It is surprising how quickly the weather can change and influence ground conditions. All of a sudden we are seeing wet pitches drying out. The recent spell of clear, windy weather has certainly helped. However, grass growth in March remained fairly static due to low soil temperatures and low rainfall.
The weather during March and April can be very changeable often affecting the opportunity to get some effective pre season rolling done.
However, once we see some significant grass growth, coupled with April showers, we should be able to catch up on our rolling programmes. It is not necessarily about how much rolling you carry out, it is ensuring the rolling is undertaken during optimum conditions, having enough moisture in the soil profile to allow good consolidation.
Gradually build up the rolling weight by moving onto the next size of cylinder mower and adding weights to the grass box. The big roller should be coming out of the shed to really get consolidation right for the season. Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil be in a state of plasticity, or "plasticine" like. Consolidation is your aim and the quality of pre-season rolling will show when you produce your early season pitches. The pitch is required to be consolidated throughout to a depth of no less than 100mm. This can only be achieved with gradual build up of roller weight.
The use of covers are extremely useful in the preparation of pitches, the ability to control the drying out of the soil profile is essential in the production of good wickets. However, there is a considerable skill in using covers, knowing when and how long to keep them on. Ideally, having access to both flat and raised covers enables you to have a greater scope in controlling the needs of your square. Flat sheet covers are usually used at the start of pitch preparations to control the moisture in the pitch during your early rolling ,while the raised covers are used primarily for drying out the square before play.
April is a very busy and often very stressful time for cricket Groundsmen. In most cases there are a couple of weeks left to complete all the preparation work before the first match, often played in the third week of April. However, with the evenings not getting dark until 8.00 pm this allows additional time to complete necessary works. There seems so much to do :-
Soil temperatures are now rising, thus stimulating grass growth both on the square and outfields. There will be a need to increase the regularity of cutting to maintain designated cutting height. The application of spring fertilisers will also increase the vigour and rate of sward growth. You can begin to apply some low Nitrogen based fertilisers. Ideally, get your soils sampled for nutrients, organic matter content and soil pH. This information will help decide on the appropriate course of action with regard to applying the correct NPK balance for your site.
Liquid fertilizers are becoming popular again. Modern products have been refined to act more efficiently, their mode of action allows the active nutrient ingredients to get into the plant tissue more quickly, thus you tend to see a faster response to plant growth when using these products. Granular products have to rely on the granule breaking down, becoming mobile in the soil and then taken into the plant via the root system.
Wetting agents can now be applied, this is usually done on a monthly basis, The use of wetting agents will be a good tool for ensuring that any rain has the chance to soak deeper into the soil profile and not simply run off the playing surface.
Also, the recently launched Scotts Primo Max growth regulator has shown a lot of promise and may be a good product to control plant growth, whilst at the same time reducing the amount of clippings produced and also reducing the amount of water lost through the stomata by respiration.
Mowing heights for the cricket square are:-
|Height||Time of year|
|25mm||September - February|
|15mm||March (depending on weather conditions)|
||April-September (playing season)|
|4mm||Final cut for match|
The square must be "squared off" very soon. By using semi-permanent markings, this operation can be made very simple, use the 3,4,5 system to produce your right angles.
Continue to brush daily to remove moisture from the grass surface and, also, this will allow for a much better standard of cut.
Light scarification or verticutting can be carried out at fortnightly intervals pre-season. Removing vertically growing grasses and surface organic matter are always beneficial for the onset of pitch preparation, together with brushing, this will improve your quality of cut.
|Day 14 -12||
Cut down to 6mm with mower (9 bladed), hand rake 2-3 directions with appropriate rake to clean out debris from the sward.
Soak wicket until water is standing on full length of wicket.
|Day 10 -1||
Rolling wicket in 3 x 20 min spells 1.5-2 ton roller, consolidate and release moisture from wicket.
Keep wicket dry with flat sheets.
Use raised covers to keep wicket dry but still allow air movement.
Reduce height of cut to 5mm (using 11 bladed mower), mark out wicket, use string lines for accuracy.
|Day 1||Final mowing at 4mm,overmark,set stump holes|
Seeding of the ends where the grass is either weak, sparse or bare can be undertaken, the rise in temperature will help germination, along with germination sheets. Remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless.
Outfields should be be mown and maintained at between 12-20mm.
Worm treatments can be carried out, if needed, use carbendazim.
Harrowing/raking helps restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Some cricket outfields are often maintained as winter pitches, the amount of work required to be carried out, may be determined by whether the outfield is being used for other sports (football/rugby/hockey).
As with the square, a fertiliser treatment in accordance with your annual programme.
If you have access to a core sampler, then take a core from the edge of a pitch on a length, i.e. between 2 pitches. What are the roots like? Are they white? Are they 100mm or deeper? How do you think your square will play this season? Make notes because, without some kind of record, how can you improve the surface for the future?
Your covers - are they ready for action? No repairs needed? All machinery in good order? Remember, covers are used a lot in our climate for protecting the pitch under preparation from both rain and sun.
Keep an eye open for turf disease. The combination of moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade can increase the susceptibility to disease attack. Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak.
Ongoing inspection and cleaning of machinery after use. All machinery should now have been returned from any servicing in time for use.
Keep a good supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance. Materials for spring remedial works should be booked to avoid disappointment or delay.
Net areas require a lot of up keep ensure that they are erected and secure.