September can be the busiest time for some cricket groundsmen. Those who have a few weeks left of their season will be busy planning end of season activities, whilst others will have their attention turning to more important issues such as end of season renovations.

The longer you leave your renovations though, the less likely you will obtain favourable germination rates, as air temperatures tend to drop in October, slowing down and reducing grass growth. All clubs have their own methods of working and renovating their squares. In most cases, the level of work will be dictated by what budgets and resources they have available at the time, and what they are trying to achieve.

Diary Compiled by Robert Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sports Club

Early in the Month 1st - 15th September

As you move through the month regular mowing of the square will need to be continued whilst preparing pitches.

Make sure your machinery is up to the task with regular services.

After care of the wicket, with repairs and renovation to used pitches should be undertaken.

Pay particular attention to your foot-holes as they may require more intense work. Do not neglect your out field either, as this the largest area of maintenance, it still needs to be carefully managed.

Later in the Month 16th September - onwards

Check delivery schedules for end of season renovation programmes.

If you have completed your season, set the mower to finish cut height and give your square a final cut.

Irrigate the square copiously to move moisture as deep down as possible.

Start end of season renovation of the square.

Towards the end of September is usually a good time to carry out any additional ground works, particularly drainage, especially when using heavy pipe laying machinery.

Ground conditions are able to sustain the weight and action of these machines without causing too much damage to the turf surface.

Key Tasks for September
Pitch Preparation

Summary guide to a 14 day match wicket preparation:-

Day 14 -12 Mow out pitch to 6mm, hand rake in 2-3 directions to clean out bottom of sward.
Day 12-10 Soak until water is standing on full length of wicket.
Day 10-5 Light scarify with lawn rake, mow as required to keep sward at desired height (4-6mm). Roll wicket every day if conditions allow in 3 x 20 min spells with 1.5-2 ton roller to consolidate to release moisture.
Day 5-3 Continue to light rake to lift sward and mow. Keep wicket dry if possible, with flat sheets. Roll as required to achieve consolidation. Cover pitch where possible.
Day 3 Use raised covers, if available, to keep wicket dry but still allow air movement. Continue mowing & rolling.
Day 3-1 Reduce height of cut to 4mm; mark out using string lines for accuracy. Continue mowing & rolling.
Day 1 Final mowing at 4mm, roll & mark out, set stump holes.

Preparation of the pitch should start 10 to 14 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.

After Care of the Wicket

After care renovation treatment must be carried out as soon as possible after the game.

As soon as the match has finished sweep and mow the whole of the pitch at final cut height to remove as much debris as possible, such as studs, from the surface so as not to damage your machinery. Then, thoroughly soak the pitch by hand in order to penetrate the surface, ensuring not to pass the 5 foot marks as the ends need to be kept dry at this stage.

When the surface has partially dried off, sarrel roll or spike with a similar type of equipment, this will help offset any compaction created by the heavy rolling during the preparation process; it will also aerate the surface and produce a good seed bed. Overseed the pitch with perennial rye grass by use of a mechanical or pedestrian spreader and apply a low nitrogen fertiliser at a rate recommended by the manufacturer.

By using germination sheets this will speed up the process of recovery of the pitch. It is of no benefit to merely scatter seed over the used pitch and leave it. In order that the seed has a better chance of germinating it is important that the seed is well worked or brushed into the holes created by the sarrel roller.

Useful Information for After Care of the Wicket

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Currying Favour
Batsman /Bowlers footmarks

The next important step is to carry out repairs to the batsmen and bowlers' foot marks. These areas may be relatively deep, especially if repairs have not been carried out during 2 days or more of cricket on the same pitch. For repairs, use only the wicket loam native to your pitches. This will help in the binding of the soils during recovery.

Firstly, prepare a stock of preferred virgin wicket soil to just a damp stage, but still quite firm. You should be able to squeeze it together in your hand like plasticine. If you had your topdressing delivered in bags, there should have sufficient moisture to carry out your repairs, if not dampen while still in the bag and leave overnight or until required. If you are repairing the ends where the pitch is being taken out of play then add some grass seed to your mix, this will assist in the germination process and speed up recovery.

The tools required will be a lump hammer, fine spray water bottle, a rammer (elephant's foot used for tarmacing), a fork and a plastering trowel.
To start, sweep in the same direction as you would for intervals, paying attention to the foot holes created by the bowlers and the deep scars from the batsmen. Put the sweepings to one side. When swept ram the dry holes very firmly and any spots the bowlers may have moved. Hammering the edges to where the damages ceases is important as it will create an edge for the new soil to be rammed against as it is hammered into place.

When the hole is prepared, give the area a light watering and ensure all parts are dampened including outside of the foot hole. Let the sign of any water dry or soak well in before starting to fill the hole.

Using the fork, prick the base to create holes for the topdressing to fill, this will help in the keying of the soils. Fill the foot hole with soil and hammer into the edges. This pushes the new soil against the edges you have prepared. Continue to add more soil, filling in the drill holes, you should be able to ram and hammer the soil with little or any soil sticking to the hammer.

If this happens, the soil is too wet and you will need to use a drier mix. You need to know your soil to get the moisture right. When the hole is completely filled, use the elephant's foot to ensure the edges are consolidated and there are no depressions in the foot hole. If so, continue to fill until level with the ground.

Always use a straight edge to level off the surrounds to prevent raised ends and a saucer shaped square! When you are satisfied, spray the surface with water. Using the plastering trowel, smear the surface until it is smooth and shiny, and cover with the sweepings you have saved.

The sweepings are much better than grass cuttings if you want the ends to dry quicker but, if it's germination you require, then the ideal situation would be to use a germination sheet. It might be a good idea to keep some of your dried clippings on hand for future use if you have more than one pitch to repair.

It may require trial and error to get the moisture content just right for your soil. The time taken to do your ends will be about 30 - 40 minutes depending on the extent of the damage. The players and umpires will appreciate your hard work and efforts as well as a lot of self satisfaction.

Remember - good patching on your pitches is the icing on the cake. Do not be afraid to ask the umpires if you can carry out any remedial work during a game, preferably between innings or overnight. You may need their OK.

Useful Information for Batsman /Bowlers footmarks

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Renovate cricket pitches with re-formulated grass seed mixture Cricket Square CR1
End of Season Renovations

As a general rule of thumb 6-10 bags of loam are applied per wicket. It is important not to under or over dress your pitches, remembering that your ends must also be considered. Applying to the middle of the pitches only will create a crown.

Even in the current economic climate it is best not to skimp on the amount of loam used. Too many club pitches do not perform well in terms of pace and bounce, as wear and tear is magnified during use. Generally, it is usually a combination of two factors when combined that cause most problems - failure to remove enough thatch/debris material during renovations and not applying enough loam to increase the bulk density of the soil profile results in slow and low pitches.

However, there is a fine line between too much and too little. It's important not to overdress the square, as you will not only be wasting the precious loam material, you may also be smothering your sward. The last thing you want to be doing is burying any vegetation, which will lead to future problems such as thatch layering.

The object of the renovation is to revitalize your square by restoring surface levels and encouraging new growth. Scarification is important to remove any unwanted build up of vegetation and organic matter but also to produce a key for the new loam material to sit in.
The level of scarification required will be dependent on how much of a thatch layer you have generated throughout the playing season. This year has been very wet and grass growth has been prolific; there's likely to be a high thatch content, the best way to identify how much you have is by taking a core sample.

Then it will be a case of going through a vigorous renovation programme.

Scarify in at least three different directions, finishing with the line of play. Ensure you clean off all the thatch debris after each pass, followed by sorrel rolling before over seeding the square using a suitable grass seed mixture; Do not be afraid to try out new cultivars. The S.T.R.I. Seed booklet should give you some very good advice on what cultivars are available. Sowing rates now range between 35-50 gm per square metre. In essence you are aiming to establish new grasses into your square.

It is then a case of topdressing with loams compatible to native soils to restore levels and to integrate new material into the soil profile. This will help to build up the clay content in your square. Irrigate to wash in new loams and to help speed up germination. The seed should germinate between 7-10 days weather permitting. The use of germination sheets will encourage new growth by retaining moisture and keeping the soil warm.

Once you have completed your renovation programme on your square, devote some time to your outfield. This area does not get much attention in the way of aeration, topdressing, over seeding or mowing through the winter months. If you have not got a maintenance programme for the outfield then you can't expect it to perform as well as your square. Mow the outfield regularly through the winter months where possible, @ 30 -35mm every six weeks is a good start, this will help keep your levels and you will soon see improved performances next season.

On the square however, you should look to maintain a cutting height between 12-30mm, and continue to brush off any early morning dew to keep the sward dry and disease free.

Useful Information for End of Season Renovations

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Basic principles of top dressing

Aeration is a key operation to help improve the condition of the soil following a season's play. Soil compaction is often the main contributing factor to poor grass growth; The lack of air in the soil profile inhibits many beneficial activities such as retaining beneficial organisms, soil water movement and the washing in of fertilisers.

A programme of de- compacting the soil is essential to re-introduce some porosity into the profile. Solid tinning, hollow coring and linear aerating are a number of methods now being used to aerate soil profiles. These operations tend to be carried out on a frequency basis depending on the type and size of the tines being used.

Ideally, where outfields are of a concern, de-compaction should be to a depth around 200mm to promote deeper rooting. Some groundsmen prefer to carry out a programme of hollow coring, which again increases porosity, but can also help redistribute/recycle soil around the outfield which, in turn, helps restore levels.

The frequency of aeration activities will often be dependent on the resources available; Money, Time and Machinery available. In the main you should be looking to aerate throughout the autumn and winter period on a monthly basis, weather and soil conditions permitting.

Useful Information for Aeration

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Why Aeration?
Other Tasks for the Month
  • Disease:- Turf disease can be 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 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 - fairy rings and red thread are the most commonly seen.

  • Worms:- Worms can also be active so keep an eye the square and treat accordingly. Worm treatments can be carried out if needed; but remember to ask your self why worms are present. Ph level, organic matter and your cultural practices on the square may need to be assessed. Carbendazim is now the only active ingredient available for controlling worms.

  • Have your soil tested by an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results. Most ground managers will be looking to apply their autumn fertilisers in association with their end of season renovations.

  • Other Tasks for the Month :-Store away scoreboards, practice nets, sight screens and covers. Where necessary, fence off the cricket square at the end of the season to protect it from pests, (dog walkers, rabbits, deer, foxes), vehicles and vandals.

    Pitchcare run Lantra Awards accredited courses for groundsmen on the maintenance of cricket pitches. To find out more, visit the Pitchcare training website - Pitchcare Training