Landscape irrigation & drainage

Proper drainage is essential for sports facilities and gardens to stay open and keep revenue coming in when the weather turns unusually wet, Sally Drury explains.

Wolstanton Golf Club: new drainage system installed to remedy flooding problems on greens throughout the picturesque course
Wolstanton Golf Club: new drainage system installed to remedy flooding problems on greens throughout the picturesque course

This winter has been mild, windy and very, very wet — December 2015 was the wettest month in the UK since 1910. The unusually high level of rainfall brought misery to thousands of flooded households. It delayed cultivation and planting of crops, caused sports matches to be postponed and rescheduled to the point where the season may even need extending and for landscapers it meant projects were put on hold until soil conditions improve.

A winter such as we have just experienced shows the importance of having a good drainage system if play, and therefore revenue, is not to be interrupted for managers of sports facilities, golf clubs and also gardens open to the public. Along with drainage works, it is also worth considering other activities such as decompaction and aeration.

Keeping a sward in good condition, with strong root development and little or no thatch, will also help. There are numerous products available to manage water movement through the soil profile, especially by reducing the dry spots caused in drought periods that so quickly turn to standing water when conditions turn wet.

Solution to flooding

Until recently, Wolstanton Golf Club, lying just outside Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire, had no drainage system. The course, founded in 1904, sits in 130 acres of Old Dimsdale Hall parkland and provides golfers with an 18-hole, 5,761-yard challenge that incorporates mature vegetation in the tight layout. But the picturesque course had been plagued by flooding on greens five, eight and 18.

"There was no drainage in any of the greens whatsoever," explains head greenkeeper Andy Brougham. "We wanted a primary drainage system installed to relieve water from the greens. Without it we knew it would be very difficult to get the volume of water currently holding on the greens to dissipate through general maintenance alone."

Specialist sports turf contractor Duncan Ross was called in to remedy the situation. Ross decided the excavation work for the drains would be done by a trenching machine to reduce any heave in the soil, which could lead to future settlement. Greens five, eight and 18 underwent the same process, with the latter two having 80mm outlet drains in addition to the 80mm lateral greens drains that were applied to all three.

The 80mm-diameter drains were laid to a suitable fall, approximately 500mm deep, and then backfilled with 300mm of consolidated 6-20mm stone and topped to turf level with consolidated root zone. The original turf was then reapplied.

With the project being carried out carefully and to schedule, Brougham is pleased with the result. "The water started pulling through the drains as soon as the work was completed, which is great for us going forward."

Laying pipework

Trenching machines suitable for laying drainage and irrigation pipework are available from several companies. A new one to hit the market is the CT100 Chain Trencher from Shelton Sportsturf Drainage of Lincolnshire. It has all the benefits of Shelton’s original Chain Trencher but has been fitted with a bigger chain to increase the trench width to a maximum of 200mm.

Shelton Director Mick Claxton says: "The Chain Trencher has always been our best-selling machine, but as engineers we are always looking for ways to improve our machinery and the obvious development was to increase the width of the trench so that larger pipes can be installed to give greater flexibility. We have also taken the opportunity to make changes to the overall performance of the machine so customers will notice improved output and reliability."

The CT100 is suitable for installing land drainage pipes and underground services on sports fields and other turfed areas where minimum surface damage is demanded. Driven by power take-off, it fits onto the tractor’s three-point linkage. It is possible to adjust the trench width from a minimum 120mm up to 200mm.

Trench depth is adjustable up to 1m via in-cab electro-hydraulics that control the depth of dig, conveyor on/off and hydraulic crumber lift/lower. The digging boom and crumber leg can be moved up and down independently via the in-cab controls, enabling a clean entry into the ground.

The hydraulically driven conveyor is 3m long with a robust endless belt. It is capable of discharging soil up to 2m high and elevates the excavated soil into trailers running alongside, leaving a clean surface and minimising damage to the turf. A short conveyor is available as an optional extra, allowing the soil to be discharged onto the ground adjacent to the trench when that soil can be used for backfill material.

Saturation point

Drains are already in place at Reddish Vale Golf Club but all the outlets run into the River Tame, which is prone to flooding. When it reaches saturation point the course continues to hold water and even after the river level drops enough for the flow of water to resume, the course can remain wet.

Head greenkeeper Nick Wild sought advice from Aitken’s technical representative Paul Emmanuel and began using a Terralift programme that included Rocastem, Award Ultima fertiliser and Terralift T-Thatch. After using the programme for three years, Wild has seen improvements in terms of drainage, the sward and thatch.

"Rocastem was something that was put to me by Paul," Wild explains. "We had three full applications and applied it in five-to-six weeks. Within a week of spraying the last of three boxes, the difference became very noticeable, especially in terms of firmness. This is something you can’t see that’s tangible despite not being aware of what the product is doing at microscopic level.

"The results of using it on our 18th green were very obvious because the left-hand side used to be very soft, but after the third application we were able to take a tractor onto it for additional maintenance, which helped us improve it further. We just wouldn’t have been able to do that before."

Rocastem is a liquid treatment for aerating the root zone and invigorating the indigenous microbial population. While traditional mechanical actions help, it is worth remembering that coring only targets perhaps as little as three per cent of the root zone with each pass.

Rocastem works at microscopic level, helping with the other 97 per cent and adding value to any mechanical aeration activities throughout the year.

The product works by reducing surface compaction, draining excess water and freeing silts, clays and fine sands. It increases percolation of trapped water to maximise soil aeration and root extension. It also encourages indigenous microflora to consume excess organic matter and provides plant stimulus to pull grass through close mowing, heavy play and climatic stress. The result is a firmer surface with a more open soil that clears build-ups of toxic gases.

Rocastem is available in 10-litre packs, sufficient to treat 10,000sq m.

Water collection and storage for irrigation

Although it may feel like it never stopped raining this winter, we may have drought conditions by summer. Water collection and storage for use through irrigation systems remains a winning option for sports facilities and estates that have the space.

Where the water is collected into lakes and reservoirs, more management is required to keep it sweet. Water aeration will help quality.

Otterbine, a specialist firm manufacturing lake aeration systems, is already well known for its Gemini, Sunburst and Saturn surface spray aerators. Producing fountains of water, these units can add beauty to waterscapes. The company’s latest product is the Air Flo 3 — ideal where peace and tranquillity are required.

It is designed to provide a calm and serene water surface by pumping air from on-shore compressors to diffusers sited on the lake bed, so releasing oxygen and creating mass circulation to the bottom and top water layers without affecting the surface.

With no electrical components in the water, Air Flo 3 is suitable for recreational lakes and especially where wading or activities such as swimming occur. Otterbine products are supplied in the UK by Lely — Partners in Turfcare.

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