Winter a thing of the past at Wembley Stadium, thanks to Bernhard’s SubAir System

Diane Whitworthin Machinery & Mechanics

Achieving optimum spring and summer growing conditions year round can now be achieved at Wembley Stadium thanks to Bernhard's innovative SubAir aeration and moisture control system. Wembley's hectic fixture and events schedule creates a unique set of issues for FA Head of Grounds and Estates, Alan Ferguson.

The grass is often covered for events, effectively starving the plant of essential nutrients, sometimes giving Alan and his team just three weeks to complete renovations and grow-in new turf to get the pitch match ready.

Whilst grow lights and Bernhard's TurfBreeze fans play their part in this remarkable turnaround, the award winning groundsman believes SubAir to be the biggest contributing factor in promoting a healthier root zone and a stronger plant, enabling Alan and his team to rapidly grow-in a new pitch, especially during the winter months.

"My first time seeing surfaces that used SubAir Systems was at Augusta National Golf Course and New York Mets' City Field," Alan begins.

"I was impressed by the cleanliness of the rootzone because there were no disorders or black layer in them. They had very little or no fungal activity, the oxygen levels were high and it seemed to be a whole new way to aerate the root zone without having to use a machine on the surface.

"Without disrupting the surface we can deliver one of the most effective aeration programmes in the country because we're not going to put machines on the pitch. I had a desire to keep a spring/summer feel to the root zone all year-round to help deal with the recovery from the intensity of the programme the pitch has to endure.

"Now we have great growing conditions all year-round, we've essentially eliminated winter. We're producing more grass now than we were in July and August, consequently we only use Spring and Summer products on the pitch because we don't have the issues you'd associate with winter. We are effectively producing the pitch 100% artificially

"We wanted to hold the root zone temperature at 16-17 Celsius, and by doing that we can germinate grass seed within 4 to 5 days compared to the normal 10-14 days, so that gives us quite an advantage in germination times."

The Sub Air System brings many benefits including the ability to control the temperature of the root zone. It allows users to easily manage water usage whilst controlling the water delivery to the root system. Excessive rainfall can also be dealt with by using the system to take the water down through the root zone 36x faster than any other method.

Being able to provide the optimum balance of oxygen and moisture to the root zone is integral when growing and maintaining world class playing surfaces such as Wembley. Alan's initial desire to quickly grow-in a new pitch, even during the winter months, has been realised.

He explains: "We are here at the darkest, coldest time of the year [November to January] and we have a standard of pitch that you would expect in July and August. It's put us in such a different place, to the point that we're considering taking on additional events, and we're confident we can manage that now.

"We had comments from CSKA Moscow before they played Tottenham in November saying they thought the pitch was as good as first day of season. We wouldn't have been able to do that if we couldn't manipulate and control the root zone, thanks to SubAir we now have optimal growing conditions year round."