Vic Demain's grass seed Q&A ahead of renovations

Brian Sandallsin Cricket

The August edition of the nomadgroundsman blog looks at seed for upcoming renovations with Vic Demain, Head Groundsman at Durham County Cricket Club, who answers the what's and when's of grass seed.

What seed should be used for cricket squares?

A 100% ryegrass mixture containing at least three cultivars. The best one you can afford.

What do germination sheets do and how long can they be left down for?

Germination sheets hold in the warmth and moisture, providing the ideal conditions for seed to grow in and speed up the germination process. Once the seed has started to come through, the sheets should be removed and never left on until the grass is growing through them. I am a strong supporter in the use of germination sheets, particularly up in the Northeast, with our seed not being planted until the first week in October.

What are the pros and cons of using coated seed?

Apparently coated seed can help early establishment and push it on once germination has taken place, yet it reduces the amount of seed in a 20kg bag.

Many groundsmen prefer coated in season and non-coated for renovations.

What are the pros and cons of pre-chitting seed?

This is a technique that I have never felt the need to employ. One understands that the germination process has already taken place, speeding up grown and establishment, but filling stockings with seed, suspending them in water, before transferring to an airing cupboard and leaving to chit seems long winded to me. In the same time taken, the seed can be growing in the ground.

At what rate should seed be applied?

I normally work on one bag for each four pitches as a rule of thumb, but that may depend on what coverage you have, i.e. the more bare, the more seed will be needed.

50-70 grams a square metre is a rough guide.

It may be tempting to use less to save money, but this could be a false economy; skipping on seed could well mean more weeds, moss and bare areas.

Boat shaped ryegrass

What is the best seed and what information is available when selecting seed?

In my experience every venue is different and what works for one doesn't necessarily work for all. My advice is to experiment with different seeds and find what works in your situation. Most of the top seeds are very similar. The STRI/BSPB seed testing booklet (link below) is available to help make selections, yet I would urge caution. It is easy to select a bag containing the top listed cultivars, I did one year, and it resulted in no growth and overseeding in the spring! Speak with the people who produce it, get a feel for them, do they have a passion for their work, can you trust them?

How long does a bag last before losing its effectiveness?

I am told that you can work on the formula that a bag of seed loses 10% each year, yet I couldn't confirm that.

Always ask the supplier how old the seed is he is suppling and when you get the seed it will have a label with the date of harvest, the list of cultivars and other relevant information.

What is the best way to apply seed during renovations and at what stage?

We would normally cut our grass right down, scarify in roughly five directions, then if I felt we had a deep enough seed bed, I would sow into that, if not we would run the dimple seeder across it in many directions. Once the seed is down, cover with soil, address the levels with loam, get the germination sheets on, set the sprinklers and jet off to the sun for two weeks. That last bit of course is just a dream as we need to check every day to see if anything is growing.

Loam being brushed in

When is it okay to do the first cut on established seed?

Make sure the ground conditions are suitable to take a mower without causing damage. Once the new growth is showing two leaves, it should be fine. Only ever take the tip off and as soon as a cylinder mower can be used, do so to aid thickening up of the sward.

Another tip to tell if the new seed is ready for a cut is to pull it - if it pulls out it's not ready; if it snaps it's ready.

Aim to get the height of cut gradually down to around 18/20mm.

What should we be looking for in a good bag of seed?

Lots of seed and little dust (chaff)

What are the main qualities we are looking for in a suitable bag of seed for the cricket square?

Crucial things for me are a proven record in your own climate and environment, fast germination and establishment as it is worn ends that will cause the cancellation of most cricket matches, Fair price, product availability and company support.

The longer that I am in this great game, the more I come to realise the importance of a strong, healthy grass sward which is well maintained. It is also my belief that if this is established, the need for fungicides and worm control are greatly reduced.

What stage of renovations do you add the seed and what are the options for applying?

We add the seed after scarifying if the grooves are suitable, if not we run the dimple seeder across in many directions then seed, before applying the top dressing.

If you do not have a dimple seeder, you can use a cyclone spreader to spread the seed over the square and into the vital grooves.

When is it too late to renovate in terms of expecting good germination?

As long as the soil temperature is above 8 degrees C, there is no frost and the moisture is in the ground, it is never too late, but realistically you should be done as early as possible after the season finishes. Down South, I once finished the first week in November, but that really was pushing it.

Brian Sandalls, Preston Nomads Cricket Club

Pitchcare will be interviewing Vic for inclusion in the October/November issue of the magazine