The passing of midsummer’s day heralds the halfway point of the season; June's variable weather patterns across the country has seen temperatures below average in some parts, whilst others bask in swathes of sunshine. Renovations and pitch preparations should be in full swing now. If you have been lucky enough to have had any recent hot, dry, windy weather, this may have dried out many cricket tables and could be showing signs of cracking, caused by the shrinking of the clay soils.
The extent of cracking will be down to the type of clay soil or loam you are using. Heavier clay soils tend to shrink and dry out more substantially, therefore, irrigation is an important management tool. Maintaining good grass cover and keeping the soils in an optimum moist condition, will help prevent the extent of cracking as well as assisting with your pitch preparations. Regular mowing of the square will be required while continuing preparing pitches.
Do not mow too short in drought conditions, as this will stress out the plant and is liable to damage the sward, leading to problems such as dry patch, scorching and death of the plant. Do not neglect your outfield either, as this is the largest area of maintenance and it still needs to be carefully managed.
As the month progresses, repairs and renovation to used pitches should also be undertaken, paying particular attention to your foot holes, as they may require more intensive work. It is important the surface is safe for players to perform at their best.
Diary Compiled by Robert Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sports Club
Key Tasks for July
Uniformed irrigation of the square is important as pitches come out of use. Maintaining consistent moisture levels will help with promoting new pitches and re-establish old strips. Water is essential for the repairing and preparing of wicket, together, with the use of ground sheets and covers, helps to control the rate the clay soils dry out.
Not all clubs may have an adequate supply of water or, indeed, adequate water pressure on or near their square, so they have to rely on the weather to provide enough rainfall to keep the sward alive. If you do not have an adequate water supply, then you are likely to be faced with problems. Clay soils are prone to shrinking in dry weather, the surface will soon begin to crack, especially on bare soil areas where there is insufficient root growth to bind the soils together. Other causes of clays showing signs of cracking can be associated with the aeration techniques used and when these operations were carried out.
The use of roll on roll off covers and flat sheets are essential for controlling the amount of moisture in your soil profile. You are generally using them to protect the surface from rain or, on the other hand, you are using them to prevent the pitch from drying out. Getting the balance right is often a tough call.
Flat sheets come in various forms, some are breathable, and others are simply plastic sheets. The decision when and how long to use them is often down to experience, there are no hard or fast rules. However, leaving flat sheets down too long can cause a deterioration of the sward; it can turn a yellow colour and become weak and elongated due to the lack of sunlight and air whilst covered. Also, you may have induced the ideal microclimate that will suit the promotion of disease pathogens.
Soil and air temperatures will be on the increase, so grass growth this month is likely to be prolific, especially after the variable rain fall through June, where there is sufficient soil moisture and nutrients present. The long daylight hours increase the amount of photosynthesis taking place in the grass plant. The net result is more frequent mowing, feeding and watering to maintain a stress free sward.
Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic 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.
July is the time you would be looking to use a 12:0:9 for your square and a 9:7:7 for the outfield, a similar compound fertiliser blend, or applying a slow release fertiliser to see you through to August. The choice of material and how well it works will be dependant on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and soil temperature being the catalyst for growth. The performance of slow release fertilisers can be influenced by the weather, often producing a flush of growth when you least expect it. Some grounds managers use straight compound granular or liquid fertilisers which activate when in contact with moist soil conditions, effectively stimulating grass growth within days.
Good housekeeping of mowing machinery is important. Be sure to keep them clean and serviced. You can ill afford to have a breakdown during the peak growing period. Keep an eye on fluid levels and remember to check your height of cut and sharpness of the cutting blades.
Badly adjusted mowers will affect grass cutting operations, leading to problems of scalping, ribbing and tearing of the grass surface, which in turn leads to the grass plant suffering from stress and being vulnerable to disease.
Mowing of the square and outfield should be undertaken on a regular basis. The square should be maintained at between 10-14mm and the outfield between 12-25mm
Continue to verticut, training the grass to grow vertically. If you don't have a verticut options, then use a drag brush to help stand the grass up prior to mowing. If using verticutting units, be careful not to mark or scar the soil surface, as these scars will be hard to remove as the square dries out.
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 surface, carrying out regular mowing, raking or verticutting, aerating and feeding programmes to maintain a healthy sward. A light harrowing/raking helps to 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, getting some much needed oxygen around the plants root system. Regular tining and, if possible, an application of sand dressings to the profile will definitely improve soil water movement in the top 100mm whilst, ideally, maintaining a cutting height of between 10-14mm.
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. 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.
Damp outfields may have been easily damaged by both the fielders and bowlers who have had to play in wet conditions. Bowler’s run-ups, in particular, are prone to damage, with deep depressions being made during games. There will be a need to infill and restore levels and overseed.
The 10 -12 day prep shown below is only a guide; most grounds men will have their own interpretation.
Pitch preparation should start 10-12 days prior to the match. Following the guild lines 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.
DAY 1 String out pitch lines to ensure correct width, 10 ft; Mow out @ 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 @ 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. Mows @ 7 mm. continue medium light rolling 1000 kg 10-15 minutes.
DAY 4 Roll pitches increasing roller weight to consolidate the surface.
DAY 5 Scarify with hand rake to raise sword after rolling. Reduce HOC to 6mm
DAY 6 20-30 minute’s with heavy roller.
DAY 7 Light scarify by hand to raise sward, mow @ 6 mm, increase weight of roller to 1500- 1700 kg continue rolling 30 minutes reducing speed to consolidate surface.
DAY 8 Continue rolling for 30 minutes at slow speed to achieve consolidation. Cover pitch over night to encourage moisture to rise to surface.
DAY 9 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 & again late afternoon where possible. Cover pitch over night.
DAY 10 Brush & mow pitch, roll morning and afternoon slow as possible (crawling).
DAY 11 Brush, mow & roll to polish surface, test bounce with an old ball along edge of pitch. Continue rolling to consolidate surface. Cover pitch over night.
DAY 12 Brush, mow & 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 E.C.B guidelines. (TS4 booklet)
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
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 options then use a drag brush or rake to help stand the grass up prior to mowing. If using verti-cutting unit,s be very careful not to mark/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 deeper 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.
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, top-dress 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.
The after care of the pitch is just as important as the preparation. After care renovation treatment must be carried out as soon as possible on completion of a game. As soon as the match has finished sweep and mow the whole of the pitch at final cut height.
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. In order that the seed has a better chance of germinating, it is important that the seed has contact with the soil, well worked or brushed into the holes created by the sarrel roller and a very light dressing to cover the seed. 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.
The next important step is to carry out repairs to the batsmen and bowlers' foot marks. Renovation of your foot holes will be ongoing, so make sure you have sufficient top dressing made up ready. 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 plastercine. 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. Hammer the edges to where the damage 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.
Ideally, you should have conducted a soil analysis of your soil profile to ascertain the nutrient status of your green. This will help you decide on what fertiliser products to buy and apply.
Ensure you apply at the recommended rates and do not overdose the green or overlap when applying the products. There are plenty of spring fertiliser products available to meet your needs.
Most groundstaff will be applying a spring/summer NPK fertiliser, perhaps something like a 9:7:7 which will effectively get the grass moving during April. Then, towards the end of the month, or early May, apply a slow release fertiliser to see you through to June/July. However, the choice of feed and how well it works can be dependant on many factors - soil type, weather, with moisture and air temperature being the catalysts for growth.
Monitoring the performance of your playing surfaces is a key skill that should be adopted by all Groundsmen and Greenkeepers. With the aid of modern technologies, tools and a camera, you can now monitor the performance and the condition of your sward in many ways.
For many years the turf industry has promoted the use of Performance Quality Standards PQS to ascertain the standard of sport pitch maintenance.
It is important to survey and measure the performance of your facilities. With modern technologies we can now measure all manner of aspects of the pitch/golf green or artificial pitch to ensure it meets any stated guidelines by the sports governing bodies. These can include measuring sward height, composition of grass species, soil temperature, weed content, levels, hardness and infiltration rates (porosity) of the soil rootzone.
Keeping a record of these parameters will help you have a better understanding of what is going on within your playing surface and enable you to make better decisions on what maintenance inputs you will need to undertake to maintain surface playability.
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 drag matting 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.
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.
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 outfield) 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.
Our next one day courses:
Wednesday 26 August Salisbury & South Wiltshire Cricket Club, Salisbury, Wiltshire
Monday 7 September Banbury Cricket Club
Tuesday 8 September Binsted Sports Pavilion, Binsted, Hampshire
Tuesday 8 September Guildford Cricket Club, Guildford, Surrey
2 day version of the course, offering more practical work:
Wednesday 9 & Thursday 10 September King George V Pavilion, Ferndown, Dorset
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.
Pitchcare also provide a range of courses suitable for cricket clubs. In most cases, the courses can be held on site using the club's own equipment and machinery.
Some of the courses available are:
Chainsaws - CS30 and CS31
H&S Refresher Training on Combined Turf Care Equipment; Tractors and Trailers; All Mowers (Ride-on and Pedestrian)
Machinery Courses on ATVs; Tractors: Brushcutters/Strimmers; Mowers (ride-on and Pedestrian)
Pesticide Application (PA courses)
Stem Injection of Invasive Species (Japanese Knotweed etc.)
Basic Trees Survey and Inspection
More details about all the courses can be found here, or you can email Chris Johnson for information.
Clean down and carry out service of machinery after use.
Keep you garage and storage areas clean and tidy.
Inspect flat sheets, covers and other cricket equipment, checking for wear and tear and that they are fit for purpose.
Do not neglect your grass practice nets as they will also be in need of some remedial work. Try and rotate your netting bays so some recovery can take place to run ups and batting creases. Use they same process as with your foot holes, albeit may be on a larger scale.
If you use a white line for your boundary, make sure it is clearly visible for match days.