Revisiting some old research

Whilst tidying up my small library I thought I’d flick through some old turf research books just to see the sort of research that was being carried out some years ago and how relevant this might be to today’s turf manager.

Proceedings of the Second International Turfgrass Research Conference (published 1974) was a handy sized book that I dipped into. So we are looking at some 40 years ago.

Many really interesting articles and a lot that have relevance today. What stood out? Quite a few really, but if I had to select one for comment today then it will be ‘Effects of cutting height and nitrogen nutrition on growth pattern of turfgrasses’, by W.A. Adams, P.J. Bryan, & G.E. Walker, (pp131-144).

This confirmed research undertaken before and since and demonstrated some core principles of turfgrass growth and maintenance.

  • Increasing cutting height results in increasing root yields and length.
  • Increasing Nitrogen input, above an optimum amount decreases root weight and length.
  • Top growth has precedence over root growth.
  • Low nitrogen availability results in proportionately more root growth than top growth,
  • reducing cutting height, reduces root growth.

“… there is a maximum nitrogen supply level to which top growth can respond that depends upon cutting height. The lower the cutting height the lower the amount of top growth and the lower the nitrogen level necessary to achieve this maximum top growth.”

“Overeagerness to produce a lush, quick-growing turf by excessive nitrogen applications may result in a turf whose under-ground development is inferior to turf receiving moderate nitrogen applications”.

Reflecting on the findings in relation to modern day turf management, this poses a question – ‘When you watch a lot of top class football games, including World Cup and Euro ones, how many times do you see large divots being relatively easily kicked out and dislodged on the pitches (which essentially have full grass coverage, so aren’t worn through over use)?’

Well, I think the answer is fairly often, being especially noticeable when a match is televised and a camera is focusing on the boot-ball-surface interaction. Considering the amount of monies available to the elite end of sport, why is this the case? I suppose there could be many possibilities.

One consideration though is related to the identified research of 40 years ago of, ‘How does the fertiliser regime applied to some pitches, combined with the mowing regime used contribute to creating a hard wearing, resilient sward?

How much thought goes into these combinations when maintaining turf? How much data is regularly gathered on each pitch to enable informed judgements to be made as to the effectiveness of the fertiliser and mowing regimes? I suspect that this type of data collection  and effective interpretation of the data is not as comprehensive as assumed, although clearly it does take place at certain clubs as these pitches rarely appear to suffer such issues.

For less well funded pitches, getting the balance right between fertiliser input and mowing practices is a fundamental and core part of good groundsmanship. Making sure regular reflective thought goes into these practices to ensure best use of available resources is being made is essential.

Turfgrass is a living organism, constantly developing and adapting to environmental change, especially on the micro-level. It really is essential to have an intelligent maintenance programme based on well informed decisions. By all means start off with a standard fertiliser programme and mowing regime as a thought process, but understand the implications of these and how they interconnect with each other, as well as many other activities. Make sure genuine best working practices are applied to your (unique) pitch, not just copy what someone else is doing.

Spend time to review and reflect on relevant research and see how this might impact on your pitch and practices. You never know, this may save some valuable time and even money.

Chris Gray, June 25, 2016 (updated 18th March 2017)

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