April Rugby Diary 2013

Laurence Gale MScin Rugby

Many clubs will be glad of some warmer decent weather to help improve the condition of their pitches after what has been one of the coldest, wettest winters on record. Many clubs lost a run of fixtures in the recent cold wintery snap. Heavy snow put paid to a number of matches with clubs losing a lot of much needed bar income.

We're now in the last full month of rugby games, many pitches up and down the country will be waiting for a well-earned rest and recuperation once the season finishes in May.

A lot of pitches have suffered as a consequence of playing during wet and saturated conditions. Grass cover is soon lost and will be difficult to recover until we get some consistent soil temperatures above 12 degrees C.

Pitches may be showing signs of heavy wear, particularly from scrummages and line out play. These areas invariably lose grass cover, but this season the problems have been made worse by the severe winter we have experienced in many parts of the country.

Some groundsmen will, if time and resources are available, overseed these areas during April whilst there is sufficient natural moisture in the ground for seed germination. However, many are not able to do this until the season has finished.

April is a good month for carrying out any aeration works, especially whilst there is sufficient soil moisture to allow deep penetration of the tines. The ground will soon begin to dry out, reducing the opportunity for deep aeration without surface disturbance. There are a number of different methods for aerating rugby pitches. The vertidrain and earthquake machines are popular; deep aeration is a key maintenance operation to reduce soil compaction.

Increased soil and air temperatures will begin to stimulate some grass growth which, in turn, will increase the need to mow on a more frequent basis.

Ensure you have ordered materials for your end of season renovations - topdressings, seed and fertilisers, along with securing any contract labour force or hire of machinery to undertake the programmed works.

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Stadia groundsmen will be mowing 2-3 times a week to maintain desired sward height (28 to 50mm). Rugby pitches need to be mowed at least on a weekly basis to ensure they maintain sward density.

April is also a good month for applying spring and summer fertiliser products. Ideally, it is good practice to undertake at least an annual soil test to analyse the nutrient status of your soil. This will help ensure you only apply what is required and not waste money and time applying products you do not need.

However, the choice of materials and how well it works can be dependant on many factors, including soil type and the weather, with moisture and warmer air temperatures being the catalyst for growth.

Key Tasks for April

Brushing or sweeping the pitch daily helps to remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a Sisis quadraplay will restore levels and produce aesthetically pleasing stripes.

With the onset of warmer weather, there may be a need to keep an eye out for disease; temperature changes can bring on disease attacks, particularly when the turf is undernourished. Red thread can often be a threat to sports turf when the sward is in a stressed state. An application of a spring fertiliser will help the plant to become more resistant to disease attack.

Pre and Post Match activites
The BLEC Axarator at Horsham Rugby Club DSC 0866

Pre-match maintenance will involve inspecting the pitch for debris, mowing and marking out. There may also be the opportunity to aerate the pitch to keep it free draining. Care should be taken when marking out. It pays to select the right type of marker and paint for the job.

To ensure the lines are straight, it is best to string out the lines prior to marking. With the advance in technology, more and more spray jet markers are now being used, they are better suited for the ground conditions experienced by most local authority and club pitches in the UK.

Marking out: as required:- Use approved marking compounds/materials. Always check your lines, it often pays to string out your lines when marking. Using a string line helps keeps the lines straight and accurate.

Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy, which may sometimes affect the performance of wheel to wheel transfer line marking machines. To overcome this problem, other marking systems are available. Pressure jet and dry line markers are able to produce lines on uneven and muddy surfaces. The choice will be dependent on cost, efficiency and the type of line you want. Ensure the machine is clean and ready for use.

Post match maintenance will involve replacing any damaged grass and divots, brushing, harrowing or light rolling to restore levels. The Sisis Truplay is an ideal piece of kit for reinstating pitches after use.

Divoting: after games:- An important part of the maintenance programme, particularly at this time of the year. Get on the pitch as soon as possible after games. Use a hand fork to lift depressed turf and gently pressing with the foot is the best way to return divots. On larger areas, the use of harrows will help return levels. Levels may need to be restored on the scrum and line-out areas by light topdressing and raking over. Lightly roll after repair work, preferably with a pedestrian mower.

With warmer temperatures likely, it will be beneficial to start seeding bare and worn areas early with the aim to re-establish some new grass cover whilst there is sufficient soil moisture for germination.

Seeding of sparse or bare areas can be carried out; the rise in spring temperatures will help germination. Use germination sheets to aid this process but remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless. Ensure you use new seed, as old material may not give you the required germination rates.

Useful Information for Pre and Post Match activites

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Aeration and Mowing

Using needle tines or slits at this time of year will keep the water moving through the profile and allow air to get to the roots. On sand-based pitches, spiking will help to keep the playing surface "soft", this will also enable you to tine more frequently with minimum disturbance to the grass and playing surface.

Maintain winter sward height at 50-75mm. The frequency of mowing will increase to maintain sward height as soil and air temperatures begin to rise initiating grass growth. Ensure your mowing blades are kept sharp and well adjusted.

Cutting grass in very wet conditions can often be detrimental to the playing surface. The mowers may smear and damage the surface, especially when turning. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.

Useful Information for Aeration and Mowing

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Soil anaylsis

April is a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis, thus enabling you to get them back in time to start your new year's maintenance Ideally, if you have not had one done before you should have a full (PSD) Particle Size Distribution soil analysis done to tell you the actual make up of your soil profile.

Soil is made up of percentages of clay, silt and sand. The PSD Analysis will identify the ratio of these and confirm soil type, thus giving you a better understanding of what soil you are dealing with. Also, you can establish the amount of organic matter (OM) content as well as soil nutrient status and soil Ph. With this information you will be able to identify the needs of your soil.

Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis service that enable you to get specific results for the soils you manage. Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants. There is an optimum for each plant nutrient and, when coupled with other properties such as soil structure and particle sizes, determine how vigorous your plants are. Different nutrients undertake different tasks within the plant.

With the season now drawing to a close, it will be essential to check the availability of labour, materials and resources required for your end of season renovations. Do not leave it too late to order your materials and services.

The condition of your pitch will dictate what work will be required, most pitches will have lost between 50-75% grass cover during the playing season coupled with the fact that the soil profile will have become compacted. To rectify these problems, it is essential that a programme of deep aeration (100-300mm deep) is carried out, followed by fertilising, overseeding and topdressing which will help restore levels, feed and re-introduce some new grasses into the playing surface.

Useful Information for Soil anaylsis

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Surface cleaning: However you achieve it, you will need to clean out the surface and get rid of the build up of dead organic matter that will have built up particularly on the wings of the pitch and the remnants of old divots etc.

A tractor drawn rake followed by a box mower is probably the most traditional method and most likely within the means of most clubs and schools.

You may also have use of a pick up flail mower, in which case you may find that scarifying tines can be fitted and the job will be completed in one operation. This method can be advantageous as the scarifying tines may leave a grooved surface, ideal for ensuring oversown grass seed is buried just beneath the soil surface and in contact with the soil.

An operation that is becoming popular to those that can afford it (mostly Premiership clubs fall into this bracket), fraise mowing is extremely efficient at removing the top organic layer of the pitch, however, you will effectively be starting again with a newly sown surface, so your seeding rates will need to be higher.

Spiking: Spiking to relieve compaction and getting air back into the soil is important. If you have a spiker that will allow some heave, such as a vertidrain or Weidenmann etc., you may find this beneficial, otherwise you may do well to hire one in or employ the services of a local sports ground contractor.

Oversowing: Get a good quality grass seed for your renovation, and also fresh seed is important as old seed will not germinate as greatly or as well as new. Ensure that you achieve good seed to soil contact slightly below the surface, as seed lying on the surface will not germinate as well as seed that has been worked into the surface. There are a number of ways to achieve this, by means of tractor mounted or pedestrian dimple/sarrel roller based seeders or disc seeders. Other ways to achieve this would be through surface spiking the area, brushing and then topdressing.

Topdressing: Get it ordered and ready. Choose wisely for compatibility with your current rootzone. If you employ the services of an agronomist, then he will advise you of the best topdressing for your situation. If you cannot afford to topdress, you may consider hollow coring, recycling them by breaking them up and dragmatting them back into the surface.

Raising/restoring surface levels and getting rid of those compacted areas in front of the goal is everyone's obvious, but don't forget the linesman's run-up; sometimes forgotten, but easily incorporated into your programme and, whilst you're about it, the area beside the pitch that everyone stands to watch the game will need attention.

Fertilising: A good pre-seeding fertiliser, low in nitrogen and high in phosphate and potash (P:K), to provide the young seedling with the essential nutrients that will be deficient in a soil washed through by winter rains.

Turf treatments: Some turf treatments work well for some and there are a number of them to choose from, such as organic based micronutrients, seaweed treatments, clay flocculants, amino acids and plant growth regulators such as Primo Maxx. It can sometimes be difficult to assess the benefits of such treatments but most managers will notice if it has been effective or not. If you are unsure, then ask you supplier for a trial amount and test it for yourself. I'm sure they would be pleased to accommodate you.

Useful Information for Renovatiions

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Other Tasks for the Month

  • Grooming/ verticutting/As required: - Grooming and verticutting are operations that remove unwanted side grass growth and reduce the amount of debris in the sward. These operations are usually carried out when grass growth begins.

  • Harrowing/ raking/When conditions allow:- Harrowing helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.

  • Irrigation equipment/As required:- Very little required. If you do have to irrigate then it is important to irrigate uniformly, ensuring the right amount of water is applied.

  • Goalposts/Weekly:- Inspect goal posts and sockets before and after games to check they are safe and secure.

  • Litter/debris/Daily:- Inspect and remove debris from the playing surface - litter or any wind blown tree debris, litter, twigs and leaves.

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