Expected weather for this month:

Unsettled across all areas

The jet stream that has dragged cooler air from the North during June, bringing bands of heavy rain and prolonged showers, is still evident as we move into July. Red Thread has been a major problem throughout June, causing groundsmen a lot of headaches so it will be a case of spraying it out or Verti cutting and mowing. July, all being well, should provide some favourable soil and air temperatures to finally promote some decent grass growth and, more importantly, give you the drying weather to help prepare firmer wickets. Any hot, dry and windy weather may dry out cricket tables quicker than expected; some may show signs of cracking caused by the shrinking of the clay soils. The extent of cracking will be down to the type of clay soil/clay 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 coverage and keeping the soils in a moist condition will help prevent the extent of cracking.

Diary Compiled by Robert Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sports Club
Coventry

Key Tasks for July

Maintenance Regimes

Uniform 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.

Regular mowing of the square will need to be continued whilst preparing pitches. Make sure your machinery is up to the task with regular services.

As the month progresses, repairs and renovation to used pitches should be undertaken.

Pay particular attention to your foot holes as they may require more intense work. Do not neglect your outfield either, as this is the largest area of maintenance it still needs to be carefully managed

IRRIGATION - Water is essential for the repairing and preparing of wickets. Together, with the use of ground sheets and covers, water 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, and so 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 up, 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 soil 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 others are simply plastic sheets. The decision when and how long to use them is often down to experience, there is no hard or fast rules. However, leaving flat sheets down too long can cause a deterioration of the sward; it can turn it yellow in 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 increasing, so grass growth this month is likely to be prolific, especially 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.

FERTILISING - 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.

In July, you would be looking to use a 12:0:9 for your square and a 9:7:7 for the outfield, or 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.

MOWING - With regard to mowing equipment, be sure to keep them clean and serviced. You cannot 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.

 

Outfield

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 verti-cutting, aerating and feeding programmes to maintain a healthy sward. 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 tining and, if possible, an application of sand dressings to the profile will definitely improve soil water movement in the top 100mm, ideally whilst maintaining a cutting height of between 10-14 mm. 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 overseeded 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. The damp outfields may have been easily damaged by both the fielders and bowlers who have had to play in wet conditions.

Bowlers run ups in particularly are bad, with strong depressions being made during games. These will be a need to be lifted, in filled to restore levels and overseed.

Pitch Preparation

The 10 -12 day prep shown below is only a guide; most groundsmen will have their own interpretation of these activities

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.
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. Reduce HOC & mow @ 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 minutes 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 HOC mow (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

Pitch Renovation

July is the time when most groundsmen will be well into the half way stage of the season. 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 after the 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. 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 or brushed into the holes created by the sarrel roller.

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, 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. Hammering the edges to where the damages 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. 

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.

Recently, we have seen incidences of turf diseases such as Microdochium nivale (fusarium) on greens. Fairy Rings are in evidence and Red Thread has swept spectacularly through a lot of outfield turf. With such a peak in disease activity in mid-summer we are expecting continued problems over the next few months; therefore acting preventatively by applying a systemic fungicide such as Heritage Maxx will be the most effective form of control. Application before symptoms are visible but the threat is imminent is the key to success when adopting a preventative approach.

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. 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. 

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 can cause a lot of damage to the surface. 

Please note: More information on these and many others can be found here: www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php

Clean down and carry out service of machinery after use.

Keep you garage and storage areas clean and tidy.

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 course;

CASTLE DYKE PLAYING FIELDS, Sheffield - Monday 5 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.

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.