The purpose of this part of the blog is to explore aspects of turf management and lawn care, including the meaning of the term Groundsmanship or Greenkeeper, how the roles are perceived by others, what are the career opportunities and prospects and how factors such as technology and learning impact on the roles.
The environment is the domain of a ‘groundsman’ (even this term is an area that is worth exploring) and greenkeeper, so what he or she does can have a significant impact on the environment – whether locally or more widespread.
A key part of my explorations will be on questioning and challenging activities, materials usage and working practices. This all links back to the learning part of the blog, in essence:
- ‘Why are we doing this?’
- ‘Why are we using that?’
- ‘What impact is that activity or material having on the environment?’.
The use of pesticides is an often topical subject. What is the real need for utilising them? How much has inappropriate working practices lead to a turfgrass surface that is weak and more susceptible to disease, pest or weed invasion? Getting back to the fundamentals of Groundsmanship, Greenkeeping and turfculture and applying insight into what we do can help to optimise the use of resources, especially limited resources, is fundamental to many current issues.
How is groundsmanship engaging with the sustainability agenda?
What might a sustainability agenda look like for the turf surface in contrast to the turf care industry?
I have distinguished the two quite deliberately here as it will be interesting to reflect on how much influence ‘industry’ has on what is or is not considered a sustainable outcome.
Unfortunately industry may have a larger voice than is good for the environment as they have a vested interest in ensuring good financial returns are provided to shareholders and owners: This is not in itself a bad thing as it can help to drive innovation in technology, the challenge comes when deciding if a negative impact on the environment ensues from some business activity and what should then be done to limit or eliminate the harm done.
How can the skills and knowledge within the craft of Groundsmanship and Greenkeeping be better supported – for the present and the future? Having exciting and progressive learning opportunities that are not influenced by self-interest groups (with often limited perspectives and their own agendas) can go a long way to achieving this.
Learning (especially web) technology will have a significant place to play in delivering the skills and knowledge needed – especially to ensure a well-trained work force is kept up to date with regulatory changes, work practice improvements and the diversity of equipment and materials now available.
In 2017 I thought I would add some lawn care guidance as part of my blog, so as Spring 2017 commenced and with the first cut (at 40mm) of the year made on my lawn on 10th March I kept an update on the work carried out and results as the year progressed.
I commented on why I was doing the work as well as the materials and equipment used; this might provide some helpful insight, or not, to others interested in lawn care.
Here’s some background information to help set the scene:
Lawn presentation looks very reasonable for this time of year, in fact I’d say it looks very good. But looks from a short distance can be quite deceptive, so let’s take a closer inspection to find out what the true standard of the lawn is:
- Area: 25m2 (a rough estimate from pacing it out)
- Soil pH: 6.5
- Soil moisture content (17th March at 0930): Not wet and no moisture could be squeezed out from the soil if a sample is pressed between your fingers.
- Grass length: 55mm (average – it ranged between 50mm and 65mm)
- Weed content: low – mostly dandelion (about 4 per m2 on average) but with a small amount of field woodrush in one location.
- Moss content: High
- Pest content: A few earthworm casts (averaging <1 per m2) so not a visual problem.
- Disease content: None observed.
- Grass content: Mostly desirable perennial ryegrass is present, but there is a lot of moss and if this wasn’t present then the lawn would be quite thin.
- Surface firmness: Quite a spongy feel to the lawn when walking on it; this is primarily due to the high moss content.
- Surface evenness: From a distance the evenness is fine, however, due to the moss presence there was a significant amount of ‘footprint sinkage’ when I walked on the lawn. When the moss is removed there will be some shallow depressions which will need evening out with to-dressing.
- Thatch content: No noticeable layer observed.
- Root growth: Pretty poor; some roots were found to 35mm depth, but the most will be found in the top 25mm which is not a good sign if we are to have a hard wearing and relatively drought resistant type of lawn for dry summer.
- General lawn condition: Heavy moss presence in the top half of the lawn, but evident over a lot of the lawn; good overall green colour, but quite variable in shades of green (no fertiliser applied yet); a few thin and bare areas, but total ground cover is very good, however, the problem is that quite a bit of the cover is made up of moss. The edge of the lawn was reasonable – it was trimmed with a spade last week but needs tidying up for smoothness of curve using edging shears and a half-moon edging iron.
- Soil type: A clay loam texture.
- Soil temperature (50mm depth): 7.2 C
- Surface air temperature: 8.9 C
- Aim: To have a good quality, general purpose, hard wearing, lawn.
From a short distance the lawn looks fine and this is probably typical of many lawns in the UK. However, closer inspection and assessment shows a number of areas for improvement if I am to create a more sustainable lawn that has better overall grass content, with an improved root system.
Plan of action:
A number of activities need to be carried out to help improve the lawn.
- Forking to help create air channels for roots to better grow into. This is time consuming and tiring, but amazingly beneficial and you only need a fork.
- Raking, using a springbok type rake, to remove the moss and any weak grass. I’m not going to use any moss controller as the problem lies in the soil and weakness of grass cover and this is the issue (i.e. the main cause) that needs addressing and not the effect of the problem. I have a petrol mechanical scarifier, but as this hasn’t been used for a few years I’ll have to see if I can get it working first.
- Spring fertiliser (I’ll be looking for something with between 8% and 15% Nitrogen in, typically applying it from 35 to 50g/m2, or 1.5 – 2 oz/yd2: so a 1-1.5kg packet of fertiliser will suffice for my spring feed) to help the grass be more competitive and to help the lawn to have a dense cover of desirable grasses. If I can get a good take on the grass then the need for any weed control may be reduced. With the relatively small amount of weed present I think some simple hand weeding will be the first course of action.
- Sand, or just sand, top-dressing to be worked into the fork holes and to help improve surface evenness. I’ll aim for the equivalent of a half-inch layer (12.5mm) over the whole lawn. I’ve tried sharp sand before and I’ll want about 20 – 25 bags, depending upon actual size. Whilst horticultural sand is well graded, the sharp sand can be very useful when working in at these quantities, especially when used as a renovation programme and is much cheaper (at least half the price). If I was just applying a light top-dressing to the surface that wasn’t to be worked into fork holes then a finer graded horticultural sand is what I would be looking for.
- On the assumption a high percentage of the lawn is currently moss, then an overseeding will be needed. If I aim for 17g/m2 then a 0.5kg packet will do, whilst at 35g/m2 I’ll need a 1kg packet, but with some to spare; so not too expensive either way. Due to the type of lawn I’m aiming for – a good quality general one that isn’t going to be cut too short then it’ll either be 100% (or very high percent) perennial ryegrass species in the packet.
- Keep the lawn topped at 40mm. There is no need to cut any lower, for now anyway, plus the greater the grass height the more chance of a better root system developing.
- Trim the lawn edge with sharp edging shears (I think I’ll have to sharpen the blades first using my sharpening stone).
Don’t worry about some of the terminology used in lawn care as it will all be explained in this ‘Turf Care’ section of the blog.
Why not look at the initial lawn assessment pictures and commentary >>
So plenty to go on here for this part of my blog.
Chris Gray, last updated 25th March 2019