturer of Primer 604, writes:

"The explanation regarding its mode of action and the reference to washing up liquid could not be further from the truth.

It has long been known that highly cultivated turf can produce a situation where turf becomes water repellent and under certain drought stress conditions the symptoms manifest themselves as localise dry spots. Localised dry spots are areas within turf that have become so severely repellent to water that no mater how much water is applied to the area it will not rewet. Under these conditions the turf will eventually dry. The repellency is thought to be due microbial excrement, wax material from leaf cuticles and other biomass breakdown from roots and thatch within the upper soil structure. The use of surfactants are for the purpose of overcoming the water repellency seen within the top 5-10 cm of the soil profile. Primer 604 has been proven through many scientific trials conducted throughout Europe and North America, that when used monthly, it will overcome water repellency and will establish matrix flow characteristics for water flow through the profile. Matrix flow is a soil science term meaning that the movement of water vertically and laterally through the profile giving a uniform wetting front.

Primer 604 is not an adjuvant and should not be treated as such, however once a turf area has established matrix flow characteristics (typically following after 2-3 applications) then any water borne fertiliser / pesticide will also be uniformly distributed throughout the profile.

Supaturf Products Ltd, 2 Amenity House, Maizefield, Hinckley Fields, Industrial Estate, Leicestershire, LE10 1 YF.
Tel no 01455 639639, Fax no 01455 234714"

5.3 Insecticides

Product: Merit Turf (for professionals) (2006)
Cost: Provado - £18 for 100m^2, Merit Turf (10Kg) will do 3333m^2
Product: Crossfire 480 (Rhone Poulenc)
Cost: £30 per litre, £6 per lawn per application.

5.4 Fungicides

Product: Rovral Green (Rhone Poulenc) contact fungicide, contains Iprodione and is effective against fusarium, dollar spot, red thread, brown patch and leaf spot. This contains a surfactant. MAFF No. 01835.
Cost: £38 per litre, 2 litres required per lawn = £76.
Product: Green Shield (Miracle) systemic/contact fungicide.
Cost: £72 per 3 litres, 3 litres required per lawn = £72

5.5 Moss Killer

Product: Super Mosstox (Rhone Poulenc), contains dichlorophen. MAFF No. 02046
Cost: £70 for 5 litres. 5 litres per lawn = £70 per lawn
Product: Moss Killer, contains 45% Ferrous Sulphate. MAFF No. 04909. This is a traditional substance and moss killer can be made by mixing your own lawn sand. Unfortunately Calomel (Mercury Chloride) is now forbidden.
Cost: Ferrous Sulphate £7 per 25kg, 1.3 bags required for a lawn = £11

5.6 Fertiliser (Feeds)

Spring and Summer

Product: Vitax Micro-Grain 1, N, P, K = 12, 4, 6.
Cost: £17 per 25Kg bag, 37Kg per lawn = £25

Autumn

Product Vitax Micro-Grain 2, N, P, K, Fe = 4, 6, 8, 4 + 4% Fe
Cost: £16 per 25Kg bag, 37Kg per lawn = £24

Different fertilisers are need for Autumn, they generally have less nitrogen which causes leaf growth. Fertilisers containing iron green up the grass and inhibit moss growth.

5.7 Top-Dressing

Product:
Cost: £2 per 25kg bag, £96 per Tonne in 25kg bags.

5.8 Seed

Product: 80% Chewings Fescue (e.g. variety Koket or Highlight) and 20% Browntop Bent (Tracenta or Oregon). Alternatively some companies do premixed varieties, e.g. Carter's Hurlingham Mix. Consult your seed merchant.
Cost £80 - £150 per 1 cwt. bag, 1 to 2 bags required per lawn.  (old price)
Product: Breakwells ETB10:    40% ENJOY chewings fescue/40% WILMA chewings fescue/20% HIGHLAND browntop bentgrass Sow@ 35-50gm/m2
Cost: 1 bag/10kg £38, 1 bag/25kg £95.  Estimate 50kgs for a lawn. = £190
Product: Mommersteeg Sports and Amenity MM11: 40% ENJOY/40% RAINBOW chewings fescues, 6%EGMONT/6% SEFTON/8% TRACENTA browntop bents.
Cost: £125 /25kg bag.

Note grass seed is zero rated for Vat (tax) purposes.
This could be required annually if you need to overseed every year. More realistically you would probably choose to overseed every two or three years.

5.9 Turf

Product: Mixed fescue and bent as in the seed description above. A sample of turf should be inspected for even thickness, absence of stones and weeds. Currently turf has the reputation of being of poor quality.
Cost: £1.45 per square yard in quantity. 1100 square yards = £1600, not including a skirt around the lawn. (old price).

Prices as of March 2000

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Updated 28.i.16
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