Many clubs seem to have the notion that once the square has been put to bed at the end of the season there is very little else to do. How wrong they are!
Apart from the ongoing maintenance that is required on both the square and outfield, the club should take the opportunity to carry out some general works to improve various aspects of their grounds. It may be a case of tree works, drainage works or clearing out ditches and improving paths and fence lines. Make good use of this valuable time.
I would hope by now that most clubs will be reaping the benefits of a successful end of season renovation programme, with particular regard to achieving some successful germination of newly sown seed. The first 2 to 3 cuts should have been completed using a hover rotary mower cutting at a height between 20-25 mm. It is detrimental to allow the sward to become too long as it may flatten over and obscure any worm casts.
It is important to control worm populations on the square, if left unchecked you may find yourself overrun with worm casts that invariably leads to uneven surfaces and a sanctuary for weeds to invade. Worm activity can be quite prevalent in November, keep an eye 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. Regular brushing or drag matting of the square will help disperse casts when friable.
Once you have undertaken the first few cuts you can then proceed to mow the square with your cylinder mower, the extra weight of the will help firm it up. Mowing frequencies will be dictated by the growth of the grass and the prevailing weather conditions. Care should be taken when working on the square, if the square is too wet or soft to walk on or take machine traffic then keep off it.
Cutting height of the square throughout the winter months should be kept between 15-20mm. Grass growth will slow down once air and soil temperatures drop below 9 degrees C.
Keep an eye out for weed infestation, some loams may not be sterilised and may have some weed species present. The best form of control is spot weeding by hand.
Ideally, and depending on your circumstances, it is best to erect a temporary boundary fence around your square to protect it. This will help keep unwanted pests, people and animals from damaging the square.
It is also essential to keep leaf debris off the square. If left to accumulate these leaves will become a wet mass of debris that, in turn, will restrict light and air being available to the grass plant, thus putting it under stress, resulting in it turning yellow and then decaying. Sweep or rake up leaves on a regular basis.
Turf diseases can become quite prevalent during the autumn period October-November especially when soils become wetter coupled with the occurrence of early morning dews. 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 - fairy rings and red thread are the most commonly seen.
A sarrell roller can be used to keep the square aerated. However, it will also benefit from some deeper spiking using a punch action solid tine aerator that can penetrate to a depth below 100 mm. The depth of penetration will be governed by the type of machine being used and the ground conditions at the time of spiking. Generally the ground becomes moist enough by late October - November.
Ideally, you should achieve at least four deep spiking operations at 100 to200mm from end October to January. Spiking after January may lead to the slits/ holes reopening when the soils dry out.
As for the use of fertilisers this will be solely dependant on the nutrient status of the soil and the needs of the grass plant. Generally, an autumn/winter fertiliser product will have been applied during or just after the end of season renovations to help sustain the grass plant through the winter months.
Air and soil temperatures are dropping reducing the respiration rate of the grass plant. The grass plant is now entering its dormant stage. Applying fertilisers during November and through the winter months is not always a viable option. The plant cannot and will not be able to make good use of the fertilisers. Any growth produced by the plant may be susceptible to disease attack.
However, if grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured) and you do happen to have some favourable mild weather conditions then apply a small dose of fertiliser to top up nutrient deficiencies.
The winter months allow groundstaff time to catch up with some much needed structural repairs and servicing of equipment such as score boards, sight screens, seating and fencing and net areas.
Covers and flat sheets should be inspected, cleaned, repaired and stored away.
Many clubs do tend to neglect their artificial playing surfaces. They all need to be kept clean; regular brushing and the odd application of algaecide will keep artificial surfaces clean.
Irrigation systems and outdoor water appliances should be serviced and switched off and protected from frost damage.
All mechanical machinery and implements should be cleaned, serviced and stored away. Ensure you have booked in your mowers for sharpening and servicing.
Do not forget to get your roller serviced and ideally run it from time to time; there is nothing worse than when you come to use it in the spring and it won't start.
All electrical appliances should be inspected and tested by approved contractors. If you have floodlights remember to check the bulbs and keep the lenses clean.
Do not forget to maintain your outfield; many clubs neglect their outfields, doing very little other than mowing them. They too need some regular attention. Again, mowing is important, maintain a winter height of cut between 25-35 mm. Also the outfield will benefit from some aeration work during the winter months, both solid and hollow tining will help. The use of a set of harrows or spring tines will also help clean out any dead grass and thatch.
There are a number of other pests that can damage the square and outfield, namely moles and rabbits. There are a number of ways to eradicate or deter these pests - the provision of wire fencing around the perimeter of the ground; traps or poisoned baits are options, however, these are best left to fully trained competent operatives.
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) - this 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 - a level of 5.5-6.5 is suitable for most grass plants.
Organic matter content - anything between 6 and 15% is acceptable.
Nutrient levels - 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 your season's feeding and maintenance programmes.
Take time to walk around your facility on a regular basis to ensure it is a safe environment for anybody who may enter or choose to come onto your grounds.
As for record keeping it is always a good practice to keep a diary of events/activities that are carried out on the ground. Taking photographs is a particularly good way of recording information.