Expected weather for this month:

Changeable with mainly single figure temperatures

January was yet another mixed bag from a weather point of view; and I don't envisage February being much different. It is likely to remain changeable with unsettled, milder spells interspersed with colder interludes. The most unsettled and windy weather is likely to occur in the north and northwest whilst the south and southeast should see somewhat drier conditions overall, though even here, some rain and strong winds are likely. Despite milder conditions dominating, some overnight frost and fog is quite probable.

Pre-season work on the square will be uppermost in groundsmen's minds. If you have any questions, try the Pitchcare Forum or possibly consider booking on one of the Cricket Pitch Maintenance training courses we run - there are some available for booking on the new Grounds Training website, together with the opportunity to do the Online Course version.

Key Tasks for February

Regular brushing should be carried out to lift the sward, keeping it upright to help dry the plant and reduce disease. 

Where ground conditions and temperatures are suitable, mowing the square to remove its winter growth is one of the first tasks. You may need to raise the height of cut, so that you are just topping it off and not trying to remove too much grass in one go. A rotary mower, set at 25-30mm, would be best suited for this purpose, as clippings will be removed at the same time.
 
Sarrel roll your square after the first cut, as this will open it up and lightly iron out the surface. A low nitrogen, higher potassium feed (NPK 6:5:10 +6% Fe) will help green up the plant and, at the same time, contribute to control any moss that may have accumulated in the sward during the winter months. 

As the month progresses, start reducing the mowing height on the square to around 15-20mm, subject to local weather conditions. A light verti-cut will remove any lateral growth caused by the snow or wet weather and clean out the surface. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this time is vital for better results going into the new season.

Keep an eye out for disease and worms, and spray accordingly.

Do not neglect your outfield: Outfields should be harrowed, aerated and a programme of solid or slit tining to a depth of 150-200mm will assist water movement and oxygenate the soil (vary the depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan). Soil samples can still be taken, with findings used as part of your fertiliser programme. Keep on top of any grass growth; mow at 30mm in accordance to its usage; if left too long, it then becomes a struggle to mow.

Rolling

Keeping one eye on the weather; you may want to begin your square rolling programme early, but only if your season starts early April; any other rolling should be delayed untill March. Start with your lightest mower; 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.

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. More weight can be added to the grass box (bag of loam) to increase consolidation. Gradually build up the rolling weight by moving onto the next size of cylinder mower and adding weights to the grass box as required. This gradual build up may be over a few weeks until the heavy roller comes out of the shed to achieve the right consolidation for the start of the season.

Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil to be in a state of plasticity, or "plastercine" like. Test your square regularly with a knife to see the condition of your square, if it is too wet, delay rolling as any type of rolling will create a bow effect and could cause some structural damage.

Consolidation is your aim and the quality of your pre-season rolling will show when you produce your early season pitches. The square is required to be consolidated throughout to a depth of no less than 100mm. (where squares have been constructed to ECB guidelines); this can only be achieved with a gradual build-up of roller weight.

February can be a month of two halves, as the early part sees out winter and the end heralds the oncoming spring. Warmer periods of air flow coinciding with an increasingly higher and brighter sun can illicit periods of growth, particularly if night time temperatures don’t fall too far.  Conversely, cold air flow, short damp days and persistent rainfall can place stress on the grass plants whilst also actively assisting fungal pathogens.

Operational windows are equally affected by the weather, and often the periods which place pressure on surfaces are the ones which also restrict a turf manager’s ability to undertake preventative or curative maintenance.

Management of soils is a prime function of managing turf grass. No more important factor is the successful management of water. Too little and the soil food web, of which grass plants play a part, breaks down. At this time of the year, the problem tends to be too much water, leading to saturation which again breaks the balance of the soil food web as microorganisms essentially drown.

In this instance, keeping abreast of weather forecasts so that you are prepared to strike when ground or wind conditions are favourable for maintenance means you can act quickly.

In regards to soil water management, vertical deep tine aeration undertaken in the autumn will still be facilitating passage of water through the soil and hopefully into drainage systems. Maintaining a passage for water away from the surface is vital in allowing deeper fissures and tine holes to draw water. As a result, taking any opportunity to aerate with pencil, slit, star or sarel tines is an important priority.

The use of wetting agents in conjunction with good old fashioned aeration should also be considered at this time of the year. A penetrant type will break water tension allowing it to flow from the surface more efficiently. Conversely a high quality block co-polymer, sometimes referred to as a residual, will help to regulate the balance of water in the soil, by holding onto or releasing water through the profile. The ideal ratio being 50% solid, 25% water, 25% air.

Similar to fertilisers programmes, it is advisable to implement a wetting agent programme which formulates your surfactant applications thought the year. The high quality block co-polymer chemistry works as a preventative in the soil, actively balancing the soil water matrix as it builds up over time. Single applications will not be successful in overcoming evidence of hydrophobic soils as evidence by dry patch. Like many things, once you see the symptoms, it is indicating you should have acted much earlier to prevent them appearing. Block co-polymers take 3-4 months to build up in a soil to a point where the chemistry is working optimally. For this reason, in the UK applications, should start no later than March with frequencies as recommended by the manufacturer to avoid a drop-off in soil concentration, and thus positive effects.

Somewhat erroneously, wetting agents have had a bad reputation in certain quarters in respects to negative effects upon soil biology. Such perception should be reserved for curative wetting agents which, by necessity of their action, are designed to strip away the organic acids coated around soil particles. Being designed to work preventatively, block co-polymer wetting agents are not formulated in ways which have these effects. Research has even shown that they can have a beneficial effect on soil biology leading to increased fertiliser efficiency, improved fungicide effect, better drought tolerance when used with trinexapac-ethly, and reduced incidence of anthracnose disease.

The aim of high quality preventative block co-polymer wetting agents is to facilitate even distribution of water throughout the soil profile. Where this is not taking place, a lack of uniformity can facilitate ‘finger flow’, which is to say isolated preferential paths for water to move throughout the profile. During months such as February, this will not cause a problem on the surface as the baseline for soil moisture is so high. Once the summer months come around however, the spaces between these preferential paths will be the first to dry out and show up as dry patch.

Penetrant wetting agents can be used to break surface tension and aid the flow of water from the surface and through the soil; whether that be aeration holes or a freshly applied hydrophobic top dressing. Testing your top dressing for hydrophobicity by dripping droplets of water onto a sample is a prudent exercise. Anything more than 5 seconds to soak in signifies some level of hydrophobicity.

Nutrition requirement may pick up as the month progresses. Where the forecast is for cold and harsh or warm and damp, foliar applications of calcium and silicon will help the plant to stand up to the resultant biotic and abiotic stresses. Chelated iron should always be the option when attempting to elicit a green up, however the end of February or early March is the best time to apply iron sulphate. Aside from the green up, it will help to knock back moss which may have encroached over the winter and the sulphur will help to facilitate early season plant metabolic function.

Warm, damp, still days are perfect conditions for microdochium nivale activity. When temperatures are cold then make the most of those last applications of iprodione before the withdrawal from sales on 5th March 2018 and withdrawal from use of stocks on 5th June 2018

As soils warm, chafer grubs and leather jackets will begin to rise and pecking of surfaces may well begin. There are no treatments for the grubs at this time of the year, but monitoring and recording problematic areas in anticipation of nematode treatments in the summer is a key part of any integrated management plan.

Finally, take the guess work out of fertiliser programmes by investing a few pounds in a broad spectrum soil analysis. Remember, no one nutrient is more important than the other; it is only the quantity of each which the plant requires for health which varies. Obtaining a report now gives you a guideline and insight, both of which allow you to address deficiencies and balance out ratios through the oncoming season such that your turf surfaces are at their best.

Still some time left in February to send any machinery away for repairs or servicing. Keeping your cylinder mowers sharpened and serviced is vital to good groundsmanship; there is nothing worse than a mower that keeps breaking down, not starting or one that cuts poorly. 

Stock a good supply of materials such as loam and seed for repairs and maintenance. February is an ideal time to contact sales reps and find out what products are available for spring work. Never leave it late to order materials.

Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Cricket Pitches. We can organise a one day course on-site, which is 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 Spring & Summer course is being held:

March CC, Cambs - Thursday 22nd March

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.

Each of the courses is also available in an ONLINE format. The Lantra accredited course in Cricket Pitch Maintenance is a series of training videos, each followed by multi-choice questions and answers. In addition to the videos, the accompanying comprehensive Course Manual is also included. There is a choice of courses - Spring & Summer and Autumn & Winter - more information.

Email Carol Smith 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 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.