Expected weather for this month:

Generally settled conditions, so expect a good deal of dry and bright weather

Very few April showers and, though we had those downpours in the middle of May, the lack of regular rainfall has been putting the grass plant under stress. Fortunately, I was able to get the sprinklers on the square to finish off the pre season rolling and then to help with the pitch preparations. However, I am aware that not all clubs are so fortunate and some have had to manage with rolling in the dew and raising the height of cut. Some areas are already talking about possible water shortages, and we are only just entering the hotter months of our year! There's an interesting thread on the Pitchcare Forum about this subject.

This month, the focus will be on pitch preparations and repairing any damage (mainly caused by bowlers' footholes and 'deep digging' batters), so make sure you have the necessary materials to do this work when the occasion and opportunity arises.

Diary compiled by Robert Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sports Club

Key Tasks for June

General Maintenance

Pitch preparations, mowing and marking will be in full swing. Following the 10-12 day guidelines, try to produce a consistent wicket with fast medium pace. Be sure to get your lines accurate and straight. When you get the opportunity, give the square a good irrigation of the square.

Make sure you follow any feedback from your soil analysis if applying liquid or granular fertilisers. As you move through the month, regular mowing of the square at 10-12mm will need to be continued whilst preparing pitches. The outfield should be boxed off or gang mowed at 15-18mm, avoiding scalping. Repairs and renovation to used pitches should be carried out as soon as they come out of use, paying particular attention to your foot holes as they may require more intensive work.

Fertilising of the square can be undertaken, if not already done so, remembering that granular feeds to be well watered in.

Do not neglect your outfield, as this the largest area of maintenance. It still needs to be carefully managed.

Irrigation is a key management tool, so it will be a case of watering little and often when you can, preferably at night so the water can reach the root system. Evapotranspiration rates should begin to rise in the coming month, initiating the need to begin regular syringing of the square. The combined water loss from both the plant and soil surfaces will be rising due to the warmer weather. Watering will be essential for wicket repairs and preparation. Irrigate uniformly and ensure the right amount is applied. Watering in high, daytime temperatures will be less effective and could encourage shallow rooting as the water fails to get deep enough to stimulate the plant roots. 

Cricket clubs without a supply of water are often left in the lap of the gods. The use of covers or groundsheets is one way to help protect pitches and retain moisture, providing they are not left on too long. Facilities that do not have or use pitch covers will also be more vulnerable to the changing climates and environment. Put an action plan together to get the best out of the weather conditions after a good shower or prolonged rainfall.

It is important to ensure that the water gets down deep into the rootzone to encourage deep rooting. Check with a probe. Allowing surfaces to remain dry for a period of time can lead to problems of dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil and thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.

The use of covers (flat or raised) will be invaluable during the preparation of match wickets; take care when removing to ensure any surface water is prevented from running on to the protected pitch.

Keeping some additional grass cover will help retain some soil moisture, thus slowing down the soils capacity for drying out. You may want to consider raising the height of cut on the square by 1-2 mm to maintain some additional grass cover.

Any period of rain will have stimulated the Poa grass species in the square, thus increasing thatch and procumbent growth; regular verti-cutting will alleviate any thatch build up and stand up the sward prior to mowing.

With the drier weather now expected, the bounce and pace of the wickets should start improving. More and more Groundsmen are now taking the opportunity to measure and monitor the performance of their pitches. Having a better understanding of the condition of your square is paramount in deciding on what level of maintenance inputs are required.

The ECB have an excellent guideline booklet, TS4, which provides a wealth of information on construction, preparation and maintenance of cricket pitches.

Taking a number of soil samples on a regular basis helps monitor the condition of your soil profile, enabling you to see for yourself any problems that may be occurring, such as root breaks, poor root growth, soil layering and depth of thatch; all of which can be rectified by appropriate actions. With the advent of digital cameras, we now have an excellent tool for recording what we see.

Keeping records is essential; the ECB booklet also promotes the use of Performance Quality Standards (PQS) as part of your management strategy; there are three categories of measurement that relate to the overall quality of a facility:

* The Physical Structure (the profile make up)

* The Presentational Quality (the visual impact)

* The Playing Quality (the performance ratings)

Wicket Preparations

Pitch preparation should start 10-12 days prior to the match. Following the guidelines below will help you achieve a good standard of pitch. Most groundsmen will have there own interpretation of these activities. 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 minute’s 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

After Match Care

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 to 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.

If required, 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 pitch's. 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 foothole 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 foothole. 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.

Monitoring the performance of your playing surfaces is a key skill that should be adopted by all Groundsman/Greenkeepers. With the aid of modern technologies, tools and a camera you can now monitor the performance and the condition of your sward in many ways. It is important to survey and measure the performance of your facilities, with modern technologies we can now measure all manner of aspects of the pitch or artificial surface to ensure it meets any stated guidelines by the sports governing body. These can include measuring sward height, composition of grass species, soil temperature, weed content, levels over a 3m level, hardness and infiltration rates (porosity) of the soil rootzone.

We have also seen the development of GPS mapping devices that can measure chlorophyll, moisture content and deviation in levels. Soil tests will also help determine soil type, nutrient status of the soil, organic matter content, CEC capacity and soil pH. Keeping a record of these parameters will help you have a better understanding of what is going on within your playing surface and enable you to make better decisions on what maintenance inputs you will need to undertake to maintain surface playability.

Proactive, timely applications of biostimulants such as seaweed, humates and carbon sugars in combination with key essential plant nutritional elements, such as potassium, calcium, phosphite and silicon prior to periods of environmental (abiotic) and pathogen (biotic) stresses, will help to directly prime natural defences in the plant and prime plant defence beneficial microorganisms. Nature is the perfect system, respecting it, understanding it and then using it to our advantage is always wise.

Where areas have been seeded then little and often applications of foliar applied nitrogen combined with liquid humates, seaweed and sugar (carbon) will foster multiple metabolic functions enhancing establishment. Foliar phosphite should also be considered into the routine due to its powerful root stimulating effect.

Moisture management could also potentially be a key feature of the month. Now is the time to get ahead of dry patch with a wetting agent – prevention by applying them whilst the soil is still moist is much better than cure on baked hard massively hydrophobic soils. Many groundsmen have invested in weather stations to inform of potential evapotranspiration rates within their sward. Remember not to let the soil dry out too much, but keep irrigation practices as natural as possible. Soaking the playing surface every few days is better than religiously watering at set schedules. Moisture meters are available to help you have a greater understanding of the situation beneath your playing surfaces.

One thing to remember with spring disease, when compared to autumnal disease, is the ability for more effective recovery. The grass plant will be actively growing; if this rate of growth exceeds the advancement rate of the pathogen, the damage is likely to be confined only to the leaf rather than moving into the crown, which leads to plant death. Whilst damage to leaves may cause superficial aesthetic damage, the risk of long term scarring is low compared to later in the year.

Learning Lessons

With increasing restrictions on fungicide active ingredients forecast to come into force over the coming twelve months, each individual responsible for managing sports turf surfaces is going to have to become knowledgeable and competent in the following areas.

  • Understanding of contributory underlying agronomic conditions e.g. thatch, species composition
  • Disease life cycles
  • Disease forecast modelling
  • Fungicide mode of action classification
  • Utilising specific nutritional and bio-stimulant inputs to elicit specific preventative effects

Together, accumulation of this knowledge can form the basis of a proactive approach which formulates turf disease management as part of an integrated approach. Often you will see this labelled as IPM (Integrated Pest Management), or within our industry ITM (Integrated Turf Management).

Many people have been caught out in 2017 by chafer grub and leatherjacket issues, which could have largely been avoided if a proactive approach to understanding the ins and outs of biological control had been undertaken in the run up to chemical withdrawal. We all need to work together to ensure this is not repeated when it comes to disease management.

Keep an eye on Pitchcare throughout the year as we provide resource materials and opportunities for direct learning at events.

Fair Ring and Dry Patch

Increased activity in soils of certain fungal species may lead to regions of the profile exhibiting hydrophobic behaviour. This is to say water repellency, similar to the manner in which water beads on the surface of a freshly waxed car. This may lead to dry patch or class one fairy ring damage, whereby the inability of water to adhere to the soil particles in these regions results in drought stress, wilt and finally grass dormancy (browning off). If drought conditions within a region of soil persist, then dormancy will be over taken by plant death.

The treatment for both is very similar;

  • Identify the depth of the area of repellency by dropping a small amount of water onto a cross profile.
  • Poke into the areas of repellency with aeration.
  • Soak the areas with water combined with a penetrant wetting agent

Variation on the above occurs with respect to dry patch and hydrophobic activity due to the activity of Basidiomycota spp. fairy rings. In the case of class two fairy rings i.e. dark green rings, a fungicide containing azoxystrobin such as Syngenta’s Heritage Turf Disease Control applied alongside the wetting agent can assist in control.

One word of caution: there are two species of fungi relating to ring like diseases.

  • Rhizoctonia spp. – this fungus results in a disease commonly referred to as either Brown Ring or Waitea patch and favours low nitrogen high, thatch conditions in times of moisture and humidity. Generally, it occurs only in the thatch layer.
  • Basidiomycota spp. – results in the classic class one, two and three type fairy rings, resulting in various combinations of; hydrophobic soils, flushes of green growth and sporocarps (mushrooms). Generally, it occurs in soil horizon.

The key point here is in relation to water because rings occurring due to Basidiomycota spp. require wetting to relieve symptoms whilst rings occurring due to Rhizoctonia spp. will be made worse by wetting. A case of mistaken identity with these two diseases and, in particular mistaking Rhizonctonia spp. for Basidiomycota spp. which then results in applications of water, will only serve to promote the disease further.

Weed Control

If growth is good and areas are not under drought stress, then June represents a very good time of year for an application of selective herbicide. Ensuring sprayers are well calibrated and nozzles not worn increases efficiency significantly. It is also good practice both in terms of economics and environmental responsibility. An addition of an adjuvant to increase uptake will enhance efficacy and should be considered. As should the use of a pH buffer in areas where your water source exceeds pH 6.4. This is because a water pH above this value increases the vulnerability of pesticides and fertilisers to hydrolysis – the chemical breakdown of a compound due to a reaction with water – increasing the risk of pesticides and fertilisers degrading or precipitating out of solution. This results in poor performance of those products due to the reduced availability of the active ingredients. 

Please note: more information on Weeds, Pests & Disease can be found on the Pitchcare iGuide

All machinery should now have been returned from any servicing in time for use, with ongoing inspection and cleaning after use being vital.

Breakdowns cost money as well as inconveniencing pitch preparations.

Keep a good supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for pitch repairs and maintenance.

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.

Clean down machinery after use.

Keep your workshop / garage / storage areas clean and tidy.

Regularly inspect flat sheets, covers and other ground equipment for wear and tear, and that they are fit for purpose. 

Pitchcare Articles and Forum threads which may be of interest:

Cutting Heights
Cricket Boundary