The Groundsman - No.3: Pre-season headaches

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With the cricket season now upon us, David Bates from total-play advises how to keep your pitch in good health

First of all, examine the square and assess how much growth there has been over the winter months.

The ideal summer maintenance length for a predominantly rye sward is 12mm or half an inch but, depending on the winter conditions, there could be several inches of growth on the square.

If this is the case, aim to bring the sward down to the optimum length over two or three cuts - initially with a rotary if the growth is over two inches, then the final stage with a cylinder mower. Please make sure that the blades are sharp. Blunt blades can tear the leaf.

Another common issue after the winter can be the 'dampening down' of the sward, where the grass plant is effectively smothered to the ground by the weight of the plant, people walking on it, lying snow or leaves. Raking or light power-brushing can lift off dead matted grass or any debris; allowing the plant to stand upright again and normal growth to resume.

The issue of worm casts is also likely to be prominent - especially since the active ingredient in many worm treatments, carbendazim, was taken off the approved list and can no longer be used.

To avoid the bare patches and potentially uneven surfaces that can result from worm casts being flattened onto the pitch, the solution will be raking out and over-seeding. One simple trick is to cast the seed over the square prior to starting pre-season rolling. The roller then pushes the seed into the surface to create the seed soil connection. It is not as effective has a dimple seeder, but it does a job.

When it comes to assessing grass plant health, there are a number of visual clues - a light green or yellowish sward early in the year can indicate a pitch lacking in general nutrients, whilst red thread in the leaf blade can signify low nitrogen levels.

As a general rule, in early spring (before the weather warms up) high phosphate and potash feeds can help stimulate root growth; with a switch to a more nitrogen-based fertiliser in the warmer months. However, it is strongly advised to get a sample analysed by your local amenities supplier and a bespoke programme devised for your table.

During his residency at Northants CCC, David Bates gained a reputation for preparing some of the finest pitches in the country. Having worked as a pitch advisor and trainer for the Institute of Groundsmanship, David now heads up total-play Ltd - which designs and installs class-leading nonturf cricket pitches and pitch cover solutions - and sports pitch consultancy Total Turf Solutions.

For more information visit or call 01604 864575

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