As the start of the new season dawns, April's cooler than average temperatures at the beginning of the month have held back any new growth, but made ideal conditions for pre-season rolling. Air temperatures are starting to increase now with more available sunlight, stimulating growth on the square and outfields. Pre-season rolling should be completed and you should now be planning your pitches for use, working across the square on alternate pitches. Applications of spring and summer fertiliser to the square and outfield will help stimulate the plant and keep it from being stressed.

Most of your work this month will be focused on preparing wickets as well as your outfield. Pitch preparations and marking should be in full swing. Following the 10-12 day guidelines, try to produce a consistent wicket with fast medium pace. Be sure to get your lines accurate and straight. A light verticut or scarification of the square to remove lateral growth following pre season rolling, whilst mowing the square regularly, will increase sward density. Outfields may also be in need of some attention if used for winter sport, with a light harrowing, aerating, seeding and top dressing. Height of cut for your outfield should be between 15-18mm.

Continue pitch preparations and mowing the square at 10- 12mm. The outfield should be boxed off or gang mowed at 15-18mm, avoiding scalping. Re-commission your irrigation systems (If you can afford such luxury). Keep records of work carried out such as core sampling, fertilising, mowing and watering. Fertilising the square with higher nitrogen based fertilizer should be carried out to feed the plant to keep it from stress and disease. Be sure to water well in, but resist applying in drought conditions.

Diary compiled by Robert Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sports Club Coventry

Key Tasks for May
Cricket Strip

It is important to plan and programme your pitch requirements to ensure you maximise the square capacity to accommodate fixtures. By preparing two to three pitches at any one time you will have the opportunity of moving fixtures in the event of severe damage due to wear and tear, vandalism or weather.

Try to take some pride in the way you present your facility, as a well presented square and outfield will impress and encourage players to perform.

Due to the cold winds around the country, you may experience the drying of the square; irrigate as required as moisture content is important to keying the surface, as well as to consolidate the soils. Dry Patch is the development of localised and wide spread harder dry spots on the square and outfield, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil, thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.

This condition seriously weakens the turf, leaving a thinner sward prone to invasion by moss and free seeding grass species and, in several cases, can lead to death of the plant. Corrective measures based on regular watering by hand will help.

Soil temperatures should gradually begin to rise in May, thus stimulating grass growth both on the square and outfields. There will be a need to increase the regularity of cutting to maintain designated cutting height. The application of spring fertilisers will also increase the vigour and rate of sward growth. You can begin to apply some higher Nitrogen based fertilisers. Ideally, get your soils 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 ground.

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. 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. See Pitchcare Shop for a range of turf fertilisers and conditioners

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Pests & Disease
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Always keep an eye open for turf disease. Prevention is always better than 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, you 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.

Pests:- 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 be active where worms are prevalent and need to be treated as they can cause a lot of damage to the surface.

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Wicket preparation

Mowing heights for the cricket square during the playing season should be:-
8-12mm April-September (playing season)
5-6mm Wicket preparation
3-4mm Final cut for match ( Avoid scalping the surface)

A simple method for testing the ground for rolling is to insert a knife or slit tine into the soil profile and see if it comes out clean. If it does, it's the right time to roll.

If you find you may not have completed your pre season rolling, don't despair, rolling of the entire square can still be carried out on separate occasions during May, spaced out between one another with a roller weight between 1000-2500 kg. The first pass should be across the line of play, returning along the same path until the whole square is rolled. Choosing and using the correct weight of roller is also critical for preparing cricket surfaces.

Continue to verticut, training the grass to grow vertically to produce a cleaner cut. Do not disturb the surface profile!! If you don't have a verticut option, then use a dragbrush or rake to help stand the grass up prior to mowing. If using verticutting units, be very careful not to mark or scar the soil surface, as these scars will be hard to remove as the square dries out.

A spring/summer fertiliser should now be applied to encourage top growth, using manufacturers' recommended rates. Rye grasses are more wear tolerant when fed correctly. Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual maintenance 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.

It is essential to have water available for irrigation purposes. Irrigation is required for pitch preparation, repairs and the health of the plant. Irrigate uniformly and ensure the right amount is applied. It's important to ensure that the water penetrates into the rootzone to a minimum of 100- 150mm to encourage deep rooting. Check with a probe. Allow to dry and repeat irrigation process. Allowing surfaces to remain dry can lead to problems such as dry patch, scorching and death of the plant.

Pitch preparation should start 10-12 days prior to the match. Following the guidelines below will help you achieve a good standard of pitch. Marking out the crease should be done with care, using frames or string to help achieve clear, straight lines.

The 12 day prep shown below is only a guide; most grounds men 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 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. Rolling should start and finish in line with the direction of play.

After-match pitch repairs begin with the brushing and sweeping up of any surface debris. Soak the wicket, scarify and spike, topdress foot holes and overseed. Additional work may be required to repair foot-hole damage.

Seeding of the ends where the grass is weak, sparse or bare can be continued, as the rise in temperature will help germination. Use germination sheets to aid this process, but remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless. Ensure you use new seed as old material may not give you the required germination rates.

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Remember not to neglect the outfield; it too has a major effect on a game if unattended. The outfield should be treated the same as any other natural grass pitch, carrying out regular mowing, raking or verticutting, aerating and feeding programmes to maintain a healthy sward.

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 has been used for other sports (football/rugby). If not, a light harrowing/raking helps restore levels and keep surfaces open. 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 and get some much needed oxygen around the grass plants root system. Regular 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 helps speed up the surface.

However, ideally maintaining a cutting height of between 10-14 mm, many outfields tend to be undulating and uneven preventing close mowing at these heights and, in reality, most are probably mown at a height between 12-25 mm. Also, the type of mower used will dictate what height of cut can be achieved. Rotary mowers tend to scalp undulating ground, whereas boxing off with a cylinder or a hydraulic gang mower with floating heads can give a better finish. The outfield height 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. Fescues and smooth stalked meadow grasses are quite tolerant to close mowing and are less likely to be stressed out.

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Other Tasks for the Month
  • Mark out boundary line or ensure rope is in place.

  • Check scoreboards are ready for use.

  • Sightscreens repaired, painted and in place.

  • Covers checked for damage and utilised.

  • Practice nets cleaned, marked and in good order.

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

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

  • All that is left to say is "Have a great season"