Cut Those Spores Away!

As we are in to the peak months for disease pressure, how do we keep our surfaces clean of those dreaded parasites? We all hear about using the right cultural practises such as aeration, dew removal and fertility reduction; Basically anything that will dry out the surface and keep it lean. But what about cutting heights? We are always told to increase them at this time of year, but could keeping them tight help in our IPM programme against disease pressure?

Over the last few years I have caused quite a stir with my revolutionary cutting height recommendations. Without giving numbers my theory is to keep them tight 12 months of the year. This will not only help with the playability of putting surfaces through better ball roll and increased speeds but also may help from an agronomic view point as well.

When I was a young assistant I enrolled at my local college. One of the most important things taught was cutting height. Suggested heights ranged from 4mm in the summer months up to 5 or 6mm in the winter months. This was very conservative and on entering the real world I soon found out that it was nonsense. Visiting top courses and viewing great putting surfaces I soon gathered that their cutting heights were far lower. 3mm or less seemed to be the norm so I started to experiment with these sorts of cutting heights in the summer months. What about the autumn and winter months? What should we do here? ‘Get those heights up’ I hear the agronomists cry!

In my opinion too many turf managers are setting cutting heights by the calendar. As soon as the clocks go back, the heights go up. But sitting in my office this morning at 7am looking at my weather station it is telling me 12 degrees in London. So why increase them? ‘Because we always do it at this time of year’ would be the answer. But is this right? Could keeping those heights tight during the autumn months actually help against disease pressure?

As well as improving the playability of greens, keeping those heights tight can help with your agronomics as well. Organic matter build up is less as there is less leaf mass to break down and more importantly for this time of year, the sward will be drier as less moisture is able to build up in the sward. So often I see greens where the heights have been increased and spores are just sitting there in the turf canopy ready to attack. By decreasing the sward length you might find that you are able to keep disease at bay for longer periods.

Keep those greens tight during the autumn months

So when you are planning your autumn maintenance programmes, think about your cutting heights. Keeping them at your summer heights might not only improve your putting surfaces but improve your IPM as well.