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Expected weather for this month:

Temperatures getting into the mid teens, accompanied by plenty of rain

With the RBS 6 Nations ongoing, interest in the sport is always at a peak at this time of the year. Smaller clubs may not have the resources to produce the same standard of pitch used at international level, however, seeing the quality of the surfaces can be quite inspiring.

Temperatures dropped below average for much of the country in late February as overnight frosts crept in. March will see most of the country battening down the hatches as spring gets off to a cold, wet and windy start. Experts warn to expect a washout to the start of the season, with the south in the firing line for the worst of the stormy onslaught.

March is a good time to start planning end of season renovations, making it important to invest time and money into your pitch. Typical end of season renovations are centred around scarifying, aerating, topdressing and overseeding. If you haven't yet thought of what equipment or materials you will need for your end of season renovations, then I think you need to give it some serious thought, starting now. Time is moving on and you really need to have everything to hand to maximise the available time you have for renovations.

Give some consideration to how you will achieve your objectives i.e. what are your problem areas? How are you going to solve the problems and what methods are you going to use to carry out the tasks effectively (often dependant on what you can afford and what equipment you have available to carry out the work)? Work out timescales for each step of your renovation programme. Quite often there can be a lot of things to think about, so having a written plan is not a bad idea.

If you are not doing the work yourself, make sure you shop around and get the best quotation for the supply of services and materials.

Key Tasks for March
Maintenance Regimes

General Maintenance

A priority now that some areas of the country are drying out is to carry out some aeration work to increase aerobic activity and get some much needed oxygen around the grass plants' root system. Regular spiking and, if possible, the introduction of sand dressings will definitely improve soil/water movement in the top 100mm of your pitches. As last month, if there is opportunity to aerate, then do it. Regular winter aeration provides air space for the roots to expand into and allow the plant to breathe.

If your budget allows, do some overseeding, particularly on the bare areas. This will be very beneficial in promoting grass coverage for the coming spring and will give the new grasses longer to develop. Temperatures will be getting high enough for germination or, alternatively, cover with germination sheets.

Surface levels may need to be restored in areas where scrums have occurred, by light topdressing, seeding and raking over. Infill any holes that have occurred in the pitch surface with a sand/soil and seed mix. Lightly roll after repair work, preferably with a pedestrian mower.

Keep up with the dragbrushing/matting or harrowing when conditions permit, for dew and wormcast dispersion and to help stand the grass up prior to any maintenance work. Repair divots as soon as possible after games or training, with particular attention to the scrum and line out areas.

Using a pedestrain box mower (cylinder or rotary ) will help clean and prepare the surface for matches. Maintain sward height at 25mm-75mm. The top height will cushion heavy falls on hard ground. Ensure your mowing blades are kept sharp and well adjusted. Cutting grass in very wet conditions can often be detrimental to the playing surface. The mower may smear and damage the surface, especially when turning. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.

Repairing and replacing divots after matches is an important part of the maintenance programme to restore playing surfaces. The use of a hand fork to lift depressed turf, and gentle pressing with the foot, is the best way to return/replace divots, however, on larger areas the use of harrows will help return levels.

Marking out is done as required. Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy and very wet, which may sometimes affect the performance of wheel to wheel transfer line marking machines. To overcome this problem, other marking systems are available. Pressure jet and dry line markers are able to produce lines on uneven and muddy surfaces. Care should be taken when initially marking out new lines, ensuring that they are true, straight and measured correctly, using the 3,4,5 method to achieve accurate angles. Always wash down the machine after use; if you are not likely to use the machine for a few days, it would be advisable to empty it. Particularly with spray jet markers, keep connections clean; spray with WD 40 to help keep it protected.

 

 

Renovations should be in the forefront of your mind. Bear in mind any problems that you may have encountered during the season ("wet-spots" or poor drainage). Try to solve these problems during or before renovations start. You should, by now, have quotations for your renovation work and a provisional starting date with the contractor, or booked the machinery with your local ground care hire shop.

The type of end of season renovation will be dictated by the condition of your pitches, however, the extent and what you can achieve will be driven by cost and the will of the club to invest in their pitches.

A typical end of season renovation will be centred around aeration (decompaction), scarification to remove thatch, open up the sward, topdress to restore levels and overseed to introduce some new grasses. 

Before starting any remedial work it is vital to know how much you will need to spend on renovation, as cost can easily escalate if you fail to research prices against the standard of surface you wish to produce. From a commercial point, the cost of renovating a football pitch can range from £4k -£40k The higher costs often relate to more intensified specialist work being required such as fraise mowing and the cost of top dressing materials being used.  

The application of the topdressing as the material alone can cost anything from £35 per tonne, this work alone is the most costly part of pitch renovation and, based on an application of 100 tonnes, can easily run out at three to four thousand pounds for a 6,000m2 pitch. With various options to choose from, you may decide on a high end budget if finances allow, but, at grass roots level where every penny counts, it is more likely that a low expenditure option is chosen, with much of the work done in house with borrowed or hired equipment. 

It is this cost that deters most clubs from spending money on top dressings for their pitches, which is why there are so many poor sports pitches across the country. Top dressing is an important and integral part of maintaining good football and rugby pitches by restoring levels and improving surface drainage.

Whilst we have established that maintaining a rugby pitch is an all year round activity, we do have to start somewhere, so where better than at the END of a very long playing season, usually at the end of April.  

The condition of your pitch will dictate what work will be required; most pitches will have lost between 50-75% grass cover during the playing season coupled with the fact that the soil profile will have become compacted. To rectify these problems, it is essential that a programme of deep aeration (100-300mm deep) is carried out, followed by fertilising, overseeding and topdressing which will help restore levels, feed and re-introduce some new grasses into the playing surface.

However you achieve it, you will need to clean out the surface and get rid of the dead organic matter that will have built up, particularly on the wings of the pitch, and the remnants of old divots etc. A tractor drawn rake followed by a box mower is probably the most traditional method and most likely within the means of most clubs and schools. You may also have use of a pick up flail mower, in which case you may find that scarifying tines can be fitted and the job will be completed in one operation. 

This method can be advantageous as the scarifying tines may leave a grooved surface, ideal for ensuring oversown grass seed is buried just beneath the surface and in contact with the soil.
An operation that is becoming popular to those that can afford it (mostly Premiership clubs fall into this bracket), fraise mowing is extremely efficient at removing the top organic layer of the pitch, however, you will effectively be starting again with a newly sown surface, so your seeding rates will need to be higher. 

Raising/restoring surface levels and getting rid of those compacted areas in front of the goal is everyone's obvious, but don't forget the linesman's run-up; sometimes forgotten, but easily incorporated into your programme and, whilst you're about it, the area beside the pitch that everyone stands to watch the game will need attention. 

Spiking to relieve compaction and getting air back into the soil is important. If you have a spiker that will allow some heave, such as a vertidrain or Weidenmann etc., you may find this beneficial, otherwise you may do well to hire one in or employ the services of a local sports ground contractor.

Get a good quality grass seed for your renovation, and also fresh seed is important as old seed will not germinate as greatly or as well as new. Ensure that you achieve good seed to soil contact slightly below the surface, as seed lying on the surface will not germinate as well as seed that has been worked into the surface.

There are a number of ways to achieve this, by means of tractor mounted or pedestrian dimple/sarrel roller based seeders or disc seeders. Other ways to achieve this would be through surface spiking the area, brushing and then topdressing.

Topdressing - get it ordered and ready. Choose wisely for compatibility with your current rootzone. If you employ the services of an agronomist, then he will advise you of the best topdressing for your situation. If you cannot afford to topdress, you may consider hollow coring, recycling them by breaking them up and dragmatting them back into the surface.

Raising/restoring surface levels and getting rid of those compacted areas in front of the goal is everyone's obvious, but don't forget the linesman's run-up; sometimes forgotten, but easily incorporated into your programme and, whilst you're about it, the area beside the pitch that everyone stands to watch the game will need attention.

A good pre-seeding fertiliser, low in nitrogen and high in phosphate and potash (P:K), to provide the young seedling with the essential nutrients that will be deficient in a soil washed through by winter rains.

Turf treatments - some turf treatments work well for some and there are a number of them to choose from, such as organic based micronutrients, seaweed treatments, clay flocculants, amino acids and plant growth regulators such as Primo Maxx. It can sometimes be difficult to assess the benefits of such treatments, but most managers will notice if it has been effective or not. If you are unsure, then ask you supplier for a trial amount and test it for yourself. I'm sure they would be pleased to accommodate you.

A planned programme of work involves mostly renovation, which is the repair and restoration of the playing surface back to its original state, condition or, improved upon in order to be used again.

Timing is the key to success as many operations will fail and cause more problems than benefits when carried out at the wrong time of the year. In order to achieve this all operations need to be carried out in the right methods, having the right soil & weather conditions, the ability to time the schedule of work and in the right sequence.

The main objectives of renovation which should be considered are:

1.    To maintain the standard of the surface.
2.    To improve the standard of the playing area.
3.    Rectify and install any new drainage requirements.

Once we have removed the posts, we can proceed to reduce the amount of grass from the surface to about 10 –15mm, preferably boxing off all arising’s at this stage.

Totally scarify the surface to remove all debris, thatch and organic matter. A number of passes may be required at different depths depending on the amount of organic material that is to be removed. 

All arisings should be removed from the surface before the next stage of work is started. By creating a seed bed through scarifying, overseed the playing area with a 100% Perennial rye grass (preferably with three or more cultivars) by use of machine (auto seeder) bury the seed in about 10-12mm deep to ensure good seed to soil contact. 

Topdress the whole pitch with a sandy/soil rootzone of 70/30 to address your levels. Aeration can then be performed to de-compact the surface allowing the top dressing to migrate down the tine holes to help with draining the surface and improve the soil profile. Drag matting or brushing will assist in this operation. An application of a pre-seed fertiliser to speed up germination or a spring/ summer 9-7-7 could be used. A soil test should determine you N.P.K, if in doubt. 

Ensure bare areas such as goalmouths, centre circles are well irrigated to establish early germination. Allow new grasses to grow to at least 2nd or third leaf stage before mowing with a sharp rotary, as a cylinder mower will most likely tear the grasses from their roots. Mow and aerate regularly throughout the summer and where possible Verti- cut to help thin and prune the sward through this period. Spray for control of pests, weed and disease and over the coming weeks your sward will thicken up and become denser providing a perfect carpet for the forthcoming season.

Agronomy

Particle Size Distribution (PSD). March is a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis. Ideally, if you have not had one done before, you should have a full (PSD) Particle Size Distribution soil analysis done to tell you the actual make up of your soil profile. Soil is made up of percentages of clay, silt and sand. The PSD analysis will identify the ratio of these and confirm soil type, thus giving you a better understanding of what soil you are dealing with.

Soil pH. Also, you can establish the amount of organic matter (OM) content, as well as soil nutrient status and soil pH. With this information, you will be able to identify the needs of your soil. Carrying out these test also allows you to check other physical conditions of the pitch, such as root depth, levels of compaction and aerobic state of the soil.

Some clubs continue to apply wetting agents to help improve and enhance soil performance. A wetting agent is such a substance that reduces the surface tension of a liquid, causing the liquid to spread across or penetrate the soil profile more easily. These are usually applied on a monthly basis.

Keep a look out for the visible signs of nutrient deficiency and compaction which may lead to the ingress of Red Thread, which in most cases will disappear very quickly, especially after a dose of fertiliser.

Many pitches will be in need of a feed, with a low nitrogen input with some iron would be beneficial, allowing the grass plant a kick to get going, and the Iron (Fe) will help colour up the sward and kill off any moss spores. Keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth.

Turf treatments work well for some, and there are a number of them to choose from, such as organic based micronutrients, seaweed treatments, clay flocculants, amino acids and plant growth regulators such as Primo Maxx. It can sometimes be difficult to assess the benefits of such treatments, however most managers will notice if it has been effective or not. If you are unsure, then ask you supplier for a trial amount and test it for yourself, I'm sure they would be pleased to accommodate you.

Weeds, Pests & Diseases

Disease Control

Always keep an eye open for turf disease. Prevention is always better than a cure. The combination of moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade can make the plant susceptible to disease attack. Many turf grass diseases such as Fusarium and Red Thread can be active at this time of the year.

Symptoms of Fusarium (Microdochium nival) (image right), the most common and damaging disease, are orange – brown patches, 2.5-5cm across, increasing in size under suitable conditions as the disease progresses. Active patches have a distinctive ‘ginger’ appearance when viewed early in the morning. Creamy white mycelium resembling cotton wool can be seen in the centre and towards the outer edge of the patch. Grass in the active patches is often slimy; once the disease is controlled, the scars will remain until there is sufficient grass growth to fill in. Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak.

Red Thread is ill defined bleached grass with Pink mycelium visible in early morning dew. Close inspection will reveal red needle like structures which are attached to the leaf blades. The needles become brittle upon death and are easily detached, allowing fragments to spread the disease. Systemic curatives and protective fungicides such as Chlorothalonil and Iprodione, applied in liquid form with water as a carrier, can be used to control any outbreaks. Mixing two or more products in the same tank can help reduce the potential for disease resistance developing. Fungicides are selected with different modes of action so that resulting mixture will attack the target disease on two or more fronts. This makes it more difficult for the pathogens to develop resistance to treatments.

Pests

Worms can be very active at this time of the year so treatments can be carried out, if needed; the use of Carbendazim is the only active ingredient for controlling worms.

All personnel should be suitably qualified in the application of chemicals.

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

Machinery & Materials

Start thinking about your end of season renovations, and how you may be tackling the possibility of an extended season and the need to get onto the pitches to carry out the work. Start to build your strategy and get it down on paper. Look at what resources you will need - manpower, materials and machinery.

With reference to your machinery needs; if it's part of your inventory, drag it out, dust it off and fire it up to make sure it will work for you when you need it. If you don't have it in your inventory, but you know someone who has, a neighbouring club or school perhaps, particularly if you are on good terms with them; you may come to some arrangement to borrow it when they are not using it.

Alternatively, look at the option of hiring. There are a growing number of hire companies these days that are now specialising in the hire of sports ground equipment. With reference to your material needs, get them ordered now so that they are on hand when you need them.

I hear far too often clubs stating they have no money for their end of season renovations; we need to change the mind set of clubs and encourage them to raise funds for pitch maintenance, the benefits of having decent pitches are many, better playing surfaces, increase skills, attract players and, in the long term, increase revenue. Most clubs have a healthy youth section which often use the pitch facilities; if everyone connected with the club paid £1 into the grounds pot once a week, clubs with 200 plus playing members would raise over £200 per week, £800 month, £10,400 a year. Investing some £5-10k per year would vastly improve your pitches.

Training

Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Winter Sports Pitches. It is a one day course designed to provide a basic knowledge of rugby and football pitch maintenance. The course enables the Groundsman to grasp the basic needs of a winter sports surface throughout a 12 month period.

Delegates attending the Winter Sports Pitch Maintenance course and using the accompanying manual will be able to develop their own skills, working knowledge and expertise, by understanding the method of instruction and the maintenance principles it sets out.

Details of our forthcoming autumn courses can be found on our website Groundsman Training

Our next course:

Wednesday 20 April 2016, Finnimore Pavilion, Alton, Hampshiree

More details

Included in the Course Manual, there 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 Advice

Pre and post match routines

Before the match

  • Check that the pitch is fit and safe for play
  • Check for debris (glass, stones etc.)
  • Clear away leaves – a thankless task, but one that needs doing
  • Ensure the surface is firm and not saturated, correctly marked out and flagged, and that the posts are safe and secure

Post match

  • Replace divots, even if it’s just the worst affected areas - it will make a difference!
  • Dragmat/brush/harrow to restore playing surfaces and remove worm casts
  • Clean up the playing surface with a rotary mower

Additionally ...

  • Plan ahead for end of season renovations; particularly important if you have been affected by flooding
  • You could also consider booking in your machinery for its annual service/repair, ensuring you get the time slot that suits you
  • Dragmat, harrow and groom rake surface, as required, to maintain levels, remove early morning dew, control disease and generally get air in and around the plant
  • Spike/verticut as often as possible

Remember – the more that club members, players and officials understand what you role involves, the better. You could use any spare time to provide a members newsletter/blog detailing what problems you are experiencing (training regimes, waterlogging etc.) and to seek additional help as required.

Weekly checks:

  • Check goals for loose bolts and tighten as necessary
  • Check team dugouts are stable and anchored securely. Make sure that they are tidy and free from litter
  • Repair and maintain fence lines
  • Sweep up/vacuum fallen leaves

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