Expected weather for this month:

A cold and showery start to February is expected, followed by rain and strong winds

With storm after storm passing through the British Isles, many groundsmen will be frustrated at not being able to get to their square to carry out any type of maintenance. But hopefully February will bring some respite and see the beginning of a number of activities; brushing, verti-cutting, mowing, light rolling and fertilising in order to prepare the sward/grass surfaces for the forth-coming playing season. After a harsh winter of snow, rain and frosts, the key to these activities is timing as each operation is weather dependent. Disease may also be prevalent during milder conditions, so regular inspection of the square is important.

Many sports facilities in the north of England, north Wales, the Borders and Scotland will have been affected by flooding. Stay off your ground if it is waterlogged. If you are one of those affected, then flood advice can be found here - https://www.pitchcare.com/magazine/flood-advice.html

Diary compiled by Robert Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sports Club
Coventry

Key Tasks for February

General maintenance

Regular brushing should be carried out to lift the sward, keeping it upright to help dry the plant and reduce disease. 

Where ground conditions and temperatures are suitable, mowing the square to remove its winter growth is one of the first tasks. 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. A rotary mower, set at 25-30mm, would be best suited for this purpose, as clippings will be removed at the same time.
 
Sarrel roll your square after the first cut, as this 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 plant and, at the same time, contribute to control any moss that may have accumulated in the sward during the winter months. 

As the month progresses, start reducing the mowing height on the square to around 15-20mm, subject to local weather conditions. A light verti-cut will remove any lateral growth caused by the snow or wet weather and clean out the surface. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this time is vital for better results going into the new season.

Keep an eye out for disease and worms, and spray accordingly.

Do not neglect your outfield: Outfields should be harrowed, aerated and a programme of solid or slit tining to a depth of 150-200mm will assist water movement and oxygenate the soil (vary the depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan). Soil samples can still be taken, with findings used as part of your fertiliser programme. Keep on top of any grass growth; mow at 30mm in accordance to its usage; if left too long, it then becomes a struggle to mow.

 

Rolling

Keeping one eye on the weather; you may want to begin your square rolling programme early, but only if your season starts early April; any other rolling should be delayed till March. Start 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 reduce 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 guidelines); this can only be achieved with a gradual build-up of roller weight.

Ideally, get your soils sampled for nutrients, organic matter content and pH. A pH of 6.5 is the optimum for a cricket square. Anything higher or lower would be too alkaline or acidic and have an impact on grass growth, recovery and pest invasion. This information will help decide on the appropriate course of action with regard to applying the correct NPK balance for your site.

To help kick start the grass into growing, you can begin to apply some low nitrogen based fertilisers. 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. Fertiliser treatment and turf tonics can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. Only apply what your soil requires.

Disease can still occur in February, especially Fusarium, Anthracnose and Red Thread, during spells of mild weather. It is important to keep the sward brushed, the use of switching canes and brushes can be used to remove heavy dew deposits, particularly in the mornings. Knocking off the dew helps remove surface water from the plant, allowing it to dry out and prevent it from being vulnerable to an outbreak of disease.

Worm activity can be quite prevalent through 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 may 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 are 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, having gained PA1/ PA6 certificates for hand held spraying or PA2 certificate for tractor or vehicle spraying.

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

Outfields: - 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 brushing with a tractor mounted boom brush, following heavy dew will help prevent any attack of disease.

Please note: More information on diseases and their treatment can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php

Still some time left in February to send any machinery away for repairs or servicing. Keeping your cylinder mowers sharpened and serviced is vital to good groundsmanship; there is nothing worse than a mower that keeps breaking down, not starting or one that cuts poorly. 

Stock a good supply of materials such as loam and seed 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.

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 spring courses are now available. Up to date information can be found on our Groundsman Training website.

Our next planned courses are:

Wednesday 26 March 2016,  March Town Cricket Club, Cambridgeshire - 1 day course

Wednesday 30/Thursday 31 March 2016,  Guildford CC, Surrey - 2 day course

More information

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.

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 and 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.

Artificial Pitches: Keep all surfaces clean and safe, by regular sweeping and brushing to remove any algae and moss from surface. Ensure damaged batting and bowling areas are repaired. Ripped or loose material could cause injury to players and end users. 

Net Facilities: Replace or repair damaged structures and netting, order new if required. Strim and mow around structures.