Expected weather for this month:

Unsettled start with colder spells to follow

As with last month, it's best to keep off the square if possible. It's mid-winter with low light levels and low temperatures. Just walking on the surface when there is any frost on the ground will do a lot of damage to the grass plant.

Tidying up the outfield and surrounds - hedges, trees etc.; and ensuring your machinery is in good condition, should be on your to do list.


Key Tasks for January

If you are not able to work on the square, you could spend some time on the outfield (weather permitting). Regular brushing will help remove dew as well as lifting the sward. Aeration is a key activity that can be carried out too, along with some localised drainage/repair works to rectify any problem areas such as depressions you have identified. January is also a good time to carry out repairs and maintenance to resources such as sightscreens and other structures around the ground. You may get some favourable weather for painting and repairing these structures.

If you are in a part of the country protected from the forecast frost, the following may be undertaken:

BRUSHING: Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak

MOWING: It may be necessary to mow during the winter. Allowing the grasses to grow too long will encourage a weak leggy sward. Mowing frequencies during the winter months are dependent on the need and condition of the facility. It is important to maintain a constant height of cut on both the square and outfield. The outfield should now be maintained at between 25-35mm. The square should be maintained between 12-20mm using a rotary pedestrian mower, as a cylinder could tear or rip out fragile growth.

AERATION: The use of a sarrel roller to keep the surface free draining will also be beneficial to the square. Some Groundsmen may still want to carry out some deeper aeration work on the square; however, this policy is effective only where shallow rooting is a main concern and where pre-season rolling is not introduced until late March or early April. As a rule of thumb, many do not aerate after JANUARY. The outfield can be aerated though, using solid or slit tines when conditions allow.

As we enter mid-winter, January presents a continuation of good winter time agronomic practices, as described in the December diary.

Practices which should, as always, be driven by the climate. If warmer conditions prevail, then very light applications of fertiliser can be considered if the plant looks to be struggling. Be aware of waterlogged soils and low light causing stress which may lead to plants responding better to liquid applications. Try to aim for brighter days when the plant will be slowly photosynthesising, leading to better uptake.

Warm and wet provides opportunity for fungal pathogens to take hold. Keeping an eye on forecasts and applying the cell wall thickening calcium and plant defence stimulating phosphite are sound strategies backed up by research. Remember, contrary to traditional belief, iron does not harden turf, the element plays no role in physically strengthening or “hardening” the plant.

Iron is involved in the synthesis of chlorophyll and is essential for chloroplast and mitochondrial function due to its role within the electron transport chain. Thus, it is required for a wide range of biological functions including enzyme activation and plant respiration. In short, Iron will act as a catalyst for plant function and chlorophyll production, but remember magnesium is the central atom in the chlorophyll molecule so concentrate on making sure magnesium levels are sufficient first.

The other thing to remember about iron is it is a micronutrient, required in low levels by grass plants, with the majority of soils containing an excessive quantity which is antagonistic to the availability and uptake of; Zinc, Phosphorus, Copper, Manganese, Calcium

It is worth bearing in mind that, among other things:

  • Zinc is important for – cold weather tolerance
  • Phosphorus is important for – respiration and energy transfer
  • Copper is important for – stress response
  • Manganese is important for – resisting root pathogens
  • Calcium is important for building thick cell walls able to withstand abiotic (environmental) and biotic (pathogenic) stress.

As we can see, appropriate levels and availability of all these elements are going to provide the plant with more direct assistance in withstanding midwinter challenges than iron.

Many people will state that they experience iron curing disease and, for many years, iron applications have been the perceived wisdom throughout the winter. However, effect is not always directly correlated to cause.

Liquid iron fertilisers, soluble iron and iron in granular fertilisers is present as ferrous sulphate. These ingredients have a low pH, generally around pH 2-3. Research undertaken by ICL at the STRI consistently shows that when ferrous sulphate is applied in the traditional manner i.e. prophylactically as a preventative, it offers suppression of Microdochium nivale barely distinguishable from control. Applied as a curative, it offers around a 50% reduction. On the face of it, that may sound reasonable as a curative. It is worth considering why it has some effect as a curative. The answer is that the acidity is antagonistic to the disease pathogen, at the same time that same acidity is antagonistic to plant beneficial microorganisms living in the phyllosphere (on the leaf) and in the rhizosphere (around the root).

A modern more technically astute way to achieve the same effect is by applications of phosphite PO3 (note; not phosphate P2O5) which, by acting to stimulate natural plant defences, is a way to achieve the same effect without the negative effect on plant beneficial microorganisms.

Phosphite works by stimulating plant defensive substances such as phytoalexin, which attacks the disease as it attempts to invade. Stimulation of plant carbon compounds assist in strengthening cell walls and further signal mechanisms proactively alert other cells to the danger.

As we zoom at breakneck-speed towards the 2020s, this kind of science based informed knowledge, as a result of modern analytical techniques and understanding, will increasingly inform turf managers approach to healthy grass plant management.

The suggested points to take from this are two fold

  1. Beware simply repeating traditional thinking out of habit.
  2. Seek to understand the why and how of all products you apply.

On that theme, January is traditionally a time for preparation; fertiliser programmes will be at the forefront of everyone’s minds but consider also;

  • Wetting agent programmes
  • Fungicide programmes
  • Insect pest control programmes

Writing things down, such as the date to put out chafer grub monitoring traps or apply the first polymer wetting agent, can be the start of a plan likely to be actioned.

Finally, and probably the most important agronomic principle for the winter months is to pay very close attention to the most important ingredient in your turf management armoury; yourself.

Hopefully, refreshed after a Christmas break now is a great time to assess and take action to plug gaps in your knowledge. We all have them, and the danger is we can quickly trick ourselves into thinking ‘everyone else knows more than we do, when they don’t’. It is also easy to fall straight back into the routine and ‘not have time’, but it is important to make time.

Across the industry, 2017 has been yet another year of environmental and legislative challenges, with 2018 and beyond set to continue that trend.

The prepared will prevail and the first step of preparedness is stopping, considering and openly taking in knowledge.

  • BTME is running during the third week of January and presents a fantastic opportunity to gain knowledge through the continue to learn programme.
  • The sum of human knowledge is at our fingertips via the internet.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions of peers and be open to considering new approaches.
  • Quiz Technical Sales Managers who visit your site, the good ones will have sound answers and may even be able to offer complementary training information to you and your teams from either themselves or Technical Managers.
  • Most importantly, remember: Stop – Make Time – Consider – Openly take in knowledge – Be Prepared

It is important to maintain machines by carrying out regular servicing and repairs.

With minimum work needed on the green, use the time to take some machines out of operation for an overhaul.

  • Keep machines overhauled and clean
  • Maintain a stock of consumables for your machinery, replace worn and damaged parts as necessary.
  • Keep an eye on your material stocks (seed, topdressing, petrol, oil), remembering to replenish as required.
  • Service machinery and equipment - changing oil / air filters and greasing up moving parts and sharpening mower blades.

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.

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.

ARTIFICIAL PITCHES: Keep all surfaces clean, by regular sweeping and brushing to remove any algae and moss from surface. Sand filled systems also require regular brushing to maintain manufacturer's recommendations for sand levels and pile heights.

NET FACILITIES: Repair damaged structures and netting, order new if required. Strim and mow around structures.

STRUCTURES: Check and repair fences, scoreboards, covers and sightscreens. All removable structures should have been stored away for the winter. With very little activity seen on the ground during January, winter work can be dedicated to repairing and painting sightscreens, fences, and practice net structures.

DRAINAGE: Inspect drainage outlets, culverts, channels and ditches to ensure that they are working. Winter months are a good time for carrying out ditch clearing operations; blocked ditches may affect the performance of playing field drainage systems.

MATERIALS: Keep an adequate supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance.

PLANNING: Winter months enables you to evaluate how well your maintenance regimes have gone, which in turn will help you plan the work for next season. You may need to seek quotations for machinery and materials. Be prepared for next season. Failure to prepare – prepare to fail. It is important to keep records and diaries of the activities carried out, and how well the facility and each pitch have performed. The advent of the digital camera is a great tool for recording information. January is an ideal time to contact sales reps to find out what products are available for spring renovations; do not leave it late to order materials.

Current Pitchcare Forum discussions:

Cricket Pitch Longevity