Andrew Clarke, ECB Pitches Adviser for Hertfordshire, gives some advice on what you should be doing on the square during the winter months
The end of season work has been carried out, square fenced off and everything stored away as the nights draw in and temperatures start to drop with the onset of winter. It's time to forget about things until spring.
Sadly, no! The days of "putting the square to bed" and forgetting about it are long gone. With the milder winters we are experiencing, growth is continuing all through the fallow months
Assuming the autumn renovations have been carried out successfully and the new seed has germinated and established, there are a number of tasks to be carried out to encourage the sward.
As soon as the grass has reached the two-leaf stage it will be ready for its initial cut. This operation, and subsequent ones throughout the winter, are best carried out with a rotary mower fitted with an adequate grass collector. The benefit of a rotary over a cylinder mower is that it lifts the grass, keeping it erect. It also sucks up debris such as leaves and twigs associated with the winter months and avoids smearing any worm casts.
As a rule of thumb never remove more than a third of the leaf in any one operation and gradually reduce the sward height to maintain at 20-25mm throughout the close season.
Following the first cut it may be considered prudent to apply a preventative fungicide to strengthen the sward. Whilst rye-grass is not particularly susceptible to most common turf diseases (fusarium, dollar spot), instances of leaf spot and damping off are becoming more prevalant. An application of Sulphate of iron as a dilute spray (2 kilo in 25 litres of water) can also be beneficial as a turf hardener and to reduce moss.
Only an operator trained and qualified in the safe use of pesticides should conduct spraying operation.
Whilst worms have a beneficial effect within the soil they have no place on a cricket square due to casting. Worm casts create an uneven surface, act as an ideal seedbed for undesirable grasses and weeds and, when smeared by either machinery or foot traffic, smother the grass sward.
No treatment exists to eradicate them but treatment with a carbendazim based product will greatly reduce their activity.
Soil enhancing products
Many soil enhancing products exist on the market and some are very expensive. Without a full soil analysis of microbial activity it is almost impossible to recommend one. However, experience has shown that a simple programme of an amino acid root enhancing product will greatly increase both root density and depth, especially in conduction with a correct aeration programme.
Before instigating a programme of aeration it will be necessary to take soil profiles from the square to determine whether any problems, root breaks, layering, discontinuations etc., exist.
By its very nature a cricket square needs to be compacted to ensure an adequate playing surface offering pace and bounce, whereas the grass plant, and especially the root system, requires a supply of water and oxygen to mature and adequately anchor the soil. The two requirements are diametrically opposed, therefore a balance has to be achieved.
All squares will benefit from regular surface pricking using a spiked roller. This helps keep the surface open, assisting the ingress of any applied products and reducing the instances of moss and algae infestation.
The most readily available method of aeration available is to hire a Groundsman Industries pedestrian punch action spiker from your local Cricket Groundsmens Association. Fitted with six 7/16" tines on 1/2" holders, for the majority of clubs this machine proves ideal and, in conjunction with a correct winter management routine, greatly increases root depth and density.
For deeper-seated problems it may be necessary to deep drill or vertidrain the square but, actions as drastic as this, will depend on the results of a soil profile analysis.
Grass needs food to grow and the stresses of cricket pitch production removes a great deal of nutrient from the grass plant. It is highly unlikely that a healthy vigorous sward will be achieved without the addition of some added nutrient.
An application of NPK 5:5:10+Fe at 35g per m2, following the initial cut and repeated 8-12 weeks later depending on favourable weather conditions, will encourage root and shoot development throughout the winter months, ensuring that the sward is in the best possible condition ahead of the spring preparation.
It is generally unnecessary to apply a selective weedkiller to the square during the winter months as most weeds will die back with the cooler temperatures and any established weeds can be removed manually with a knife.
Selective weedkiller applied when the grass is not growing strongly can seriously knock back the growth of the grass and fail to provide adequate control.
By carrying out regular inspections of the square and conducting the above operations the sward will winter well, establish a healthy root system and be in a much improved condition ready for the spring preparation work to commence.