cricketRecent 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.tippingcricket.jpg

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.

Do not neglect your outfield; if conditions allow try and carry out some aeration work using solid tine or slit tines. Hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, (varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan).

jan-cricket-diary-2005-scre.jpgAlso, keep on top of any grass growth, too often the grass is left too long and it then becomes a struggle to mow it.

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.

Some parts of the country are experiencing snow. Snow cover can inevitably lead to disease outbreaks, so be vigilant after the snow has gone.

Check your sitescreens 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. Organise appropriate repairs or replacements. The covers will be required for use during pre season preparations, make sure they are ready for use. Allow time for cleaning and repairing.

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.

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.

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.