I would like to take the opportunity to wish all practising groundsmen a very happy and prosperous new year, and hope that the weather in 2014 will improve on the good weather we experienced last year.
As always, the weather will be dictating what can be done on your square and outfield this month.
Usually, most deep aeration work, anything between 100mm-300mm in depth, should have been completed by mid January, allowing the holes to close up prior to any spring rolling activities carried out in February and March.
The recent spell of mild weather may well have stimulated some top growth, especially if temperatures were in double figures. Many groundsmen are now using pedestrian rotary mowers on their squares during the winter months, cutting at between 12-20mm. The use of rotaries has become popular due to the dual benefits of being able to maintain height of cut and the vacuum effect which helps stand the grass up whilst, at the same time, removing any unwanted debris, leaves, twigs etc..
These mild temperatures may have increased the risk of disease, with fusarium, red thread and fairy rings, being common problems due to moist soil conditions. Brushing regularly, as well as aeration, is the best practical method of combating the problem if your budget does not stretch to spraying.
Key Tasks for January
Mow your outfield and square as growth demands, as mild conditions can see a flush of growth.
Mowing frequencies during the winter months are dependent on the need and condition of the ground. It is important to maintain a constant height of cut, on both the square and outfield. The square should be maintained between 12-20mm with the outfield maintained at between 25-35mm. Remember; the outfield has a major effect on a game if unattended.
Carry out aeration of outfield with slit tines to help root development and assist drainage.
Check for broken fencing and drainage problems. Complete leaf collecting, if not already done so.
Too many clubs tend to neglect their outfields. It is important to undertake some work on the cricket outfields, as they are an important part of the game, they need to be firm, flat and free from weeds. The outfield should be treated through the winter the same as any other natural grass surface - aeration, fertilising and mowing should not be neglected. Some cricket outfields are often maintained as winter sports pitches, and the amount of work carried out may be determined by whether the outfield is being used for other sports (football/rugby).
When air and soil temperatures drop, this reduces the respiration rate of the grass plant. The grass plant is now entering its dormant stage. Applying fertilisers during January, and through the winter months, is not a viable option. The plant cannot and will not be able to make good use of the nutrients; any growth produced by the plant may be susceptible to disease attack.
Nutrient Levels: Keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth. Once you have this information, you will be in a better position to plan next season's feeding and maintenance programmes.
Soil tests: Ideally, once or twice a year, or as required. Soil sampling is an important part of grounds maintenance. The results will enable the manager to have a better understanding of the current status of his soil and turf. There are many tests that can be undertaken, but usually the main tests to consider are:
Particle Size Distribution (PSD). This test will give you accurate information on the soil type and its particle make up, enabling you to match up with appropriate top dressing materials and ensuring you are able to maintain a consistent hydraulic conductivity (drainage rate) of your soil profile.
Soil pH: It is important to keep an eye on your soil; a pH of 5.5-6.5 is a suitable level for most grass plants.
Organic matter content (OM): It is important to keep a balanced level of organic matter content in the soil profile. Too much and you run the risk of a soft spongy surface with slow pace and variable bounce.
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, red thread and fusarium are the most commonly seen.
Switching or drag brush your square regularly to remove any surface moisture will help to discourage any disease. Sarrel rolling your square will help air movement and keep the surface open, allowing it dry.
If you experience worm activity, spray when conditions are favourable.
One of the difficulties with the spraying chemicals, at this time of the year, is getting an accurate forecast to know when there is a dry window of opportunity. The last thing you need is to spray a chemical for it to be rendered ineffective by weather patterns. These products are expensive enough to buy in the first place. Worm treatments can be carried out if needed, but please remember to ask yourself why worms are present. pH level are usually the main factor but, organic matter and your cultural practices on the square need to be assessed. Carbendazim is now the only active ingredient available for controlling worms.
January is an ideal time to send any machinery away for repairs or servicing. Keep a good supply of materials, such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance.
Keeping your cylinder mowers sharpened and serviced is vital to good groundsmanship; there is nothing worse than a mower not starting or one that cuts poorly. You may even be able to get the work done at a local golf course, thus saving you some money.
Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Cricket Pitches. It is a one day course designed to provide a basic knowledge of Cricket Pitch (square and ourfield) maintenance. The course enables the Groundsman to grasp the basic needs of a cricket square and outfield.
There are two courses - Spring & Summer Maintenance and Autumn & Winter Renovations.
Delegates attending the courses and using the accompanying manuals will be able to develop their own skills, working knowledge and expertise, by understanding the method of instruction and the maintenance principles they set out.
Included in the Course Manuals are working diaries showing the range of tasks needed to be accomplished each month. The Course Manual is available for purchase separately.
Our next public Spring & Summer Maintenance courses are taking place at March Town CC on Thursday 27th February and Guildford CC on Thursday 6th March - more details can be found here.
In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.
Artificial pitches and net facilities
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.
Repair damaged structures and netting, order new if required. Strim and mow around structures.
Remove all net and practice structures for repair and stored away for the winter.
Inspect drainage outlets, culverts, channels and ditches to ensure that they are working. Winter months are a good time for carrying out ditch clearing operations; blocked ditches may affect the performance of playing field drainage systems.
Many Groundsmen fence off the cricket square to protect it from pests (rabbits, deer, foxes and football players), vehicles and vandals.
Check and repair fences, scoreboards, covers and sightscreens. All structures should be stored away or covered with protective sheeting for the winter.
Wind blown debris, such as litter, leaves and tree limbs, needs to be cleared from playing surfaces.