After a winter of snow, rain and freezing temperatures, it is surprising how quickly the weather can change and influence ground conditions. March was the coldest for 20 years with average temperatures of 3 degrees. Spring is just around the corner so soil temperatures will soon begin to rise, thus stimulating some much needed growth.

This is the busiest period in a groundsman's calendar, with pitch preparation and outfields to maintain; time management is vitally important. With the water table around the country still very high, many of you may be experiencing saturated or waterlogged outfields and will be under pressure to get your facilities up to speed with probably less than a fortnight before your first game; you will soon catch up once the weather improves and the ground dries out.

Planning your workload to meet your objectives will help in this task. Squares that are lying wet, though, are best left alone until they dry out enough to get on without smearing the soil. You will do more damage trying to work on the square in these conditions. Rolling whilst the soil is saturated will not achieve any consolidation. It is best to be patient and wait for more favourable ground conditions.

Continue with any remaining pre-season rolling. Aerate the square by sarrel rolling when finishing your Union Jack pattern to keep surface open. Keep an eye out for disease and worms, and spray accordingly. With reference to worm control though, you will be wasting your time and money applying worm suppressants such as Carbendazim while the soil temperatures are still cool; it is best to wait until the soil warms up significantly or when worms are active following a wet spell.

Brushing or switching of the square is a must to keep any disease from attacking the sward. The square now needs to be "squared off" as well as locating each pitch to be used. The 3-4-5 system, or right angled templates, are best used. A light verticut or scarification of the square to remove lateral growth, whilst mowing the square regularly, will increase sward density. Fertilising the square with low nitrogen, higher potassium feed will harden the sward, an NPK 6:5:10 +6% Fe would be suitable in most cases.

Carry out renovation to bare areas, such as ends and foot holes. Check sightscreens, covers and machinery are ready for use as breakdowns could be time costly. Artificial netting facilities should be checked, cleaned and marked out ready for use.

If your facility is used for winter sports games, remove all ropes and fencing to allow easier access for machinery once they have finished. Dragbrush to lift sward before continuing mowing the square at 10- 12mm to encourage sward density. Pitch preparations should be started following the 10-12 day guidelines.

Outfields will also need some attention to detail once they have dried out, with a light harrow, aerating, top dressing and mowing at 15-18mm. Re-commission your irrigation system (if you have one), and check you have not had any frost damage. Keep records of work carried out, such as core samples, fertilising, mowing and rolling. Last but not least, don't forget your boundary line!

Diary compiled by Robert Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sports Club
Coventry

Key Tasks for April
The Square

April is a very busy month, and often a very stressful time for cricket groundsmen. In most cases, there are only a couple of weeks to complete all the preparation work before the first match, often starting in the third week of April. With the clocks going forward and longer daylight hours, this does allow additional time to complete necessary works.

If you haven't managed to retain your corners to the square, the square must be "squared off" before any pitches are cut out. By using semi-permanent markings, this operation can be made very simple using the 3, 4, 5 system or templates to produce your right angles. Set up your square for each pitch to be used and number them. This will be a useful guide when coming to select your programme of pitches. Start with even numbers first; 2-4-8-6 then 1-3-7-5. Pitch preparations should start by following the 10-12 day guidelines and looking to get 400 to 500 overs per pitch.

Rolling. It is not necessarily about how much pre-season rolling you carry out, it is ensuring that the rolling is undertaken during optimum conditions by having enough moisture in the soil profile to allow good consolidation. There are some new guidelines on rolling aimed for both professional and volunteer ground staff, and are available to download from the Cranfield website at www.cranfield.ac.uk/sas/sst/rolling or from the ECB website at www.ecb.co.uk/rolling.

diary-2006-rolling.jpgPre-season rolling often involves gradually building up the weight, by moving onto the next size of cylinder mower or adding weights to the grass box. The big roller should then be coming out of the shed to really get consolidation right for the start of 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 your pre-season rolling will show when you produce your early season pitches. Pitches are required to be consolidated throughout to a depth of no less than 100mm, depending on your soil profile; this can only be achieved with gradual build up of roller weight, speed, conditions and timing.

Covers: The ability to control the drying out of the soil profile is essential in the production of good wickets. However, there is a considerable skill in using covers. Knowing when and how long to keep them on; ideally, having access to either flat or raised roll on roll off covers enables you to have greater scope in controlling the needs of your square. Flat sheet covers are usually used at the start of pitch preparations to control the moisture in the pitch during your early rolling, whilst the raised covers are used primarily for drying out the pitch before play.

Mowing and Fertilising. Soil and air temperatures should begin to rise substantially as we move into April, thus stimulating grass growth both on the square and outfields. There will be a need to increase the regularity of your mowing to maintain designated cutting heights. The application of spring and summer fertilisers will also increase the vigour and rate of sward growth. You should be looking to apply some low Nitrogen based fertilisers. Ideally, get your soils sampled for nutrients, organic matter content and soil pH where possible.

This information will help decide on the appropriate course of action with regard to applying the correct NPK balance for your site. Liquid fertilisers are becoming popular again. Modern products have been refined to act more efficiently; their mode of action allows the active nutrient ingredients to get into the plant tissue more quickly, and thus you tend to see a faster response to plant growth when using these products. Granular products have to rely on the granule breaking down, becoming mobile in the soil and then taken into the plant via the root system. Aerating the outfield prior to this operation is required, not necessary, but is always a good management practice.

Wetting agents can now be applied; this is usually done on a monthly basis. The use of wetting agents will be a good tool for ensuring that any rain has the chance to soak deeper into the soil profile and not simply run off the playing surface.

Red thread spores  (2)Pest and Disease. Always keep an eye open for turf disease. Prevention is always better than a cure. The combination of moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade can make the plant susceptible to disease attack. Many turf grass diseases such as Fusarium and Red Thread can be active at this time of the year.

Symptoms of Fusarium (Microdochium nival), the most common and damaging disease, are orange/brown patches 2.5-5cm across increasing in size under suitable conditions as the disease progresses. Active patches have a distinctive 'ginger' appearance when viewed early in the morning. Creamy white mycelium, resembling cotton wool, can be seen in the centre and towards the outer edge of the patch.

Grass in the active patches is often slimy; once the disease is controlled, the scars will remain until there is sufficient grass growth to fill in. Regular brushing, switching or dragmatting in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak.

Red Thread is ill-defined bleached grass with pink mycelium visible in early morning dew. Close inspection will reveal red needle like structures which are attached to the leaf blades. The needles become brittle upon death and are easily detached, allowing fragments to spread the disease.

Systemic curatives and protective fungicides, such as Chlorothalonil and Iprodione, applied in liquid form with water as a carrier, can be used to control any outbreaks. By mixing two or more products in the same tank can help reduce the potential for disease resistance developing. Fungicides are selected with different modes of action, so that resulting mixture will attack the target disease on two or more fronts. This makes it more difficult for the pathogens to develop resistance to treatments.

Worm can be very active at this time of the year so treatments can be carried out, if needed; the use of Carbendazim is the only active ingredient for controlling worms. All personnel should be suitably qualified in the application of chemicals. Moles can also be very active where worms are prevalent and need to be treated, as they can cause a lot of damage to the surface.

Wicket Preparations

The 10-12 day prep shown below is only a guide; most groundsmen will have their own interpretation of these activities:

DAY 1 String out pitch lines to ensure correct width, 10 ft; Mow out at 8mm. Always double mow (up and down the same line), using an 8 bladed pedestrian cylinder mower for maintaining the square. Test the pitch with a key or knife for moisture. Water the pitch thoroughly in the event that the pitch has dried out through pre season rolling.
DAY 2 Brush / light rake, mow at 8 mm, light roll to consolidate surface levels.
DAY 3 Scarify or verti cut to remove lateral growth and surface thatch avoiding deep surface disturbance. Mow at 7 mm. Remove biomass, continue medium light rolling 1000 kg 10-15 minutes.
DAY 4 Test for moisture. Roll pitch increasing to consolidating surface with 1000 kg roller if available.
DAY 5 Scarify with hand rake to remove any thatch build up Set and mow at 6 mm. Roll.
DAY 6 Mow, roll 20-30 minutes.
DAY 7 DAY OFF
DAY 8 Light scarify by hand to raise sward, mow at 6 mm, increase weight of roller to 1500- 1700 kg, continue rolling 30 minutes, reducing speed to consolidate surface. Test for consolidation with key or knife for placidity.
DAY 9 Continue rolling for 30 minutes at slow speed to achieve consolidation. Cover pitch over night to encourage moisture to rise to surface.
DAY 10 Brush / rake lifting any lateral grasses, reduce mower (with a shaver blade) to 4mm, try to avoid scalping. Roll using heavy roller slow speed (crawling) 30 minutes morning and again late afternoon where possible. Cover pitch overnight.
DAY 11 Brush and mow pitch, roll morning and afternoon slow as possible (crawling).
DAY 12 Brush, mow and roll to polish surface, test bounce with an old ball along edge of pitch. Continue rolling to consolidate surface. Cover pitch over night.
DAY 13 Brush, mow and roll polish up pitch. Your pitch should effectively have take on a straw like coloration, a sign that the preparation has been achieved. String and mark out as in accordance to ECB guidelines. (TS4 booklet).

Rolling. The purpose of rolling is to squeeze any remaining air out of the pore spaces and to consolidate the surface up to 100mm. Rolling is best performed when there is sufficient moisture in the pitch before the ground dries out. In the event of drought, syringing is advisable to assist keying the surface and helps polish the pitch.

Useful Information for The Square

Articles Products
Preparing pitches in -4C is just not cricket Cricket Square Grass Seed
Outfields

Outfields areas may be looking a bit forlorn and in need of some attention, many may not have been cut during the winter months. Check the outfield for damage, a cold wet winter coupled with heavy snow and frost will have taken its toll, before carrying out any maintenance. Repair any surface damage caused by vehicle wheel tracks, pests or vandals.

Rabbit damage can be quite severe once they become active looking for food. Rabbit scrapes, mole hills and holes must be repaired and over seeded to ensure a good smooth surface that is safe for the players. Try and get on and give it a uniformed cut followed by some aeration and feed. Some cricket outfields are often maintained as winter pitches so the amount of work required to be carried out may be determined by whether the outfield is being used for other sports (football/rugby). If not, a light harrowing/raking helps restore levels and keep surfaces open.

Then aerate to improve surface drainage by form of deep slitting, solid tine by verti-draining or hollow coring. Overseed bare areas where budgets allow, and apply balanced fertilisers such as a 9-7-7 as part of your annual maintenance programme to help stimulate growth and recovery. Aerating the outfield will help to increase aerobic activity, allowing noxious gases to escape and get some much needed oxygen around the grass plants root system?

KentUni AerationRegular spiking and, if possible, an application of sand dressings to the profile will definitely improve soil water movement in the top 100mm.You may wish to hollow core your outfields and then brush the cores back into the surface (recycling the existing material) this helps to restore levels, reduce thatch and help speed up the surface.

By the end of the month, the height of cut for the outfield should be reduced to around 15-18mm. Outfields which have been predominantly over seeded with rye grasses are subject to stress if mown too short; letting the clipping fly helps to return natural nutrients to the soil so reducing costs on fertilising. Fescues and smooth stalked meadow grasses are quite tolerant to close mowing and are less likely to be stressed out. Boundary line or rope should be marked or placed in readiness for the start of the season.

Useful Information for Outfields

Articles Products
County Cricket Groundsmen - Raining Champions! Cricket Cages & Net
Other Tasks for the Month
  • Mark out boundary line or ensure rope is in place.

  • Scoreboards are ready for use.

  • Sightscreens repaired, painted and in place.

  • Covers checked for damage and utilised.

  • Artificial practice nets cleaned, marked and in good order.

  • Erect security netting around buildings to deter balls from damaging properties.

  • Ensure stumps and bails are correct size, and yardage disks are available.