Water water everywhere but not a drop… by summer

I'm not suggesting we'll get no rain this year, and it seems a strange time to be thinking about getting the best from the water we have available later in the year, when it doesn't feel long since a record wet November.

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I’ve misquoted “The rime of the Ancient Mariner” (not a thrilling read) in the title just to highlight the need to think now about water issues and summer. Last year will have asked questions of most courses water plans, be that;

  • Irrigation systems in the height of summer
  • Water allocations and storage capacities
  • Wetting agent programs and starting times
  • Drainage during November’s torrents


So whilst now, hopefully everyone is in a good place (and probably not wanting to think back to toasty fairways last summer) before the season change is a great time to look back at how things played out, and make a rough plan for this year.

Water security

I’m going to skirt around the issue of water security.

But medium/long term that should be on every clubs agenda, as the projection is for increasingly warm years as we continue into the future.

These projects tend to be expensive and not something you can slot into just one years budget, so its worth considering a conversation with the club to get the ball rolling. As additional storage or access to water may be something that’s not been an issue before, but continued temperature rises could see that change.

In the UK & Ireland we don’t really think of water as a resource (it being generally so rainy and all), but its an important one, and one we may be competing with new home developments and agriculture for more in the future.

You can see in the graph below the clear trend for warmer summers (more time spent above 20°C). Not every year will be hotter than the previous, and we may get lucky and have a cool year in 2023, but its that trend that needs to get us thinking about the future.


Its not clear exactly how temperature increases will affect our weather. On the face of it I think I expected last year to be record dry, as we had such a long period without rain.

The reality was we got similar levels of rainfall to the previous year, but the distribution of that rainfall was different. Nothing, nothing, nothing then a huge deluge in Autumn. This strikes me as similar to what I’d see in nature documentaries growing up, the Savanna having a ‘dry season’ then the ‘rainy season’. Lets hope it doesn’t play out like that moving forward!

If the future does look like that, less rainfall, or less rainfall when we need it, then capturing and holding water when we get it will become more important. Along with making the most of it.


Making the most of what we have

One way to get more out of the water we have is the use of wetting agents in programs.

Three areas I think these can help:

  1. Making the most of irrigation water (if your putting water out, get the most out of it)
  2. Making the most of expected rainfall in “the dry season
  3. Holding on to water longer as we come out of winter


No. 3 is an important one for this time of year.

You may have already seen the recent GI article about water (follow the link for the full version). In that I talk about when the moisture equation changes. November – February see increasing water added to the soil on balance (the bars in blue). And for the deep South (Sandwich) March is the first month where we lose more water than we gain (the red bars).

I’m not saying that by deploying a wetting agent program, even a high quality one like Syngenta’s own Qualibra that you can keep soil moisture all summer from that winter rain. But I am saying that the longer we can keep the swards root zone in a healthy position (adequate available moisture for photosynthesis) the better the plant health will be going into summer.

We know that when plants have adequate moisture (I keep saying adequate because it will vary depending on grass cultivar and other factors) in the root zone they maintain a healthy root system.

It generally takes a while for plants to start to show they are not happy, this is partly due to the fact that they have carbohydrate reserves in the roots, which they can ‘spend’ on staying healthy. Its a finite recourse and they can’t just keep spending cost free. When reserves are depleted they need moisture to photosynthesize and generate energy.

By starting your wetting agent program before all that winter moisture is gone you can hold on to it longer, so the sward stays in a healthy place longer as it doesn’t need to eat into those reserves. So when those first hot/dry days do arrive its got more in the tank to help it cope with the conditions.

We know that plants with a good healthy root system are better able to make use of moisture when it does come available (as well as be more tolerant of pest and disease pressures), so that should always be the aim.


Myth bust

One myth bust before I sign off.

Qualibra, like a few of the available wetting agents is a mixture of two technologies:

Penetrant – In its simplest form to help soils re-wet – so water moves into the soil profile

Polymer – soil water retention

“I don't want a to hold more water, I'm water logged as it is!”

— The myth I hear a lot

The reality is no amount of wetting agent/polymer can make a soil hold moisture beyond its field capacity, everything above that amount will drain away.

If we have issues of sub surface compaction, or the soil is a relatively thin layer onto a non permeable surface (like rock) then you can get surface water, as there is nowhere for the water to drain to. That can’t be made worst with wetting agents as its going to hold that water regardless of the presence of a polymer, its just physically got nowhere to go.

Drainage has to be considered in those situations to relieve any surface water issues.

There is a lot to be thinking about when it comes to water management, and getting it right is a big part of maintaining healthy playing surfaces. We’ll never get it all perfect in a given year, but the important thing is to have a think, speak to others and have a rough plan.

The plan should be able to bend and twist with what the weather throws at us, but basing it on previous years experience and building from there is a great place to start.

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