Expected weather for this month:

Unsettled start with plenty of rain about and temperatures around average

We've had a challenging month with a heatwave followed by heavy rain; one week, we had the sprinklers going flat out, the next week we were covering the wicket to stop it from getting too wet! Who'd be a cricket groundsman?

From following the Pitchcare Forum, I can see that many others have had similar dilemmas, with one groundsman asking how to get more pace and bounce in a wicket (the million dollar question), with another asking advice about covering a wet wicket. Fortunately, we have many experienced and knowledgeable members who were able to offer help.

Pitchcare Forum - Cricket

Key Tasks for July

General Maintenance

Notwithstanding the amount of rain we are currently experiencing, 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

As the climate lurches from blazing sunshine, intense heat and high evapotranspiration to low light levels, high humidity and potential waterlogging, so the plant is exposed to abiotic (environmental) stress one week and biotic (organism) induced stress the next.

Accordingly, a turf surface may enter wilt and dormancy one week or it may come under attack from fungal diseases the next. The key thing to understand is this; as the extremes are more intense and unpredictable, the buffer zone of tolerance before the onset of plant, and ergo surface damage, comes under increasing pressure. Turf surfaces which do not conform to good agronomic standards and are not being maintained with sound agronomic principles will have a very narrow buffer zone of tolerance, and will be toppled over the edge into damage far quicker than those which are.

So, theory aside, what practical steps can turf managers take through throughout July to help mitigate against stress damage?

  1. Use weather windows wisely

Time waits for no man and the British weather is no exception. Make sure you have stocks of feed and treatment on the shelf; in this way, you can make applications at the very best time to maximise positive effect on the plant and soil ecosystem, thus maximising turf quality and value for money.

  1. Monitor climactic patterns and gain an awareness of triggers

5-7 day forecast is hot and sunny – foliar apply seaweed to trigger plant systemic-acquired resistance mechanisms, tank mix with a little potassium to better regulate stomatal function and thus water loss, add a little calcium to compensate for its lack of mobility in dry conditions by shortcutting it straight into the plant where it can be utilised for the growth of cells.

5-7 day forecast is warm and humid – foliar apply some seaweed and a carbon sugar, again to trigger plant systemic-acquired resistance but also to boost plant beneficial rhizobacteria in the soil, add some phosphite and calcium to guard against fungal pathogen penetration of the leaf.

The key factor for determining success with these strategies is three fold: Monitor the upcoming climate > Understand what the prevailing climate will trigger > Understand the mechanisms by which products have an effect on the plant and in the soil.

The number one rule which applies to both - undertake these operations proactively prior to the stress, aim to prevent not cure.

  1. Look after the physics

Coming into or out of a wet period – soft ground means opportunity for deeper vertical aeration which will allow the soil to breathe assisting soil microorganisms and encourage deeper vertical rooting, increasing the plant’s tolerance to dry periods.

Coming into or experiencing a hot period – undertake sarel or star tine aeration to break through a high percentage of the soil surface, increase the ability of irrigation or water to penetrate, thus increasing the surface’s tolerance to dry periods.

General agronomic jobs for July

  • Maintain wetting agent programmes.
  • Maintain plant growth inhibitor programmes.
  • As a rule of thumb, apply granular feeds when rain is prevalent and look more toward foliar or liquids when experiencing dry spells.
  • Don’t apply herbicides when experiencing hot weather, as the plant will have shut down its systems, massively reducing uptake, transportation and thus efficacy.
  • Continue to monitor the life cycle of insect pathogens such as leatherjacket and chafer beetles in readiness to apply entomopathogenic nematodes, as per the seasonal application periods.
  • Monitor for anthracnose activity -  the spores will have been activated by high temperatures at the end of the May and again the end of June, incubation takes around 6 weeks. Chemical treatments are an option, as are weekly small doses of nitrogen.

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). 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.  

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.

We are pleased to announce the launch of our new Grounds Training website, together with our new suite of online courses.

Two cricket courses are now available online:

Spring & Summer Cricket Pitch Maintenance Course

Autumn & Winter Cricket Pitch Maintenance Course

Both courses are Lantra accredited. Now you can learn about how to maintain a cricket pitch in the comfort of your own home and in your own time. The online courses consist of a number of videos with assessment questions, and an accompanying hard copy Course Manual. The courses provide you with all the basic knowledge required to maintain a cricket pitch over the period stated. There is also the option of attending a one day practical course.

Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of a Cricket Pitch.

More information

Our next Autumn & Winter course will be held:

Monday 21st August at Basingstoke, RG21 3DR

More information

Delegates attending the course and using the accompanying manual 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 Manual are working diaries showing the range of tasks needed to be accomplished each month.

The Course Manual is available for purchase separately.

We can also arrange Lantra accredited training 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. 

Useful Articles and Forum Topics:

Bounce

Ants nests/piles on square

Covering a wet wicket