Christmas at Chapel Allerton Tennis Club
By Anthony Asquith
Christmas is a good time for me to evaluate how well we have prepared and managed our facilities, particularly the grass courts. I can reflect on how well they played during the tournament season and then decide what changes, if any, can be made to improve them for next year. We have six grass courts here at the club.
I am already looking at purchasing some covers to protect the courts. The Total Turf Solutions (TTS) light weight covers look interesting in that they can be moved easily and managed, with the added bonus that they are breathable and can remain on the ground longer without causing damage to the grass plant.
I may also be looking to introduce the use of wetting agents to combat some areas of dry patch we have. My aim is to produce consistent court playing surfaces. Like other groundsman I have a huge wish list but, in the end, we have to work with what we have and gradually bring about changes at the right opportunities.
This year's growing season was quite prolific. With constant high soil moisture contents and warm air temperatures the grass never seemed to stop growing, it was a constant battle to keep the courts mowed and maintained.
Re-seeding and establishing new grass on clay soils is best done in the late summer/early autumn as soon as the playing season has finished. We have to make good use of the warm clay soil temperatures to maximise seed germination.
I have over-sown in the spring, but clay soils are usually slow to warm up and, therefore, germination rates can be quite erratic and poor.
The success of autumn maintenance for me is critical, getting a good germination and establishment in October before the cooler weather comes in is essential to the performance of the courts next year.
We have had a good take of seed using Bargold, Bareine, AberImp and AberElf perennial rye grasses. These grasses perform very well, giving good all year round colour and have shown resistence to wear and tear.
I have been lucky on the disease front, regular cultural practices have managed to keep them at bay. I spray with a preventative fungicide during the Christmas period to help control any disease that may want to pop up during the holiday period.
I promote regular brushing, grooming and verticutting throughout the season to keep plenty of air movement around the grass plant, and try to keep leaf surfaces as dry as possible. It is particularly important to keep the grass surfaces brushed in the autumn and winter periods to remove dew off the grass plant. I generally brush daily.
I will be applying a slow release Scotts Sierrablen Mini NPK 22:5:5 fertiliser in February which activates and releases nutrients slowly as and when the soils begin warming up, bringing on a gradual growth response in the turf. In late March I begin reducing my heights of cut by 1 mm increments weekly until I reach my summer cutting height of 9mm. However, the height of cut will be lowered down further to 7/8mm for tournaments only, always bringing them back afterwards to reduce turf stress.
I change to a liquid feed programme in the summer, it gives me a greater control over grass growth, using a NPK 12:0:7 summer feed.
My rolling programme begins in earnest in March when the soils have begun drying, rolling across the courts with a half ton roller. I would then advocate the use of a heavier 1-1.5 ton roller but, as we do not have one at the moment, I tend to make do with what we have. I have tried to borrow one in the past but usually find that everybody else wants to use it at the same time. A 1-1.5 tonne roller will have to be added to my ever growing wish list.
Rolling in the right conditions is critical, you have to judge the weather and ground conditions carefully. Optimal rolling is only achieved when the soil is at the correct moisture level. It's pointless rolling saturated soils or dry soils.
I was also pleased with the root growth we achieved last year with over 150mm of rooting depth on all the courts. Encouraging deep roots is essential in producing high wearing turf. Not having a pop up watering system means that I do most of my watering by hand, a laborious job on occasions, but does allow me to target specific areas of need. I ensure that the sward is soaked well enough to develop deeper rooting.
Having been here for seven years I have seen many improvement being made, however we will always be governed by two main constraints - the weather and funding. There is only so much money in the pot, so we have to look at our resources and make the best of what we have. This is often the norm for most groundsman. We have to rely on many other ways of achieving our aims and objectives.
I will certainly be looking at ways and opportunities of securing much needed equipment for the club in the near future, particularly court covers, a heavier roller and a pop up watering system.
Perhaps Father Christmas will bring them for me! On that note, I would like to wish a happy Christmas and a prosperous new year to all fellow groundsmen and greenkeepers.