What is the most difficult maintenance struggle you face on the course? If your answer was slopes, you are among the majority. No matter what maintenance you are preforming, it is more difficult on a slope. Unfortunately, slopes are unavoidable due to the aesthetic appeal as well as for functional reasons. Learning how to cope with slopes successfully will help you get the most out of them without undue struggle.

Slope Problems

Each slope is different. Gentle slopes are desirable because a 2 to 3 percent drop-off facilitates water movement away from buildings, yet still generally allows for adequate water movement down through the soil profile. However, when a slope is 4 percent or greater, problems may arise. Four main problems associated with slopes are: low infiltration, difficult mowing, poor fertilizer uniformity, and mulching difficulty.

Low Infiltration

On flat or relatively flat ground, water has a longer time to soak in before runoff occurs. As the slope increases, runoff occurs more quickly and infiltration therefore decreases. As a result, plants at the top of the slope don’t get enough water and plants at the bottom of the slope get too much. Both results create an unhealthy growing situation for plants. The soil will be drought-prone at the top of the slope, while soggy soil at the bottom. This may create conditions that cause root rots.

Difficult Mowing

Slopes are difficult to mow safely. When mowing a slope, the weight of the mower is not evenly distributed, leading to two problems. First, the increased risk of overturning of the mower. Second, the difficulty in steering, because more weight is being applied to down-slope wheel. The steering problem creates excessively worn turf as the wheel crushes turf plants during turning and slipping.

Poor Fertilizer Uniformity

Related somewhat to the problem of uneven water infiltration, fertilizer application and uptake is also problematic on slopes. Rainfall can cause the particles to wash down the slope, which can also occur with herbicides. When chemicals are applied unevenly, the concentration at the top of the slope can get to a point where it is no longer effective. On the other side, if enough chemical washes to the bottom of the slope, it could cause phytotoxicity.

Mulching Difficulty

The fourth category of trouble with slopes is retaining mulch. Just as fertilizer, herbicides and water are prone to tumbling down the slope, mulch also has a hard time staying put.

Using plant by-products such as bark nuggets, cypress pieces, stump grindings, cocoa bean hulls, cottonseed hulls, and wood chips as mulch has proven more effective. Organic mulches are relatively short-lived, but have a better capacity to cool the soil and retain moisture than inorganics. In addition, they look more natural as well. However, with use on sloped, the weight and characteristics of rock, stone and rubber allows for less shift in the mulch.

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