Recent poor weather has certainly being testing our Groundmen's patience and skills. The appearance of the sward, particularly on the outfields, will often look uneven and discoloured due to the fact that it may not have received any maintenance (cutting, spiking or fertilising) during the winter period.
The recent snow flurries will have added to the delays in getting any work done on your grounds. Even once the snow has gone, many grounds will be in a saturated condition. it will take at least 2/3 days for the soil water to drain a way and begin drying out.
Care should be taken when deciding when to get out there and complete some of these tasks, you could end up doing more harm than good. In some parts of the country, particularly down the south west side of the UK, the weather can often be very mild allowing you to achieve much needed works.
February sees the beginning of a number of activities to prepare the sward/grass surfaces for the coming playing season.
Depending on the ground conditions you should try and carry out your first cut before the grass gets too long. You may need to raise the height of cut, so that you are just topping it off, not trying to remove too much grass in one go. Increase the cutting frequency gradually, up to 1-2 times per week (outfield & square), subject to ground and weather conditions.
Keep an eye on the weather, you want to begin your square rolling programme early. If rolling hasn't started, then this should be initiated as soon as is possible. Roll in as many different directions as possible, but always finish in the direction of play. Timing of this operation is vitally important. Start with your lightest mower, cutting the square. If you are using the weight of the mower to consolidate the ground then disengage the blades, reducing friction and unnecessary wear on the machine.
Gradually build up the rolling weight by moving onto the next size of cylinder mower and adding weights to the grass box. This gradual build up may be over a few weeks until the roller comes 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.
To help kick start the grass into growing 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.
Aeration / As required :-
The outfield can be aerated using solid or slit tines when conditions allow. Hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, (varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan). As for the square, usually no further aeration tasks are undertaken other than some very light sarrel rolling to keep the top surface 10-15mm free draining.
Carrying out deep aeration of the square at this time of the year can lead to cohesion / fracturing problems of the soil profile during the playing season.
All covers to be inspected for damage/wear and tear. Organise appropriate repairs or replacement. The covers will be required for use during pre season preparations, make sure they are ready for use.
Site Screens :-
Check your site screens for damage, many free standing types often get blown down during high winds or, worse still, are stored underneath trees, resulting in green algae forming on the screens. Allow time for cleaning and repairing.
Diseases (square and outfield) /Daily/Weekly :-
Turf disease can become quite prevalent when soil moisture levels increase, coupled with the presence of early morning dews. The combination of moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade can increase the susceptibility of disease attack.
The recent snow cover may have increased the likelihood of disease outbreaks , so be vigilant after the snow has gone.
Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew off the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak. Many turf grass diseases can be active at this time of the year.
Systemic curative and protective fungicides can be used to control diseases, there are a wide range of products on the market that have the active ingredients chlorothalonil and iprodione. These fungicides are usually applied in liquid form using water as a carrier. Try:
Daconil Turf by Scotts
Fusonil Turf by Rigby Taylor
Rovral Green by Bayer
Drainage / Weekly :- I
nspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. Winter months are a good time for carrying out ditch clearing operations. Blocked ditches may affect the performance of playing field drainage systems.
Fencing off the cricket square / During winter months :-
Many Groundsmen fence off the cricket square at the end of the season to protect it from pests (football players, rabbits, deer, foxes), vehicles and vandals. With increased activity now being seen on grounds it is time to take down and store away any protective fences.
Fertilising / As required :-
Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results. Only apply what your soil requires.
However, the application of a low nitrogen,higher potash feed (NPK 6:5:10 +6% Fe) will help green up the grass and at the same time help control any moss that has accumulated in the sward during the winter months.
Harrowing/raking (outfield) / When conditions allow :-
Harrowing/raking helps restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Irrigation / As required :-
Check all irrigation equipment, taps, hoses and sprinkler heads. Automated systems should be serviced and checked over for the forth coming season. Water is now an expensive resource. Do not waste it. Recent frosts may have damaged water pipes, keep an eye out for any leaks and repair them quickly.
Inspect cricket structures / As required :-
Check and repair fences, scoreboards, covers and sightscreens prior to use. February still allows you some time to finish off any structural repairs or painting jobs at the ground.
Litter/debris / Daily/Weekly :-
Wind blown debris needs to be cleared from playing surfaces. Inspect and remove debris from the playing surface - litter, twigs and leaves.
Machinery (Repairs & Maintenance) / Daily/Weekly :-
Ongoing inspection and cleaning of machinery after use. All machinery should now have been returned from any servicing in time for use. Ensure your cylinder mowers have been serviced / sharpened and set up . Cutting grass with worn and blunt cylinder mowers will only lead to problems of poor presentation and grass stress.
Materials / As required :-
Keep a good supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance. Order materials for your spring remedial works, book early to avoid disappointment or delay. The Pitchcare shop now provides a whole range of cricket sundries, materials and products.
Mowing / As required :-
The mowing height on the square should be lowered to around 15-18mm by the end of February, subject to local weather conditions. But remember not to remove more than 1/3 of total grass height in each cut. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this vital time, the better the results further on into the season. The outfield height of cut should also be reduced to around 25mm by the end of the month, if not being shared with other sports. The frequency of outfield cutting should be increased to once per week.
Remember not to neglect the outfield; it too has a major effect on a game if unattended. The outfield should be treated the same as any other natural grass pitch (incl. aeration and mowing). 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).
Pest control / As required :-
Worm activity can be quite prevalent during the winter months especially during periods of mild weather. Keep an eye on the square and treat accordingly. Worm treatments can be carried out if needed, but please remember to ask yourself why worms are present. Ph level, organic matter and your cultural practices on the square need to be assessed. Carbendazim is now the only active ingredient available for controlling worms.
Project Planning / On going :-
Remedial works, i.e. overseeding, scarifying etc will be starting at the back end of February, you may need to seek quotations for machinery and materials. Leaving it late to order materials can delay your work schedule.
It is important to keep records and diaries of the activities carried out, and how well the facility has performed. The advent of the digital camera is a great tool for recording information.
Rolling / Pre season :-
Ensure it is carried out early, try to start mid February, with a very light roller (24" mower), gradually increase the weight until you are using your heaviest roller in late March. Nearly everyone has their own method of rolling. Timing is the key, roll when soil and surface conditions are right.
There are several articles about the art and science of rolling cricket squares on the Pitchcare Website, in the cricket section. Use the search engine to find them.
Soil tests / Ideally once or twice a year, or as required :-
Soil sampling is an important part of grounds maintenance. The results will enable the manager to have a better understanding of the current status of his soil and turf. There are many tests that can be undertaken, but usually the main tests to consider are:
- Particle Size Distribution (PSD) will give you accurate information on the soil type and it's particle make up, enabling you to match up with appropriate top dressing materials and ensuring you are able to maintain a consistent hydraulic conductivity (drainage rate) of your soil profile.
- Soil pH, it is important to keep the soil at a pH of 5.5-6.5, a suitable level for most grass plants.
- Organic matter content, it is important to keep a balanced level of organic matter content in the soil profile.
- Nutrient Levels. Keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth.
Once you have this information you will be in a better position to plan next season's feeding and maintenance programmes.
Artificial wicket and net Facilities :-
Many clubs tend to neglect their artificial surfaces / practices areas, believing they are maintenance free. They are not, they need maintaining. It is important to carry out regular maintenance operations, such as brushing, sweeping and cleaning of these surfaces to help prevent the build up of moss, algae and surface debris (grass clippings and leaves).
As for player safety it is also important to keep the netting facilities well maintained and secure. Nets should be correctly fitted and kept in good condition, repair any damaged nets. Repair damaged structures and netting, order new if required. Strim and mow around structures. You may require new nets, poles, guy ropes, etc, allow 2-4 weeks delivery.