Expected weather for this month:

Temperatures getting into the mid teens, accompanied by plenty of rain

With all things being equal, Mother Nature should be dealing us some much needed respite from a winter of discontent. She certainly threw everything at us as we moved out of winter and, with spring just around the corner, we are hoping the worst of the weather is now behind us. With the increased daylight hours, milder weather and warmer temperatures, this should stimulate some much needed grass growth. We can now look towards to getting on with some serious business of preparing the cricket square and outfield for the forthcoming season.

Diary compiled by Robert Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sports Club
Coventry

Key Tasks for March

Key Tasks

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, such as Fusarium and Red Thread, can be active at this time of the year. Keep an eye out for disease and worms, spray accordingly. Have your soil tested and fertilise the square with low nitrogen, higher potassium feed to harden the sward; NPK 6:5:10 +6% Fe would be suitable in most cases

Check all machinery has been serviced and sharpened ready for use. Give the square a light verti-cut and mow at 15-18mm to encourage sward density. As soon as possible, the square must be "squared off". Carry out renovation to bare areas such as ends and foot holes.

Start pre- season rolling if not already done so.

Outfields will also need some attention, with a light harrow, mowing at 25mm and aerating. Check sight screens and covers are in good condition. Keep records of work carried out, such as core samples, mowing and rolling.

Re-commission your irrigation systems and check you have not had any frost damage.

The Square

As soon as possible (for all you early birds), the square must be "squared off". By using semi-permanent markings, this operation can be made very simple using the 3, 4, 5 system to produce your right angles. Fixed plastic points pushed into the ground on the four corners are valuable in marking the correct position of the square. These are sunk slightly below the surface to ensure no damage to machinery is incurred. As an addition, a fixed point for the stump line and return crease is also extremely useful. This can provide accurate measurement from stump to stump (22yds). It is advisable to spend time getting your square absolutely correct; it will save time in the future.

Continue brushing on a daily basis to remove moisture from the grass surface; this will allow for a much better standard of cut. Light scarification or verticutting can be carried out at fortnightly intervals pre-season. Removing horizontal and stoloniferous growing grasses and surface organic matter is always beneficial for the onset of pitch preparation; together with brushing, this will improve your quality of cut.

The mowing height should be lowered to around 15-18mm by the end of the month. Remember not to remove more than 2/3 of total grass height in each cut. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this vital time the better the results further on into the season.

Seeding of the ends with a perennial rye grass, where the grass is weak, sparse or bare can be undertaken as the rise in temperature along with sheets will help germination. Remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact, the operation is useless. The use of perennial rye grass is ideal for this. With its fineness of leaf, it combines superb close mowing with excellent wear tolerances and high quality aesthetics, is shade tolerant, fast establishing and produces very little thatch.

Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. Ideally, get your soil sampled for nutrients, organic matter content and soil pH. This information will help decide on the appropriate course of action with regard to applying the correct NPK balance for your site. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, then get your soil tested soon. To help kick start the grass into growing, you can begin to apply some low Nitrogen based fertilisers.

Pre season rolling

It is important now to start you pre season rolling programme. Firstly, you need to ensure you can get the roller on to the square without doing any damage to the outfield. The square needs to be in a condition whereby the surface is dry but, when you press down with your thumb, some moisture is felt on the skin. This is a good indicator of when you can start your rolling. Gradually build up the rolling weight as described in February’s Diary:

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. 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. Gradually build up the rolling weight by moving onto the next size of cylinder mower and adding weights to the grass box as required.  Allow time for the soils to dry before proceeding with the next roll. This gradual build up may be over a few weeks until, at the back end of the month, the roller (serviced and raring to go) should be coming out of the shed to get consolidation right for the start of the season. Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil be in a state of plasticity, or "plastercine" like. Consolidation is your main aim and the quality of pre-season rolling will show when you produce your early season pitches.

Pitches, where proper construction and gradual build up has taken place, are required to be consolidated throughout to a depth of no less than 100mm. This can only be achieved with gradual build up of roller weight, a constant speed over the whole square and measuring of soil density.  The maximum achievement for soil density is the function of its clay content. As the clay content increases, the soil density increases with compaction. Higher clay content pitches of 28- 35% require more intense working regimes.

Outfields

Outfields areas may be looking forlorn and in need of some attention, many may not have been cut during the winter months. Try and get on and give it a uniform cut, followed by some aeration and feed. 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, the introduction of sand dressings 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.

Check the outfield for damage before carrying out any maintenance. Repair any surface damage caused by vehicle wheel tracks, pests or vandals. Rabbit damage can be quite severe once they become active looking for food. Rabbit scrapes and holes must be repaired and overseeded. By the end of the month, the height of cut for the outfield should be reduced to around 20-25mm. A light harrowing/raking helps restore levels and keep surfaces open. Some cricket outfields are often maintained as winter pitches, so the amount of work required to be carried out may be determined by whether it is being used for other sports (football/rugby). If not, then aerate to improve surface drainage by form of deep slitting, solid tine by verti-draining or hollow coring. The cores when dragbrushed in create a top dressing for surface levels. Overseed bare areas, where budgets allow, and apply balanced fertilisers such as a 9-7-7 as part of your annual maintenance programme to help stimulate growth and recovery.

If you have access to a core sampler, take a core between the edges of 2 pitches on a length. The profile should show good root development, white and about 100mm long, a consistent layer of soils compatible with each other, thatch-free and no root break. Do this on various areas of the square; make notes so to be able to monitor pitch performances throughout the course of the season. This will help form part of your renovation programme for the end of season and take out some of the guess work.

Disease Control

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) (image right), 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 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.

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.

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

All machinery should now have been returned from any servicing in time for use. Ongoing inspection and cleaning of machinery after use is vital. Breakdowns cost money, as well as inconveniencing pitch preparations.

The workshop should be kept in a good order; good housekeeping is important, a tidy workshop reflects a tidy worker.

Keep a good supply of materials, such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance. Materials for spring remedial works should be booked to avoid disappointment or delay.

With full time personnel, or volunteers, this is the ideal time to complete staff appraisals. Training should be ongoing, both internally and out on the grounds, with all records brought up to date. Appraisals need to be conducted to ensure that they are still carrying out all the necessary H&S procedures and to measure improvements in the work place. 

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 23 March 2016,  March Town Cricket Club, Cambridgeshire - 1 day course

Wednesday 23 March 2016, Allscott Cricket Club, Shropshire - 1 day course

Monday 11 April 2016, Thames Ditton CC, Surrey - 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 - are they ready for action, no repairs needed, all in good order? Remember, covers are used a lot in our climate for protecting the playing surface from rain and sun under preparation for play. 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.