As the heavy snow and picturesque scenes of January melt away, February provides the usual challenges and sees the beginning of a number of activities - brushing, verti-cutting, mowing, light rolling and fertilising to prepare the sward/grass surfaces for the forthcoming playing season. After a harsh winter, the key to these activities is timing, as each operation is weather dependent. Ground conditions could well be saturated still, so patience is a practice that will pay dividends later.

Depending on the ground conditions and, if you haven't already done so, you should try and carry out your first cut before the grass gets too long. A rotary mower would be best suited for this purpose, as cuttings will be removed at the same time. You may need to raise the height of cut, so that you are just topping it off and not trying to remove too much grass in one go. Sarrel rolling of your square, after the first cut, will open it up and lightly iron out the surface. 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 may have accumulated in the sward during the winter months.

By the end of February, the mowing height on the square can be lowered to around 15-18mm subject to local weather conditions. But please, remember not to remove more than 1/3 of total grass height with each cut. Light verti-cutting of the square will remove any lateral growth caused by the snow or wet weather.

The less stress that is placed on the grass at this time is vital for better results going into the new season. The height of cut for the outfield should be reduced to around 25mm by the end of the month. A light harrow and an application of autumn and winter fertiliser may be applied if not being shared with other winter sports.

The frequency of outfield mowing should then be increased to weekly. Light rolling may commence on the square if conditions are favourable and your season starts early in April. Keep an eye out for disease and worms, spray accordingly.

Diary compiled by Robert Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sports Club
Coventry

Key Tasks for February
Brushing and mowing
ShrewsburySchool CricketSquare

Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces and raising the sward will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak. Many turf grass diseases can be active during mild periods at this time of the year.

Mowing: Do not neglect your square. Light verti-cutting can start when conditions allow, removing lateral growth and encouraging sward density. 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 be maintained at between 25-35mm. The square should be maintained between 12-20mm using a rotary pedestrian mower.

Aeration and Pest and Disease control
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Aeration: The use of a sarrel roller to keep the surface dry and free draining will also be beneficial to the square. Some Groundsmen may still want to carry out some deeper aeration work on the square; however, this policy is effective only where shallow rooting is a main concern and where pre-season rolling is not introduced till late March or early April. As a rule of thumb, many do not aerate the square after January. The outfield can be aerated though, using solid or slit tines when conditions allow.

Pest and Disease: Disease can still occur in February, especially during spells of mild weather. It is important to keep the sward brushed, particularly in the mornings. Knocking off the dew helps removes surface water from the sward, allowing it to dry out and preventing disease attacks.

The use of switching canes and brushes can be used to remove these dew deposits. Worm activity can be quite prevalent during the winter months, especially during periods of mild wet 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 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.

Systemic curative and protective fungicides can be used to control diseases; there is 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.

All personnel should be suitably qualified in the application of chemicals.

With pests such as rabbits, foxes and moles, it a case of identifying the problem and controlling their activities; employing approved pest control services to eradicate them from site may be a solution.

Soil Testing and fertilisers
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Soil testing:- February is a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis, thus enabling you to get them back in time to start your new year's maintenance

Ideally, if you have not had one done before you should have a full (PSD) Particle Size Distribution soil analysis done to tell you the actual make up of your soil profile.

Soil is made up of percentages of clay, silt and sand. The PSD Analysis will identify the ratio of these and confirm soil type, thus giving you a better understanding of what soil you are dealing with. Also, you can establish the amount of organic matter (OM) content as well as soil nutrient status and soil pH. With this information you will be able to identify the needs of your soil.

Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis service that enable you to get specific results for the soils you manage. Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants. There is an optimum for each plant nutrient and when coupled with other properties such as soil structure and particle sizes determine how vigorous your plants are. Different nutrients undertake different tasks within the plant.

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 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.

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. Any think 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.

Rolling
BathCC Rolling

Keeping one eye on the weather; you may want to begin your pre-season rolling programme early. But, only if your season starts early April, any other rolling should be delayed until March. If rolling hasn't started, then this should be initiated as soon as 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 "plastercine" like. Test your square regularly with a knife to see the condition of your square; if it is too wet, delay rolling, as any type of rolling will create a bow effect and could cause some structural damage.

Consolidation is your aim and the quality of your pre-season rolling will show when you produce your early season pitches. The square is required to be consolidated throughout to a depth of no less than 100mm. (where squares have been constructed to ECB guide lines) this can only be achieved with a gradual build up of roller weight.

Outfield
TonbridgeOutfield3

Do 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 switching 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 dragbrush the square to raise the sward, as it may well be flattened.

Other Tasks for the Month
  • Structures: 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. Check and repair fences, scoreboards. 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. All machinery should now have been returned from any servicing in time for use.

  • Machinery: 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 on hand for repairs and maintenance.

  • Artificial Pitches: Keep all surfaces clean, by regular sweeping and brushing to remove any algae and moss from surface. Sand filled systems also require regular brushing to maintain manufacturer's recommendations for sand levels and pile heights.

  • Net Facilities: Repair damaged structures and netting, order new if required. Strim and mow around structures.

  • 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.