cricket-world-judging-oakha.jpgFebruary 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, 1-2 times per week (outfield and square), subject to ground and weather conditions.

By the end of February, the mowing height on the square should be lowered to around 15-18mm 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 time is vital for better 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.

Keeping one eye on the weather, you may want to begin your square rolling programme early. If rolling hasn't started, then this should be initiated as soon as is possible. Starting with your lightest mower, using the "Union Flag" system, roll in as many different directions as possible, but always finish in the direction of play. Timing of this operation is vitally important.

If you are using the weight of a mower to consolidate the ground, disengage the blades to reducing friction and unnecessary wear on the machine. More weight can be added to the grass box (bag of loam) to increase consolidation.

Gradually build up the rolling weight by moving onto the next size of cylinder mower and adding weights to the grass box as required. This gradual build up may be over a few weeks, until the heavy roller comes out of the shed to achieve the right consolidation for the start of the season.

Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil to be in a state of plasticity, or "plasticine" like. Consolidation is your aim and the quality of your 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 a 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 pH. A pH of 6.5 is the optimum. Anything higher or lower would be to alkaline or acidic.

This information will help decide on the appropriate course of action with regard to applying the correct NPK balance for your site.

cricket wet squareDo not neglect your outfield; if conditions allow, try and carry out some aeration work using solid tine or slit tines. Aerate by hand or machine to aid surface drainage (vary the depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan). Keep on top of any grass growth, if left too long it then becomes a struggle to mow.

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. Regular swishing or brushing following heavy dew will help prevent any attack of disease.

Some parts of the country may be experiencing snow. Snow cover can inevitably lead to disease outbreaks, so be vigilant after the snow has gone. Sarrel rolling will open the surface for much needed air to the roots, then drag brush the square to raise the sward as it may well be flattened.

Check your sightscreens for damage; many free standing types often get blown over during high winds or, worse still, are stored underneath trees, resulting in green algae forming on the sheeting. Organise appropriate repairs or replacements. Covers will be required for use during pre season preparations, make sure they are ready. 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.

The application of a low nitrogen, higher potassium 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.

All machinery should now have been returned from any servicing in time for use. Ongoing inspection and cleaning of machinery after use is a must. 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.

Summary of Key Tasks

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: Do not neglect your square, it may be necessary to mow during the winter. Mowing frequencies during the winter months are dependant on the need and condition of the facility. It is important to maintain a constant height of cut on both the square and outfield. The outfield should now be maintained at 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.

Pests and Disease: Diseases can still occur in February, especially during mild weather spells. It is important to keep the sward brushed, particularly in the mornings. Knocking off the dew helps remove surface water from the sward, thus, allowing 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 are a wide range of products on the market that have the active ingredients chlorothalonil and iprodione. These fungicides are usually applied in liquid form using water as a carrier.

As for pests, such as rabbits, foxes and moles, it is a case of identifying the problem, controlling their activities, or employing approved pest control services to eradicate them from site.

nov-cricket-diary-site-scre.jpgWorm activity can be quite prevalent during the winter months, 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. Do the Ph levels, 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.

However, the application of a low nitrogen, higher potassium 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.

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. February is an ideal time to contact sales reps and find out what products are available for spring renovations. Never leave it late to order materials.

Robert Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sports Club
Coventry