Summer seasonal problems

Dave Saltmanin Editorial

Summer seasonal problems

'In fifteen years of working at Ewood Park, I have not known a year as bad as this for germination and growth, and you can quote me on that'. Steve Patrick (Blackburn Rovers FC).

'I have always worked as a Groundsman and I can't remember a spring/summer for poor growth and establishment like this one'. Paul Courrier (Northampton Town FC).

'I thought that we had more than enough weeks during the close season this year, but I'm now counting down to the season and becoming more worried by the day'. Paul Knowles (Rushden and Diamonds FC).

These are just three quotes from the many Groundsmen I have spoken to in recent days concerning the growing conditions this spring and summer.

The weather has been colder this year than usual, and I have found that even when we have had the sunshine there has usually been an accompanying cool wind. Soil temperatures are taking an eternity to rise and therefore the seed germination and the subsequent establishment of the sward has been poor.

The end of June turned out quite nice, and we perhaps all felt that the weather was at last working with us, but the start of July has once again brought cold winds, and plenty more rain.

Many of the renovated pitches have suffered with the torrential downpours that we experienced four and five weeks ago. Much of the seed sown at that time was washed away in these monsoonal flurries and now pitches have had to be over sown to try and establish a sward in time for the season.

Steve Patrick said to me that 52mm of rain fell in just one Friday afternoon at Ewood Park three weeks ago.

There must be a lot of worried people out there looking for a bit of moral support, wondering whether their playing surfaces will be in the right condition come start of season. Every year we seem to shoulder that burden of worry.

Why do we all put ourselves through the mill?

My old boss used to say to me 'a week is a long time at this time of year' and he was always right. Even a week or two from the start of the new season on so many pitches I have seen those same characteristics. The ground still loose, tender infant plants and the sward a long way from being thick enough.

But with regular mowing, fertiliser to boost the growth and some water, the new grass would start to mature almost as you watched it.

I think on preference we all want to see that maturity well in advance, and I suppose that there is that piece of mind. But by the same token, complacency can creep in on such occasions.

A week to go, everything looking great, your guard relaxes and before you know it the colour has gone and disease has taken hold.

The worry seems to be part and parcel of the job, and I've always used it to feed my adrenalin. But the inevitable sleepless nights are unavoidable. The point is that there are thousands of us in the same boat, either catering for summer or winter sport or both. But it is nice to share these problems and know at least how others cope.

So here is a quick summary of my last three weeks- it may make you feel better!

For the last three weeks I have been working at Villa Park, a new contract for my former company (covering staff holidays).

With the best intentions I took on the pitch and that first weekend, cut it twice at 35mm and fertilised the pitch with eight bags of 12:0:9 (NPK) granulated feed. The fertiliser was applied in two directions. The pitch was then well watered to encourage the quick dissolve of the granules.

The following week, I watered the pitch after mowing each day, and while the colour was poor, I expected results by the end of that week. By Friday the pitch was diseased and with no real take up of nutrient, the colour was orangey-yellow, sick indeed!

I phoned the local contract sprayers that afternoon and the pitch was being sprayed at 6am Saturday morning with 16 litres of Rovral Green (fungicide).

Fortunately the rain stayed away and I kept the water off until Sunday afternoon, following another cut.

Then it was down to waiting, the disease initially seemed to check itself within 24 hours, but my expectation of a flush of colour didn't happen.

By midweek, I was starting to worry, so I called the consultant (PSD) and asked for a site visit, we discussed the problems and soil samples were taken, the decision was taken to feed the pitch again. By the end of the week a full rate application (350KG) of 12:0:9 had been administered, in fact slightly over the full normal rate of 300kg.

Again this feed was well watered, but I had now refrained from cutting the pitch because there was little or no growth- in fact the pitch seemed to be getting even worse (desperately worried now!).

This week the analysis results have came through, and I am now in the proud possession of the knowledge that the pitch PH is extremely low and acidic (4.5). A quick call to the local suppliers was made and we have some microcal (limestone) on its way to neutralise the extreme acidity.

This product will be applied at 70g/square metre as soon as it arrives.

At least now, with the problem known we can move forward. I am more confident that the grass will suddenly kick into life by the middle of next week, as it starts to take up the nutrients sitting in the soil.

The first game at Villa Park is now only three weeks away (Inter Toto Cup). So as usual it will be all hands to the pump to catch up on lost time.

Mind you, if there was to be no significant change then I might just start to pray.

If you have similar experiences that you can share with all the members, please drop us a line, via e-mail.

Best wishes,

Dave Saltman
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