July was certainly a testing month for many groundsmen with so much wet weather about, most squares and outfields remained on the damp if not saturated state for many days. Clubs without pitch protection were left to the elements, often resulting in low and slow games of cricket when matches could be played.
Clubs with covers/flat sheets were having to spend a lot of time covering/uncovering pitches and mopping up water.
The poor weather also meant a lot of time was lost in the preparation and renovation of pitches, coupled with the fact that pitches were prone to more damage, particularly around the batting crease, bowlers runs and where the ball pitches on the wickets when wet and damp.
Also, these heavy downpours were flushing out nutrients from soil profiles resulting in a lot of outfields been prone to an outbreak of red thread.
Soil and air temperatures should hopefully rise in August and help dry out soil profiles. It is surprising how quickly soils can dry out, usually within two days of fine weather. You may find yourself having to water the pitches; clay soils can dry out quickly and care should be taken to control the drying out of wickets. The use of covers will help.
Outfields are often prone to drying; allowing surfaces to remain dry can lead to problems of dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil and thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality. The use of wetting agents (outfields only) have now become an integral part of the maintenance regime with applications on a monthly basis throughout the summer.
With schools closing for the summer term many groundsmen will already be undertaking wicket renovations, making good use of the weather conditions in August to help establish some good grass growth while temperatures remain consistent.
While on the subject of end of season renovations, most clubs will not be starting their renovation programme for another month or more. Use this time to plan and order your consumables. You do not want to find yourself left short or without loam and seed come the time you are due to begin your autumn renovation work.
Also, ensure any hired equipment is readily available and secured for use.
The amount of seed and loam required will depend on the condition of your square. In recent years we have seen an increase in the amount of seed being used for reseeding. Groundsmen are now sowing at rates of 50 grams per square metre, thus increasing the amount of grass cover going into the winter period.
Also, many Groundsmen are reducing the amount of loam being applied to their squares, generally now between 5-7 bags per strip. This prevents the build up of saddles at the end of the square and prevents the smothering of existing grass cover on the square.
Take care when applying fertilisers, there needs to be sufficient soil moisture present to activate these products. 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. Applying fertilisers when ground conditions are dry and arid is not viable, as the plant cannot make use of the nutrients. Dry soils do not allow effective transport of nutrients into the grass plant. Soils have to be in a wetted state to enable efficient transfer of nutrients to the plant.
Care should be taken when fertilising the square, initiating green lush growth on a wicket you are about to prepare is the last thing you want to achieve, as it will have an affect on the performance of the wicket.
Disease can become quite prevalent when turf is under stress, especially during dry periods. Lack of moisture in the soil often effects the transmission of nutrients to the plant, thus stressing out the plant and making it prone to disease attack. Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.
Mowing of the square and outfield should be undertaken on a regular basis to maintain heights of cut. The square should be maintained between 6mm and 14mm and the outfield between 12mm and 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/scar the soil surface, as these scars will be hard to remove as the square dries out.
Portable covers are very useful in protecting surfaces during inclement weather. Covers are used to control the soil moisture content of cricket wickets, especially when preparing for play.
Use heavy ballast rollers to help prepare the wickets for matches, making sure it is done under the correct surface conditions, when the soil is moist but not too wet. Carrying out a Proctor soil test will help determine the correct timing of rolling. A simpler method is to stick a knife or slit tine into the soil profile and see if it comes out clean. If it does, it's the right time to roll. Rolling should start and finish in line with the direction of play. Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil be in a state of plasticity or "plasticine". Consolidation will still be your aim throughout the season. The pitch is required to be consolidated throughout to a depth of no less than 100mm.
Proctor testing is used to evaluate the compaction characteristics of the soil. This test determines the maximum density the soil can be compacted to, and at what moisture content the soil is most prone to compaction. Proctor testing is useful in determining how compacted a soil is in the field.
Preparation of the pitch should start ten days prior to a game. Mark out your cutting area with string, nails, paint or markers to obtain a straight cutting line. Start by hand scarifying to stand the grass up, this tool will not mark the soil surface, cut the pitch once and repeat the process again. Dependant on weather, you may need to water. Ensure you irrigate to a good depth, you may need to cover to prevent evaporation.Your first cut should be as accurate as possible, because it becomes very difficult to correct inconsistencies when the pitch is cut more prominently.
Roll the pitch until the surface is visibly dry. Continue to roll each day in the run up to the match, checking the consolidation by bouncing a cricket ball on the soil surface or testing the resistance by inserting a metal rod into the surface. The wicket can be left uncovered unless you have weather that is too wet, windy or sunny. During these conditions the wicket should be covered.
Continue to reduce the height of cut until no more grass can be removed, without scalping the surface. Marking out the crease should be done with care, using frames or string lines to help achieve clear, straight lines.
Sweep up all debris and mow the wicket to clean up the surface, repair any footmarks and batsman scars or divots. Check for lost shoe studs that may damage mower blades. Repairing foot holes requires removing all loose debris, spike the bottom of the 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.
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 disease. 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.