Expected weather for this month:

Another mixed and unsettled month, with average temperatures and rainfall

With two thirds of the season now over, the square will be looking a bit worst for wear as used pitches take time to recover.

After the wettest June on record, squares will be prone to drying out too quickly as July’s heat wave makes an impact in soil condition. Whilst soil and air temperatures remain average, your square may well have dried out. Surface cracking will be the biggest problem so keep watering and don’t let the plant suffer as once it wilts it will not recover. Keep your irrigation programme running as heavy rain tends to run off the square and does not penetrate into the soil. It is surprising how quickly clay soils can dry out, usually within a few days of fine weather. You may find yourself having to irrigate your pitches to control moisture contents; care should be taken to control the drying out of wickets

August is often one of the busiest months of the year, as schools, colleges and universities close for their summer holidays and renovations start to take shape. Be sure to have any machinery that needs to be hired, booked in and your orders for seed, dressings and fertilisers are placed ready for delivery

Taking a core sample and having it analysed will give you the ideal information to make those much needed improvements to your square, as "end of season" renovation programmes get underway.

Diary Compiled by Robert Stretton 
Massey Ferguson Sports Club 
Coventry

Key Tasks for August

Key Tasks

As you move through the month, regular mowing and scarifying of the square will need to be continued whilst preparing pitches. Make sure your machinery is up to the task with regular service.

After care of the wicket, with repairs and renovation to used pitches should still be undertaken even with the season's end just around the corner. Player safety is paramount. Pay particular attention to your foot holes as they may require more intense work.

Do not neglect your outfield either, as this the largest area of maintenance, it still needs to be carefully managed.

Fertiliser treatment and turf tonics can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. Outfields are often prone to drying and becoming parched, to almost wilting point; allowing surfaces to remain too dry can lead to problems of dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil and thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality. The uses of wetting agents (outfields only) have now become an integral part of the maintenance regime with applications on a monthly basis throughout the summer.

As schools and colleges close down for the summer term, many groundsmen will already be undertaking wicket renovations, making good use of the weather conditions in August, to help establish some good grass growth whilst soil and air temperatures remain consistent.

Whilst on the subject of end of season renovations, most clubs will not be starting their renovation programme for another month or more. Use this time to plan and order your consumables. You do not want to find yourself left short or without loam or grass seed come the time you are due to begin your autumn renovation work. Ensure any hired equipment is readily available and secured for use.

The amount of seed and topdressings required will depend on the condition and size of your square. In recent years we have seen an increase in the amount of seed being used for reseeding. Groundsmen are now sowing at rates of 50 grams per square metre, thus increasing the amount of grass cover going into the winter period.

Many Groundsmen are reducing the amount of loam being applied to their squares also, generally now between 7- 10 bags per strip. This prevents the build up of saddles at the ends and prevents the smothering of existing grass cover on the square.

General Maintenance

Mowing of the square and outfield should be undertaken on a regular basis to control growth and thicken up the sward. The square should be maintained between 6mm and 14mm, and the outfield between 12mm and 25mm. Continue to verticut, training the grass to grow vertically. If you don't have a verticut option, then use a drag brush to help stand the grass up prior to mowing. If using verticutting units, be very careful not to mark/scar the soil surface, as these scars will be hard to remove as the square dries out. 

Portable or roll–on covers are very useful in protecting surfaces during hot dry and inclement weather. Covers are used to control the soil moisture content of cricket wickets, especially when preparing for play. 

Use heavy ballast rollers to help prepare the wickets for matches, making sure it is done under the correct surface conditions, when the soil is moist but not too wet. Carrying out a Proctor soil test will help determine the correct timing of rolling. A simpler method is to stick 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. Rolling should start and finish in line with the direction of play. Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil be in a state of plasticity or "plastercine". Consolidation will still be your aim throughout the season. The pitch is required to be consolidated throughout to a depth of no less than 100mm. 

Proctor testing is used to evaluate the compaction characteristics of the soil. This test determines the maximum density the soil can be compacted to, and at what moisture content the soil is most prone to compaction. Proctor testing is useful in determining how compacted a soil is in the field. 

Take care when applying fertiliser, there needs to be sufficient soil moisture present to activate these products. 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. 

Applying fertiliser when ground conditions are dry and arid is not viable, as the plant cannot make use of the nutrients. Dry soils do not allow effective transport of nutrients into the grass plant. Irrigate your square well to enable efficient transfer of nutrients to the plant. Care should be taken when fertilising the square; initiating green lush growth on a wicket you are about to prepare is the last thing you want to achieve, as it will have an affect on the performance of the pitch.

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.
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 @ 8mm, light roll to consolidate surface levels.    
DAY 3    Scarify or Verti cut to remove lateral growth and surface thatch avoiding deep surface disturbance. Mow @ 7mm. continue medium light rolling 1000kg 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 @ 6mm, increase weight of roller to 1500- 1700kg 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 overnight.
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

After Care of the Wicket

This is the time of the season when most groundsmen will have had a month or more of cricket on their squares. The after care of the pitch is just as important as the preparation. Renovation and repairs should be carried out as soon as possible following the conclusion of a game.

Treatment must be carried out as soon as possible after the game. As soon as the match has finished, sweep and remove as much debris as possible, such as studs, from the surface so as not to damage your machinery. Mow the whole of the pitch at final cut height, and 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.

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. In order that the seed has a better chance of germinating, it is important that the seed is well worked in or brushed into the holes created by the sarrel roller to enable seed to soil contact.

The next important step is to carry out repairs to the batsmen and bowlers' foot marks. 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, it should have sufficient moisture to carry out your repairs; if not, dampen whilst 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. Hammering the edges to where the damage ceases is important, as it will create an edge for the new soil to be rammed against when 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 then 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.

Outfields

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 Verti cutting, 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.

Ideally maintain a cutting height of between 10-14mm, however, 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 to short. Fescues and smooth stalked meadow grasses are quite tolerant to close mowing and are less likely to be stressed out. 

August is a good time for another organic fertiliser application; with a two month longevity, an application in August will take you through to October, which is the perfect time for an autumn winter feed. Maxwell Turf Food Myco2 4-6-12+4%MgO provides a nice kick of phosphorous, potassium and magnesium for plant resilience and colour but without too much nitrogen so as not to encourage excessive soft lush growth. The mycorrhizal fungi combined with the phosphorus content means it is also especially good as a fertiliser when sowing seed.

Renovated cricket squares will really benefit from an application of the fantastic new Lebanon Proscape 16-25-12 pre-seed fertiliser which is producing fantastic results when maximising the establishment of newly sown areas.

The risk of severe drought stress has largely passed and August tends to produce substantial rain fall. Moisture combined with warmth and humidity is going to place stress on the plant from a number of directions. Aeration is vital to keep the soil oxygen ratio balanced, 8mm needle or 12mm standard tines down to a depth of 200-300mm with a vertical aerator will be particularly beneficial in allowing the soil to breath. Combining this with a weekly pass from a Sarel or Star Tine aerator will provide a large volume of aeration into the sward and thatch layer to provide a rounded approach to aeration.

Continued use of polymer and penetrant wetting agents will also help to manage soil water percolation and retention more effectively by moving rain fall away from the surface but holding it further down in the profile where it will be readily available during any hotter and sunny spells.

Disease pressure has been unseasonably high throughout July and this is likely to continue into August. With both microdochium patch and anthracnose forecast to be problematic. Heritage Maxx fungicide is a strong contender for use as a preventative and early curative with its systemic action making it an sensible option during the growing season and especially as a preventative prior to turf renovations. Red thread will also thrive in humid conditions and reducing total time of continual leaf blade wetness through switching and brushing is the first line of defence when aiming to minimise disease activity.

Seaweed is a fantastic way of boosting soil flora, priming the pant to resist environmental stress and extending the longevity of fertilisers. However, it is a fantastic fungal food and stimulator so applications need to be timed carefully to boost good fungi and not pathogenic ones. Keeping a close eye on weather trends combined with fungicide treatments is important, or put simply; do not apply it when fungal disease is active, apply it about a week after a fungicide application, ideally with some Chelated Iron to strengthen plant cell walls.

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: - Worms 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. 

Keep machines overhauled and clean. Keep an eye on your material stocks (seed, topdressing, petrol, oil), remembering to replenish as required.

Ensure you look after your equipment and store safe and secure, it is a good idea to get into a habit of washing down and and cleaning after use.

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.

Our next one day course:

CASTLE DYKE PLAYING FIELDS, Sheffield - Monday 5 September

We also have a more detailed two day course being held:

GUILDFORD, Surrey - Tuesday 13/Wednesday 14 September

Further details of the course can be found on the Grounds Training website.

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.

In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.

•    Keep your workshops and storage areas clean and tidy.
•    Inspect flat sheets, covers and other cricket equipment whilst checking for wear and tear and that they are fit for purpose.
•    Check delivery schedules for end of season renovation programmes.