0 Artificial Surfaces - Autumn and winter; turn the tide!

Curtis Allen, synthetic specialist at CharterhouseAn artificial turf pitch (ATP) is a great addition to any sports facility and should be seen as an advantage as it will assist any adjoining natural turf pitches. However, it will not be maintenance free, weather proof and better than natural turf as they still can become flooded, subject to freezing conditions or get covered with fallen leaves - but this shouldn't be seen as a burden. All of this can be taken care of if one plans the maintenance of an ATP over the coming autumn and winter months. Synthetic Specialist at Charterhouse Turf Machinery, Curtis Allen, takes up the subject

An ATP will help decrease the footfall on natural turf surface pitches by allowing training and non-competition matches to be carried out away from them. This allows the over-stretched natural pitches in the autumn and winter months to have some much needed respite. Yet, it can be difficult to take pride in and ownership of an ATP.

Maintaining natural turf is all about creating a surface which is ever more durable, aesthetically pleasing and stronger. What can be achieved with the different soils, seed and fertilisers available is almost limitless. The fact is an ATP is a carpet and always will be a carpet. It doesn't help that, often, the ATP has been built without the groundsman being consulted and then being told to look after it - how, when and with what he will be forgiven for asking.

flooded area on an artificial pitch lprWhen it is first laid on day one, it is as good as it will ever be, but there are standards which need to be achieved and maintained. I often get asked "how long will my ATP last?" I've seen pitches being replaced after three years and some still going after twenty-seven years; it is all down to usage and maintenance.

The footfall calculator (printed in Pitchcare April/May 2014) provides an invaluable guide for calculating maintenance and lifespan of a carpet. At this time of year, it may be worth recalculating the maintenance requirements as the footfall increases, aided in part by most ATPs having floodlights that only increases the usage as they provide the only suitable surface for use after dark.

Groundstaff must be extra vigilant towards users' footwear and ensure they are wearing the correct type - pictorial signs (over written) and signed user agreements will help. Trainers are acceptable, but the flat bottom will not help with compaction, whilst blades are a definite no. A rounded stud is preferable on 3G surfaces as it aids the decompaction and turning effect of the infill.

Boot brushes and scrapers must be visible and serviceable; the brush will need replacing every six to twelve months, so ensure you have a ready supply and someone responsible for changing them. If possible, paint them a vibrant colour and place them "in the way" to encourage their use; they can always be removed to allow vehicle access if required. Users will not always clean their boots after a Saturday match and assume the mud will fall off in the first ten minutes of training on the ATP; and they are right!

Synthetic TidemarkWith the worsening weather, the tell-tale signs of poor ATP drainage are flooding or tidemarks. Most of the time, the drainage under the pitch is okay, it is the carpet itself restricting the water flow. These pitches act like water filters, with dirty water entering the top of the construction, the sand and infill materials trapping the dirt and fines, and clean water draining through. This can only happen for a certain period of time before it stops draining altogether.

The 'tide marks in the morning' phenomenon is often seen after rain at night, where the surface floods and the fines rise to the top of the carpet. When the water recedes slowly, due to poor drainage, the material is left on the top. This is a good way of identifying contaminated parts of the surface and an indicator that the surface needs cleaning. When the carpet and infill are wet, it is impossible to utilise a vacuum to extract the dirt, dust and fines. The type of cleaning and maintenance must be changed to accommodate a wet surface during the autumn/winter months.

It is important that surface cleaning takes place to remove rubbish and leaves from the top of the carpet as soon as they arrive; when fallen leaves are left in the surface, they seem to disappear - they get trodden into the carpet and break down, creating bigger problems later on. A machine such as the Redexim Verti-Clean™ will quickly cross the surface and collect this type of material. This job can also be done with a leaf blower, gathering the leaves for collection, but be careful not to blow into the surface or move any infill around.

Fallen LeavesDuring the autumn, it may be necessary to blow the surface on a daily basis and time for this should be factored into your maintenance plans. Maintenance with a rotary (cleaning) brush, such as the Verti-Top™, is encouraged as it will collect the surface debris, whilst the turning action helps to alleviate infill compaction and keep the infill fluid and mobile.

When specifying a rotary brush, use caution to ensure the brush is not too aggressive (some are designed to sweep tarmac), as the principals of the machine means it will throw the infill material forward and off the playing area, rather than lifting and replacing it.

Sand-dressed and sand-filled surfaces can also become particularly slippery at this time of year, so be vigilant to these hazardous areas - players will soon find dangerous spots. This lack of traction is normally caused by either flat fibre on top of compacted sand or the sludgy material which causes the 'tide marks' being brought up by rainfall. Flat fibres can be rectified through regular and effective brushing with, for example a Verti-Broom™. This will stand the fibre up and bring sand into place to support the fibres, as well as preventing the sand from becoming 'locked' with fines and compacted.

Moss is also a common occurrence on sand based surfaces because of the nature of the material. The sand provides ample nutrients because it is normally warmer than the ambient air and constantly damp. It is also more common to see moss developing around the perimeter of a pitch as fencing and kickboards create shady and damp conditions, or on less played areas as the infill doesn't get the agitation it does in other areas.

Snow and infillRegular inspection of these areas will help to prevent moss from taking hold. If you do find moss on the surface, do not brush it as this will only spread the spores around the surface, compounding the problem. Instead, treat it with an effective moss or weedkiller and, once it is dead, use a vacuum cleaning machine to suck it out of the carpet.

Looking even further ahead, I often get asked about snow and what to do. Firstly, clear the main paths around a facility and make sure they are safe. Even if the surface is under a blanket of the 'white stuff', it is likely that sports coaches will want to use the pitch. Whilst it is very difficult to refuse and block the revenue stream the surface produces, it is worth weighing up the true cost of clearing the snow.

Firstly, it is not an easy job to do! If you plough it, you really need to roll the snow, but this will also pull the infill out of the top of the carpet; infill that needs to be there to support fibre. It will then be necessary to pile the snow up, but space is often limited.

When pushing the snow with a tractor, this action will stress the seams of an ATP - it is likely that the four wheels of the tractor will be on one side of a seam and a plough or loader on the other. This action can literally pull the carpet apart, then requiring very costly repairs or even replacement in some areas. Also, if more snow is forecast this can be a fruitless and costly task. My advice is to leave the gate shut and close the facility.

Frozen Synthetic PitchWith ATPs being damp for the majority of the winter months, it is highly likely the surface will freeze through the night, requiring a good risk assessment in the morning. More importantly, when the ATP is in use, checks should be made in the evening as the temperature can drop rapidly causing the surface to freeze. This can be quite tricky as pockets of frozen material can lie under a few millimetres of infill, so always ensure the players understand this and monitor the surface during their usage.

Through their very nature, synthetic surfaces take longer to thaw than natural surfaces and, because of the very limited solar heat during the winter months, ambient ground heat will be the main source available to clear any snow or frost.

Under a synthetic surface, there are many different layers of material, normally black in colour, which will absorb this heat before it reaches the top and can thaw the surface. It is possible to spread a dry vacuum packed salt (pure salt) onto the surface to assist with thawing, but this can prove expensive and repetitive; again worth weighing up the costs and practicality before conducting.

frost can remain in shaded areas on an artificial pitchTo summarise; be aware of the increased footfall, longer playing hours and weather conditions when considering autumn/winter maintenance.

More maintenance than normal may be required and should include regular brushing to reverse the effects of flattened fibres and help prevent moss from taking hold. Try to collect leaves, mud and rubbish from the surface as it appears - this will prevent it being trodden in - and check infill levels to assist with fibre support.

The fibres in the surface are much like a piece of paper and, once folded, it is very difficult to get the crease out of them; preventing this from happening in the first place is the best course of action.

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