clontarf-lemiester,-croke-0.jpg Having just spent the last month judging cricket pitches all over the UK I was in a good position to see the significant challenges being met by our dedicated cricket groundsmen, being tested to the limits to keep up with all the fixtures, let alone having to deal with the terrible weather conditions we have just experienced in June.

Many parts of the country have received well over a fifth of the annual rain fall in less than one month, with some sites having received 90 mm or rain in a single day. What a contrast to this time last year when the same groundsmen where facing drought conditions. Some areas in the South East received less than 6mm of rain in the entire month.

Many staff have spent hours pulling on and off covers to protect their squares and pitches, I am sure they will be looking forward to some better weather. If this year's weather pattern is anything to go by we may well see another complete change to dry and drought conditions. July should hopefully provide some favourable soil and air temperatures to finally promote some decent grass growth.

However, this can only been achieved if there is an adequate amount of water available to maintain plant growth and to soak the wickets for preparations. Water is essential for repairing and preparing wickets, together with the use of sheets and covers to control the rate the clay soils dry out.

Not all clubs have an adequate supply of water or indeed adequate water pressure on or near the square, and so have to rely on the weather to provide enough rainfall to keep the sward alive. If you do not have an adequate water supply then you are likely to face some problems. Clays soils are prone to shrinking in dry weather, the surface will soon begin to crack up, especially on bare soil areas where there is insufficient root growth to bind the soils together. Other causes of cracking clays can be associated with the aeration techniques used and when these operations were carried out.

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The use of covers and flat sheets are essential for controlling the amount of moisture in your soil profile. You are generally using them to protect the soil from rain or, on the other hand, you are using them to prevent the pitch from drying out. Getting the balance right is often a tough call.

Flat sheets come in various forms, some are breathable others are simply plastic sheets. The decision when and how long to use them is often down to experience, there are no hard or fast rules. However, leaving flat sheets down too long can cause a deterioration of the sward, it can turn a yellow colour and become weak and elongated due to the lack of sunlight and air whilst covered. Also, you may have induced the ideal microclimate that will suit the promotion of disease pathogens.

Soil and air temperatures are increasing, so grass growth this month is likely to be prolific, especially when there is sufficient soil moisture and nutrients present. The long daylight hours increase the amount of photosynthesis taking place in the grass plant. The net result is more frequent mowing, feeding and watering to maintain a stress free sward.

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.

In July you would be looking to use a 12:0:9, or similar compound fertiliser blend, or apply a slow release fertiliser to see you through to August. The choice of material and how well it works will be dependant on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and soil temperature being the catalyst for growth. The performance of slow release fertilisers can be influenced by the weather, often producing a flush of growth when you least expect it. Some grounds managers use straight compound granular or liquid fertilisers which activate when in contact with moist soil conditions, effectively stimulating grass growth within days.

Water is essential for wicket repairs. It is important to soak the wickets after matches, this gives you the opportunity to work on the damaged areas and carry out the required repairs.

Make good use of your covers and sheets to control moisture levels, you need optimal moisture levels in the soil profile for effective rolling and wicket preparations.scarbough07-.jpg

Sweep up all debris and mow the wicket to clean up the surface, repair any footmarks, batsman scars and divots. Check for lost shoe studs that may damage mower blades. Repairing foot holes requires removing all loose debris; spike bottom of hole to prepare a key for the new soil material; water and then apply new material and seed; leave proud and cover with grass clippings to prevent the repair drying out too quickly.

With regard to mowing machinery, be sure to keep them clean and serviced. You cannot afford to have a breakdown during the peak growing period. Keep an eye on fluid levels and remember to check your height of cut and sharpness of cutting blades. Badly adjusted mowers will affect grass cutting operations, leading to problems of scalping, ribbing and tearing of the grass surface, which in turn leads to the grass plant suffering from stress and being vulnerable to disease.