Expected weather for this month:

Generally unsettled with seasonal average temperatures

October is the generally the last chance to complete those all important end of season renovations. Temperatures will be dipping, giving the seed less chance of germinating before the winter dormancy kicks in. I know we have had some relatively mild winters recently, but we cannot assume that is going to be the norm.

Make hay whilst the sun shines or, in other words, get the renovations done sooner rather than later!

Key Tasks for October

Renovations

Renovations

All clubs have their own methods of working and renovating their squares. In most cases the level of work will be dictated by what budgets and resources they have available at the time and what they are trying to achieve. 

Make sure your machinery is up to the task with regular services. In the main, most club groundsmen are now putting on between 6-10 bags of loam per pitch. It is important not to under or over-dress your tracks. Even in the current economic climate, it is best not to skimp on the amount of loam used. I see too many club tracks that do not perform in terms of pace and bounce because of poor end of season renovation practices. 

Generally, it is usually a combination of two factors that, when combined, causes problems - not removing enough thatch or organic material during renovations and spreading insufficient loam down to increase the bulk density of the soil profile.

However, there is a fine line between too much and too little.

Soil Analysis: - If you have not had your soils tested for some time, then do so at the earliest possible chance. Soil tests commonly carried out fall into two categories: Physical and Chemical.

The physical analysis of soil reveals its texture, the amount of organic matter present, the rate of which the water passes through the soil profiles and the pore spaces within the soil.

The Chemical analysis produces information on soil acidity & alkalinity, the amount of mineral nutrients available for the grass plant to take up and the amount of toxins that may be harmful to the turf. 

Scarification: - Scarification is important to remove unwanted vegetation, but also to produce a key for the new loam material to sit in. The level of scarification required will be dependent on how much of a thatch layer you have generated throughout the season. The best way to identify how much you have is by taking a core sample. It will be then a case of going through a vigorous renovation programme, scarifying in at least three directions, finishing in the line of play. 

Depending on how much thatch is removed, where necessary, clean off all the thatch debris after each pass. The square can then be over sown using a suitable grass seed mixture; do not be frightened to try out new cultivars. Sowing rates now range between 35-50 g per square metre. In essence, you are aiming to establish new grasses into your square. 

Aeration: - The very basics of grass growth has never changed; sunlight, water and air, three factors essential for good grass growth of all plant life. Whilst we have no influence over the quality and hours of sunlight, there is a single management operation that directly influences the availability of the latter two. That is aeration. The purpose of aerating a cricket square is the key to producing the foundation upon which additional treatments can work. 
Aeration relieves compaction, assists in top dressing to migrate down the tine holes and improves water percolation through the soil profile. It also helps to create the general environment essential for healthy grass growth. Autumn and winter aeration treatments are beneficial to promoting drier surfaces for further maintenance practices to take place. Solid tining is usually the most common practice but, where saddling is a problem to your ends, then hollow coring over a period of time will help with settlement. 

Soil compaction is often the main contributing factor to poor grass growth; the lack of air in the soil profile inhibits many beneficial activities such as water movement and retaining microbial organisms. A programme to decompact the soil is essential, preferably using a pedestrian powered vertical aerator, to re-introduce some porosity into the profile. Solid tine, hollow coring and linear aeration are a number of methods being used to aerate soil profiles. 

These operations tend to be carried out on a frequency basis depending on the type and size of the tines being used. However, there are a number of groundsmen who never aerate their cricket squares; they believe that the aeration holes formed can cause a weakness/stress line in the clay profile that could eventually break, causing problems with the pitches. They believe that the clay's ability to shrink and swell provides the necessary voids to promote root growth.

Top Dressing: - It's important not to overdress the square, as you will not only be wasting the precious loam material but you may also be smothering your sward. The last thing you want to be doing is to bury any vegetation, which will lead to future problems. The object of the renovations is revitalize the top growing zone, restore levels and to integrate new material into the soil profile. This will help build up the clay content in your square. 

Irrigation should follow as soon as possible to assist in the germination of new seed. By keeping the soil moist, the seed should germinate between 7-10 days weather permitting, a germination sheet will aid this process. 

Once the grass has germinated out on the square, you should look to maintain a cutting height between 15-25mm, and continue to brush off the dew in the mornings to keep the sward in a dry and disease free condition

Outfield

Once you have finished renovating your square, devote some time to the outfield. Outfields are often neglected if not used for any winter sport such as rugby or football.

They do not get much attention in the way of scarifying / harrowing, aeration, topdressing, over seeding and, in some cases, not even being cut through the winter months.

Mowing of the outfield should be undertaken on a regular basis. By maintaining a height of cut between 25-35mm, this will help to encourage a dense sward and reduce disease.

Invest some money on your outfield to restore levels, kill any weeds and aerate where possible. Some clubs even use their pedestrian Groundsman spiker to aerate their outfields.

It may not be too late to get some selective weed killer applied, especially if soil and air temperatures remain favourable. Also apply a winter feed to help keep some colour and stimulate some growth

ideally, when aerating the outfields, penetration should be down to a depth around 200mm to promote deeper rooting and surface drainage. Some groundsmen like to carry out a programme of solid tining, deep slitting or hollow coring, which again increases porosity but can also help redistribute/recycle topsoil which, in turn, helps restore levels.

The frequency of aeration activities will often depend on the resources - money, machinery and time - available. In the main, you should be looking to aerate throughout the winter period on a monthly basis, weather and soil conditions permitting.

Cooling temperatures, shorter days and longer nights, and heavy dews inextricably lead to reduced recovery growth, fungal pathogens and worm casts. October truly is the middle of Autumn and the steady march towards winter gathers pace. That said, October can still throw up some sunnier and drier spells, not to mention vibrant autumn colour, so all is not lost for the month. It does undoubtedly represent a time of change for turf managers as the plants needs adjust with the environmental conditions.

Nutrition

Accordingly, nutrition geared towards growth should be placed on the back burner. Organic fertilisers are best phased out any time after the start of the month as the release of nitrogen is inhibited once soil temperatures fall below 10 ◦C.

Nitrogen, the key driver for growth, is in much lower demand within the plant and forcing growth with nitrogen has its risks, but it is important to maintain adequate potassium levels.

Traditionally, accepted wisdom has been preventative applications of iron sulphate throughout the autumn and winter. The latest research demonstrates that iron sulphate statistically performs no better than control when used in this manner and, when used curatively, only reduces disease by 40-50%. Furthermore, iron sulphate is acidic and, when applied to the leaf, can actually weaken the cell structure. Phosphite is a much better option to use in this manner and calcium is the element responsible for cell wall thickness, not iron. Hence, we should all be applying calcium in combination with phosphite to effectively guard against disease.

Silicate is utilised by grass plants to provide structural support to cells. When applied as a foliar plant feed, available forms of silicate will accumulate in the secondary cell walls, providing added protection to biotic (pathogen) and abiotic (environmental) stresses.

Aeration

Increasingly, we see greater extremes of weather and the main pressure during autumn across many areas of the country can be heavy rainfall.  Aeration ahead of prolonged periods of rain aids percolation rates, which helps to maintain appropriate soil/water ratios and which are important for microorganisms and plants alike. This aeration can take numerous forms, however a mix of deeper aeration from solid or hollow tines will facilitate water movement to deeper depths in the soil profile. This can be combined with frequent shallow sarel tine aeration, just into the surface, which has the benefit of aerating a large percentage of the surface area, aiding initial movement away from the surface.

It goes without saying that, whilst frequent aeration is important during wet conditions, it should only be undertaken when ground conditions allow, so to avoid surface damage and soil compaction.

Maintaining the soil water balance prevents hypoxia (deprivation of oxygen) and black layer due to sulphur metabolising anaerobic bacteria proliferating in low oxygen soils.

Penetrant wetting agents will aid water movement through profiles and are worth considering as another tool in the armoury.

Pest Control

Two main pest issues are causing pressure to turf managers currently. Insect pests, in the form of Leatherjackets and Chafer grubs, and worms.  Both sets of circumstances are due to the withdrawal of chemical pesticides.

In the case of the insect pests, we are in the second season without chemical controls. Some sites were caught out in spring 2017 due to missing preventative controls in late summer 2016. The control in question is Entomopathogenic nematodes, a natural native predator of the insect pests which have been proven, over many years, to be very effective when applied correctly; i.e. at the right time of the pest life cycle and in conditions conducive to beneficial nematode activity. 

The approach to managing pests with biological controls is multifaceted and requires a thoughtful prepared mindset. The Pitchcare articles library and the shop webpages provide a wealth of information on this subject to help you maximise your results.

The control of worms is a significant issue for turf managers, and the withdrawal of Carbendazim for their suppression earlier in the year means that this is the first time we enter the main worm season without any legal means of mitigating their effect. There are a number of products available on the market which are known to have effects on worms in a variety of ways; however, knowledge as to their effects on the environment, the grass plant rhizosphere and wider soil ecosystem are extremely limited to non-existent.

In some circumstances, we may have to consider cultural management combined with tolerance in the form of dispersal when dry, or localised acidification of rootzone surfaces. Consideration of controls which are sustainable in the long term is also important.

There are no easy or perfect answers to this situation, but turf managers should arm themselves with informed knowledge before taking decisions, especially where they feel they are employed by organisations who may not be overly sympathetic should the ultimate outcome of a decision be something unintended.

Disease

Disease management will be at the forefront of turf managers minds across the country. Whilst soil temperatures remain above 10◦C, systemic fungicides are still an option; otherwise, products with a contact action will be required.

Autumn/Winter 2017 is likely to mark the final season turf managers will be able to call upon the eradicative action of products containing the contact active Iprodione. For many years, this has been the go to active ingredient providing eradicative activity of numerous diseases. With this option removed, turf managers have to arm themselves with the knowledge and skills to manage surfaces to prevent against disease. One method in the integrated armoury for achieving this is via plant nutrition. In this regard, the main elements are calcium, phosphite, silicate.

Traditionally, accepted wisdom has been preventative applications of iron sulphate throughout the autumn and winter. The latest research demonstrates that iron sulphate statistically performs no better than control when used in this manner and, when used curatively, only reduces disease by 40-50%. Furthermore, iron sulphate is acidic and, when applied to the leaf, can actually weaken the cell structure. Phosphite is a much better option to use in this manner and calcium is the element responsible for cell wall thickness, not iron. Hence, we should all be applying calcium in combination with phosphite to effectively guard against disease.

Silicate is utilised by grass plants to provide structural support to cells. When applied as a foliar plant feed, available forms of silicate will accumulate in the secondary cell walls, providing added protection to biotic (pathogen) and abiotic (environmental) stresses.

Keep machinery in good order, clean after use and top up any oil/fuel levels.

Check cutting cylinders are at correct cutting height and are sharp.

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. Each course is £125 plus VAT.

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

The Course Manual is available for purchase separately.

We also have a one day LANTRA accredited LINEMARKING COURSE being held:

Wednesday 18th October, East Harling, Norwich, NR16 2NB

More information

We can also arrange Lantra accredited training on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.