July should hopefully provide some favourable soil and air temperatures to finally promote some decent grass growth and, more importantly, give you the drying weather to help prepare firmer wickets.
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. Clay 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.
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 9:7:7 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.
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 effect 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.
Mowing of the square and outfield should be undertaken on a regular basis to maintain heights of cut. The square should be maintained at between 6-14mm and the outfield between 12-25mm.
Continue to verticut, training the grass to grow vertically. If you don't have a verticut option then use a drag brush to help stand the grass up prior to mowing. If using verticutting units be careful not to mark or scar the soil surface, as these scars will be hard to remove as the square dries out.
After match wicket repairs begin with the brushing and sweeping up of any surface debris, soaking the wicket, scarifying, spiking, topdressing and overseeding. Additional work may be required to repair foot hole damage. It is important to carry out good repairs, as you may be required to use this wicket again later on in the season.
Seeding of the ends where the grass is weak, sparse or bare can be continued, and the rise in temperature will help germination. Use germination sheets to aid this process but remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless. Ensure you use new seed as old material may not give you the required germination rates.
The damp outfields have been easily damaged by both the fielders and bowlers who have had to play in wet conditions. Bowlers run ups have particularly been bad, with strong depressions being made during games. There will be a need to infill and restore levels and overseed.
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, carrying out regular mowing, aeration and feeding programmes to maintain a healthy sward.
Summary of a 14 day match wicket preparation:-
|Day 14 -12||
Cut down to 6mm, hand rake in 2-3 directions to clean out bottom of sward.
|Day 12-10||Soak wicket until water is standing on full length of wicket.|
Roll wicket every day if conditions allow in 3 x 20 min spells with 1.5-2 tonne roller to consolidate and release moisture from wicket. Mow as required to keep sward at desired height (4-6mm).
Keep wicket dry, if possible, with flat sheets.
Use raised covers, if available, to keep wicket dry but still allow air movement.
|Day 3-1||Reduce wicket height to 5mm, mark out using string lines for accuracy.|
|Day 1||Final mowing at 4mm, overmark, set stump holes.|