Following this week's forecast cold snap, we are hoping the worst of the winter weather will be over; with the warmer weather and increased daylight hours stimulating some much needed grass growth.
Most outfield areas will be looking poor and in need of some attention, many have not been cut since last autumn. Try and get on and give it a uniform cut followed by some aeration and feed.
Aerating the outfield will help to increase aerobic activity and get some much needed oxygen around the grass plants root system. Regular spiking and, if possible, the introduction of sand dressings will definitely improve soil water movement in the top 100mm of your outfield.
Some clubs hollow core their outfields and then brush the cores back into the surface (recycling the existing material) to restore levels.
Pre season rolling
It is important you start you pre season rolling programme. Firstly, you need to ensure you can get the roller on to the square without doing any damage to the outfield. The square needs to be in a condition whereby the surface is dry but, when you press down with your thumb, some moisture is felt on the skin. This is a good indicator of when you can start your rolling.
Gradually build up the rolling weight by moving on to the next size of cylinder mower and adding weights to the grass box. The roller should be coming out of the shed to 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 soil 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.
The square must be "squared off" very soon. By using semi-permanent markings, this operation can be made very simple, use the 3,4,5 system to produce your right angles.
Continue to brush daily to remove moisture from the grass surface, this will allow for a much better standard of cut.
Light scarification or verticutting can be carried out at fortnightly intervals pre-season. Removing horizontally growing grasses and surface organic matter are always beneficial for the onset of pitch preparation; together with brushing, this will improve your quality of cut.
The mowing height should be lowered to around 15-18mm by the end of the month on the whole square. 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.
Seeding of the ends where the grass is either weak, sparse or bare can be undertaken, the rise in temperature will help germination, along with germination sheets. Remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless.
Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme then get your soil tested soon, otherwise how do you know if you are putting on the correct feeds and tonics?
Worm treatments can be carried out, if needed, use carbendazim.
Check the outfield for damage, repair any surface damage caused by vehicle wheel tracks or pests. Rabbit damage can be quite severe once they become active looking for food. Rabbit scrapes must be repaired and overseeded.
The outfield height of cut should be reduced to around 20-25mm by the end of the month. Harrowing/raking helps restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Some cricket outfields are often maintained as winter pitches; the amount of work required to be carried out may be determined by whether the outfield is being used for other sports (football/rugby).
As with the square, apply a fertiliser treatment in accordance with your annual programme.
If you have access to a core sampler, then take a core from the edge of a pitch on a length, i.e. between 2 pitches. What are the roots like? Are they white? Are they 100mm or deeper? How do you think your square will play this season? Make notes, because, without some kind of record, how can you improve?
Your covers - are they ready for action, no repairs needed, all machinery in good order? Remember, covers are used a lot in our climate for protecting the pitch under preparation from both rain and sun.
Keep an eye open for turf disease. The combination of moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade can make the plant susceptible to disease attack. Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak.
Ongoing inspection and cleaning of machinery after use is vital. All machinery should now have been returned from any servicing in time for use.
Keep a good supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance. Materials for spring remedial works should be booked to avoid disappointment or delay.
Check structures and netting for any damage.
Brushing: Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak. Many turf grass diseases can be active at this time of the year.
Mowing: The outfield should now be maintained between 25-35mm. The square should be maintained between 12-20mm using a rotary pedestrian mower.
Aeration: The use of a sarrel roller to keep the surface free draining will also be of benefit to the square. The outfield can be aerated using solid or slit tines when conditions allow.
Irrigation: Re-commision your irrigation systems and check you have not had any frost damage.
Pest and Disease: Diseases can occur in March, especially during mild weather spells. It is important to keep the the sward brushed, particularly in the mornings. Knocking off the dew helps remove surface water from the sward, allowing the sward to dry out and preventing disease attacks. The use of switching canes and brushes can be used to remove these dew deposits.
Systemic curative and protective fungicides can be used to control diseases, there is a wide range of products on the market (See Pitchcare shop). These fungicides are usually applied in liquid form using water as a carrier.
As for pests such as rabbits, foxes and moles it a case of identifying the problem, controlloing their activities or employing approved pest control services to eradicate them from site.
Worm activity can be quite prevalent now, especially during periods of mild weather. Keep an eye on 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. Carbendazim is now the only active ingredient available for controlling worms.
Fertilisers: Fertiliser treatment and turf tonics 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.
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. See Pitchcare shop for a range of fertiliser products
Structures: Check and repair fences, scoreboards, covers and sightscreens.
Materials: Keep a good supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance.
For additional information see following link Sports Diaries