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Expected weather for this month:

Single figure daytime temperatures with overnight frosts

Looks like we could be in for quite a harsh winter. Some nothern parts of the UK experienced snow at the beginning of November, with frost hitting all parts of the country as this is being written. As always advised, keep off frost affected turf; walking on it will cause the brittle leaves to break, thereby causing severe damage and, in some cases, death of the plant. If in doubt, stay off.

Recent winters have been variable and unpredictable; however, it remains clear that a keen eye on forecasts and advanced preparation for either mild and wet, or cold and dry periods will pay agronomic dividends.

Hardening off the plant with applications of iron ahead of any forecasted cold nights and biting winds will serve to thicken the plants cell walls and make it more resilient. Equally, should soil temperatures remain above 8°C the plant will be requiring some nutrition, with low nitrogen options remaining relevant. The delicate balance will be to avoid turf stress where autumn feeds may be running low but without stimulating soft susceptible growth from any applications of nitrogen.

Key Tasks for December
General Maintenance

Square: - Inspect your ground regularly for disease, worm activity, and spray as required. Dragbrush your square to remove any surface moisture to discourage any disease, and sarrel roll to keep the surface open. Mow the outfield and square as required.

Spraying: - The difficulties with spraying chemicals at this time of the year is getting an accurate forecast to know when there is a dry enough window of opportunity, the last thing you need is to spray a chemical for it to be rendered ineffective by weather. These products are expensive enough to buy in the first place. Worm treatments can be carried out if needed, but please remember to ask yourself why worms are present. pH levels are usually the main factor but, organic matter and your cultural practices on the square need to be assessed. Carbendazim is now the only active ingredient available for controlling worms.

Mowing; The use of a rotary for mowing the square will be more beneficial as it will reduce the effect of surface compaction. Maintaining a consistent height of cut on both square and outfield is very important, as this helps to encourage sward density, the square should be maintained between 12-20mm with the outfield between 25-35mm. Remember the outfield too has a major effect on a game if unattended.

Outfields: - Too many clubs tend to neglect their outfields, it is important to undertake some work on these areas as they play an important part of the game. They need to be firm, flat and free from weeds. The outfield should be treated through the winter the same as any other natural grass surface, Fertilising and mowing should not be neglected. Some cricket outfields are often maintained as winter sports pitches and the amount of work carried out may be determined by whether it is used for other sports (football/rugby). 

Depending on ground conditions, some clubs may be able to complete drainage or reconstruction works during the winter months. Existing drainage systems can be overhauled and cleaned out, and additional drainage systems may be added.

Aeration treatments are of a fundamental importance. If not done so already, aerate your square and outfield. If your outfield is used for winter sport, link the work into your management programme. All soils are prone to compaction, but heavy clay soils which are inherently poor draining are particularly susceptible. To counteract existing compaction, aeration work should be seen as an ongoing process which must be carried out with modern, efficient equipment to achieve maximum benefits.

Deep penetration should be the objective to allow air in, facilitate water infiltration to lower levels and encourage deeper grass rooting. Without good gaseous exchange and movement of surplus water, excessively soft thatch riddled playing surfaces will be dominated by shallow rooted annual meadow grasses. For alleviating deep seated compaction, Verti-draining is invaluable and has become an integral part of a maintenance programme at many clubs. To maximize the benefits of Verti–draining, treatments must be carried out before ground conditions get too wet.

Verti-draining with solid tines are best suited for this work, as this will reduce deeper compacted layers and reduce the risk of panning; Slit tining is a preferred option as this opens up the surface and is much quicker. Hollow tine aeration has a key role in combating soil compaction within the top 75-100mm of the profile too, followed by a sandy top dressing mix will assist a more freely draining playing surface. In the main, you should be looking to aerate throughout the winter period on a monthly basis, weather and soil conditions permitting. 

Nutrient Levels: Keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth. Once you have this information, you will be in a better position to plan next season's feeding and maintenance programmes. 

Fertilising: When air and soil temperatures drop, this reduces the respiration rate of the grass plant. The grass plant is now entering its dormant stage. Applying fertilisers during December and through the winter months is not a viable option. The plant cannot and will not be able to make good use of the nutrients, and any growth produced by the plant may be susceptible to disease attack. 

Agronomy

As previously mentioned, hardening off the plant with applications of iron ahead of any forecasted cold nights and biting winds will serve to thicken the plants cell walls and make it more resilient. Equally, should soil temperatures remain above 8°C the plant will be requiring some nutrition, with low nitrogen options remaining relevant. The delicate balance will be to avoid turf stress where autumn feeds may be running low but without stimulating soft susceptible growth from any applications of nitrogen.

Applications of Carbendazim will continue to be required to areas which are subject to high levels of worm activity. Controlling the casting will also make a significant contribution to reducing greasy and smearing surfaces which helps to prevent turf wear.

As long as ground conditions are suitable aeration in any form is key to maintaining surface drainage and soil respiration.

As temperatures reduce and moisture is present on the leaf for longer, Microdochium patch is still likely to be virulent, the window for systemic fungicides has likely passed, with products containing a contact mode of action proving to be the most suitable method of control. Users should be aware that correct and high quality application is vital for the success of any spray operation. This is especially so with a contact fungicide where the idea is to effectively coat the leaf in a protective ‘jacket’ of the substance which will ward of disease attack. Ensuring sprayers are well calibrated, label recommendations are adhered to, nozzles are appropriate and in good condition are all factors crucial to success as 10-20% of spraying efficacy is down to spray quality. Nozzles should be replaced annually and when the cost of a set of nozzles is set against the cost of a fungicide, the final 10-20% of efficacy more than pays for them.

Turf managers should maintain good cultural methods of control for disease with timely removal of morning dews – to reduce periods of leaf blade wetness – and the considered use of liquid irons, phosphite and calcium – routinely applied to provide the plant with its own defences – all forming the backbone of an holistic approach to responsible Integrated Turf Management (ITM) .

Finally, maintaining oneself and team is equally important throughout periods of inclement weather, and investment in good clothing helps to maintain comfort, morale and productivity.

 

Weeds, pests and disease

Earthworms may be a problem, so regular dragbrushing will be necessary. Brushing can be daily when conditions are right. Regular aeration to keep the surface open will aid drying. A drier surface may help towards reducing the effects of the earthworm activity near the surface. Diseases have been widely reported, particularly Fusarium. These outbreaks have been mainly due to the heavy dews and changing climatic air temperatures we have recently experienced.

The three disease factors: susceptible grass/host, pathogen, and environment, provide the evidence for disease diagnosis. Symptoms are the expression of the susceptible grass to the disease and can take on a variety of forms.

Symptoms may appear on the leaves as small, circular, tan-coloured lesions surrounded by brown or purple borders (leaf spotting); as yellow, red, or tan blotches over most or all of the leaf blade (blighting); stunting; wilting; or as a brown or black rot on the crowns and roots. The appearance of these symptoms will also vary depending on the type of disease, the severity of the attack and the developing stage of the disease.

The typical types of diseases you may come across are:

  • Fusarium
  • Red Thread
  • Dollar Spot

Please note: More information on these and many others can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php

Machinery

Inspecting and cleaning of machinery - December is an ideal time to send any machinery away for repairs or servicing. Keep a good supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance.

Check H.O.C Ensure cutting cylinders are sharp & set to winter mowing.

Keep machinery in good order, clean after use and top up any oil/fuel levels.

Training

Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Cricket Pitches. It is a one day course designed to provide a basic knowledge of Cricket Pitch (square and ourfield) maintenance. The course enables the Groundsman to grasp the basic needs of a cricket square and outfield.

There are two courses - Spring & Summer Maintenance and Autumn & Winter Renovations.

Our spring courses are in the process of being planned. Up to date information can be found on our Groundsman Training website.

One course already confirmed is:

FERNDOWN, Dorset - Monday 14 March 2017

More Details

Delegates attending the courses and using the accompanying manuals will be able to develop their own skills, working knowledge and expertise, by understanding the method of instruction and the maintenance principles they set out. Included in the Course Manuals are working diaries showing the range of tasks needed to be accomplished each month.

The Course Manual is available for purchase separately.

In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.

Other Tasks

Many Groundsmen fence off the cricket square at the end of the season to protect it from pests (rabbits, deer, foxes, and football players), vehicles and vandals.

Check and repair fences, scoreboards, covers and sightscreens. All structures should be stored away or covered with protective sheeting for the winter.

Artificial pitches and net facilities - keep all surfaces clean by regular sweeping and brushing to remove any algae and moss from surface.

Sand filled systems also require maintenance; regular brushing will maintain manufacturer's recommendations for sand levels and pile heights.

Repair damaged structures and netting, order new if required. Strim and mow around structures for presentation and tidiness.

Remove all net and practice structures for repair and stored away for the winter.

Wind blown debris, such as litter, leaves and tree limbs need to be cleared from playing surfaces.

Evaluation - The winter months enable you to evaluate how well this year's maintenance regime have gone, which in turn will help you plan the work for next season. You may need to seek quotations for machinery and materials.

Be prepared for next season. Fail to prepare - prepare to fail. It is important to keep records or diaries of all the activities carried out. The advent of the digital camera is a great tool for recording information on how well the facility and each pitch has performed.

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