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John Deere March 2017
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Expected weather for this month:

A mild start, with single figure temperatures mid-month onwards

November is the start of the heavy wear period for rugby pitches as we inevitably move into winter with the lower temperatures prohibiting or even preventing grass growth. Temperatures are forecast to be reasonable for the first part of the month, so mowing and normal maintenance regimes should continue as normal. If there's the chance, aerating the pitches will do wonders, getting air to the roots and helping to dry out the soil profile.

Heavy dews at this time of the year will increase the risk of disease; keep an eye out and treat as early as possible to minimise any damage to the grass plant.

Key Tasks for November
General Maintenance

Aim to present your pitch with bands, stripes and a consistent surface and maintain a height of cut between 30-90mm. These are the RFU guidelines for  heights of cut during the winter months. Many junior club pitches tend to have too much grass on their pitches.

Pitches that are not cut on a regular basis will often exceed 125mm - far too long. The plant becomes weak, straggly and often flattened after play or training.

Most professional and semi-professional clubs cut between 30-40mm.

Continue with post match divoting and brushing and undertake aeration if conditions allow.

General tasks, weather permitting:

  • Continue cutting to encourage good sward density, ensuring that you do not over cut as this would thin out the sward due to the slowdown in growth
  • Ensure that any equipment used is keenly set to cut
  • Regular brushing will keep the air circulating around the base of the plant
  • Deep spike to alleviate compaction as and when required
  • Continue spiking when the conditions are right (this should only be carried out if the soil is suitably moist) to compliment your deep spiking
  • Keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting
  • Hand fork high wear areas, if difficult to get onto the pitch with machinery
  • Use any downtime to overhaul/service machinery
  • If it’s frosty, keep off the pitch until the frost has lifted or it becomes absolutely necessary. This will avoid damage to the grass plant/leaf

Try to keep the top 100mm free draining; this can be achieved by regular spiking with solid or slit tines to a depth of 150mm or more.

At this stage of the season, the addition of seed mixed with a little topsoil may help to repair any deep scars. Ensure good seed to soil contact, otherwise the operation is pointless. Ensure you use new seed as old material may not germinate.

Marking out

  • Keep your linemarker clean
  • Keep string lines taut
  • Ensure that right angles are correctly formed. Use the 3:4:5 triangle method. The bigger the triangle at the start, the more accurate the pitch will be.

Machinery

  • Keep your machinery in tip top condition
  • Grease where you find a grease nipple, oil where you see a metallic moving part, check the oil, check the water
  • Clean it when you've finished

General

  • Apply a low nitrogen, high phosphate and potassium autumn/winter fertiliser to aid grass recovery
  • 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

With the sun now lower in the sky, shade problems tend to increase. Shadows remain on the ground for longer periods and these areas tend to take longer to warm up and dry out which, in turn, may affect maintenance operations and playability.

Before the match

  • Check that the pitch is fit and safe for play
  • Check post protectors and flags
  • 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
Agronomy

November is a month where disease pressure in the form of microdochium patch is likely to be high.

Careful monitoring of climate conditions and weather forecasts can help the turf manager to apply preventative fungicides in a timely fashion. The best time to control microdochium patch is at the very earliest stages of disease expression before obviously visible patches occur – thus vigilance is paramount.

Where soil temperatures remain conducive to growth, a systemic fungicide is still a viable option; if temperatures are lower and the rate of grass growth has diminished then active ingredients such as iprodione and fludioxonil, which possess a contact mode of action, should be considered.

Where nutrition is required then light applications of nitrogen accompanied by higher proportions of potassium are what the plant requires at this time of the year. Excessive nitrogen will either cause a flush of soft, disease susceptible growth, or leach into water courses due to the fact that the plant will refuse to consume it.

Reducing plant stress and providing it with the appropriate nutrition to strengthen its own defences are key cultural strategies in the fight against disease. Straight nutrients such and Iron, phosphite, calcium and magnesium applied as foliar sprays are all key ingredients to be utilised.

As the leaves fall in increasingly greater numbers, much time and resource will potentially be diverted to collection. It is important to keep on top of drifts and areas of high leaf fall to prevent microclimates forming underneath, trapping moisture, reducing light and air movement - all factors placing grass under stress and increased risk of fungal attack.

Along with leaves, November also presents peak season for worm casting activity. With the recent announcement from the Chemical Regulation Directorate (CRD) concerning the withdrawal of Carbendazim – the only legally approved substance for controlling worms – initially from sale on February 28th 2017 and then from authorised application and storage by end users on August 31st 2017, the time to finally focus on cultural controls has arrived. Switching and brushing dried worm casts on greens on a regular basis and especially prior to mowing is very important to reduce smearing.

Casts formed on areas which have been regularly top dressed with sand will dry out faster and disperse more easily.

Users should be aware that any other substance applied for the control of worms would result in the substance then being categorised as a pesticide. To be legal, any substance being used for that purpose would need to have gone through the necessary rigorous scientific testing, whereby after effects in the environment and upon the rootzone or grass plant would have been assessed prior to registration. 

It is important to continue aeration by whatever means available, so long as ground conditions are not too wet. This will maintain soil profile respiration (oxygen in/carbon dioxide out) and healthy air water ratios; factors which will facilitate healthy populations of vital soil biology, happy plants and efficient drainage.

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
  • Keep your machinery in tip top condition
  • Grease where you find a grease nipple, oil where you see a metallic moving part, check the oil, check the water
  • Clean it when you've finished
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

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.

Other courses of interest are:

Pesticide application (PA)
ATVs
Brushcutters
Mowers - Ride-on and Pedestrian
Tractors

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

Weekly checks:

  • Check posts are secure
  • 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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