December’s exceptionally mild conditions and far above average rainfall closes the window on autumn. January’s weather can be fairly unpredictable though, as winter takes hold with snow, rain and freezing temperatures which are not always conducive to your planned winter maintenance regimes. With the recent floods, many grounds may well still be under water or waterlogged.
At this time of year, clay soils can become de-structured especially after a lot of heavy rain. Whilst in this state, the square is prone to damage from foot and mechanical activities. It is usually best to stay off the square and refrain from doing any work until it has drained and the surface has dried.
Key Tasks for January
On your return from your Christmas break, you are likely to find you may have accumulated some surface debris on the square (other than water! Leaves, litter etc). It is important to remove them as the sward will not be able to survive and will be subject to lack of light and could die. Many clubs often erect temporary fences around their squares to protect them. It is important to ensure the fence remains in a safe and effective condition.
If you are not able to work on the square, you could spend some time on the outfield (weather permitting). Regular brushing will help remove dew as well as lifting the sward after a bout of snow. Aeration is a key activity that can be carried out too, along with some localised drainage/repair works to rectify any problem areas such as depressions you have identified. January is also a good time to carry out repairs and maintenance to resources such as sightscreens and other structures around the ground. You may get some favourable weather for painting and repairing these structures.
BRUSHING: 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 during mild periods.
MOWING: Do not neglect your square, it may be necessary to mow during the winter. Allowing the grasses to grow toO long will encourage a weak leggy sward. Mowing frequencies during the winter months are dependEnt on the need and condition of the facility. It is important to maintain a constant height of cut on both the square and outfield. The outfield should now be maintained at between 25-35mm. The square should be maintained between 12-20mm using a rotary pedestrian mower, as a cylinder could tear or rip out fragile growth.
Remember; the outfield too has a major effect on a game if unattended. The outfield should be treated through the winter the same as any other natural grass surface - Aeration, Fertilising and mowing should not be neglected.
AERATION: The use of a sarrel roller to keep the surface free draining will also be beneficial to the square. Some Groundsmen may still want to carry out some deeper aeration work on the square; however, this policy is effective only where shallow rooting is a main concern and where pre-season rolling is not introduced until late March or early April. As a rule of thumb, many do not aerate after JANUARY. The outfield can be aerated though, using solid or slit tines when conditions allow.
The square will be sodden, if not saturated, with the grass roots desperate for some air. When it dries out sufficiently, try and do some aerating, some sarrel rolling or selected forking; the holes will close up nicely and you'll be surprised at how much difference it makes to the plant's recovery.
Temperatures are also unusually high, so a slow release low nitrogen feed will be in order to nourish a very hungry sward. Also, to harden the plan, an iron (ferrous sulphate) feed won't go amiss.
With the outfield, particularly if it is in use as a football or rugby pitch, some tining or slitting will be in order once the surface is dry enough; plus a slow release feed and some iron.
Fertiliser treatment and turf tonics 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. Only apply what your soil requires. However, 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.
Diseases can still occur in January, especially during spells of mild weather. It is important to keep the sward brushed, particularly in the mornings. Knocking off the dew helps remove surface water from the sward, allowing it to dry out and preventing disease attacks. Switching canes and brushes can be used to remove these dew deposits.
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.
Worm activity can be quite prevalent during the winter months, especially during periods of mild 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 need to be assessed. Carbendazim is now the only active ingredient available for controlling worms.
With pests such as rabbits, foxes and moles it a case of identifying the problem and controlling their activities; employing approved pest control services to eradicate them from site may be a solution.
The combination of early morning dews, warm and wet weather and diminishing daylight hours increases the risk of fungal disease outbreaks. The right conditions to trigger these disease attacks are weakened or susceptible plants, a disease-producing organism (pathogen usually fungi) and weather conditions which favour the formation of fruiting bodies and spores (moist, mild wet conditions).
The typical types of diseases you may come across this time of year are:
- Fusarium Patch
- Red Thread
- Dollar Spot
Please note: More information on these and many others can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php
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 in the process of being planned. Up to date information can be found on our Groundsman Training website.
Our next planned course is:
Wednesday 26 March 2016, March Town Cricket Club, Cambridgeshire
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.
ARTIFICIAL PITCHES: 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.
NET FACILITIES: Repair damaged structures and netting, order new if required. Strim and mow around structures.
STRUCTURES: Check and repair fences, scoreboards, covers and sightscreens. All removable structures should have been stored away for the winter. With very little activity seen on the ground during January, winter work can be dedicated to repairing and painting sightscreens, fences, and practice net structures.
DRAINAGE: 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.
MATERIALS: Keep an adequate supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance.
PLANNING: Winter months enables you to evaluate how well your maintenance regimes have gone, which in turn will help you plan the work for next season. You may need to seek quotations for machinery and materials. Be prepared for next season. Failure to prepare – prepare to fail. It is important to keep records and diaries of the activities carried out, and how well the facility and each pitch have performed. The advent of the digital camera is a great tool for recording information. January is an ideal time to contact sales reps to find out what products are available for spring renovations; do not leave it late to order materials.