Turf care milestones

Not long to go until SALTEX 2016 so I thought a reflection on some significant milestones within the field of turf and grounds care.

In the context I’m thinking about, a milestone is of a significant event or activity and not a first instance of an event or activity. It is also a subjective personal opinion as clearly there can be many interpretations and debates as to what might be considered a milestone. So here’s five considerations:

  • The mower
  • Turf type perennial ryegrass cultivar
  • Research on grass cutting height
  • Sand/gravel drainage slits
  • The Verti-drain – deep aeration-decompaction
  1. Uninspiringly I have chosen the mechanical mower invented by Edwin Budding in 1830 as the starting point for the gradual development of improved sports and amenity turfgrass surfaces. The mechanical mower is in contrast to the more traditional methods of scything, or animal control (e.g. sheep) to keep grass cut.
  2. Manhattan‘ the first improved turf perennial ryegrass cultivar, developed 1967, with production ending in 1986. Whilst cv ‘Linn’ was released in 1961, this didn’t have the same turf type qualities as Manhattan. I think that the extent of sports turf surface using perennial ryegrass as it’s core species owes a significant debt of gratitude to this grass as it arguably trail-blazed the way to the hard wearing cultivars we have today, enabling more games to be played on a surface and to an overall good standard of quality, assuming adequate resources are available.
  3. The impact of grass cutting height on root growth. Research from 1955 identified the effects of removing different percentages of leaf height from a sward. Whilst the research was on heights of grass from 1″ to 3″, it laid the foundation for turfgrass maintenance and the ‘not to remove more than 1/3rd of the grass leaf per cut mowing rule’. “Removals during the growing season of half or more of the foliage of grasses—cool- and warm-season species including bunch, rhizomatous, and stolonifierous types—caused root growth to stop for a time after each removal, with one exception.” ( Crider, F.J. (1955) ‘Root growth stoppage resulting from defoliation of grass, Technical Bulletin No. 1102, USDA)
  4. Sand/gravel drainage slits to improve the relatively rapid removal of surface and sub-surface water. The design and installation of these slits from the mid-1970s onwards helped to gradually improve the carrying capacity of winter games pitches and with the invention of effective and efficient machinery we have arrived at a situation today whereby many playing field areas can, or could, be upgraded to sustain greater usage, although there are significant cost implications. “The sand slit is a logical development of a French drain and is in no sense a new idea. Although a number of sportsfields including the pitches at Twickenham and Cardiff Arms Park have had sand slits inserted, a major stumbling block still is the lack of machinery which can insert slits and leave a true playing surface.” (Adams, W.A., Stewart, V.I., & Thornton, D.J. (1971) ‘The assessment of sands suitable for use in sportsfields’, in The Journal of The Sports Turf Research Institute, No. 47, 1971, pp82-83)
  5. Deep aeration-decompaction. The Charterhouse (as it was then) Verti-drain, which arrived in the UK in 1982 from The Netherlands. Having started my career on a golf course in 1981 I thought it arrived that year and I remember the excitement of this new piece of machinery being made available in the UK, with us first using it on the fairways and greens in 1983 or 1984; it was a sub-contractor who actually carried out the work. This was a major leap forward in that not only was a soil profile able to be deep aerated (through punch action) but that, with adjustments, the tines could be made to shatter the soil profile, increasing fissuring and the number of air-ways within the soil profile: Always under the assumption that the work was carried out under the right soil conditions. Other deep aeration-decompaction machines have since been developed and are now part of routine maintenance activities – well for many pitches and courses (See ‘Verti-draining’ in ‘The Care of the Golf Course’ (1992), edited by Hayes, P., Evans, R.D.C. & Isaac, S.P. pp86-87)

Chris Gray: October 10, 2016

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