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.
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.
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.
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.
As the last month of the norther hemisphere winter season, February heralds lighter evenings and brighter mornings, and as we head towards the end of the month the well-worn seasonal phrase - ‘it’s warm behind glass’.
From an agronomic perspective, February also represents the last opportunity for turf managers to sit and contemplate how they are going to maintain their surfaces during the growing season ahead.
This contemplation can result in one of three main outcomes;
Continuation – defined as the continuation of an habitual or time proven approach.
Alteration – defined as the refinement of established practices or the addition of new process into an established system.
Revolutionary – defined as a through change in direction and approach.
All of the above are equally valid depending on circumstance and, to some degree, turf managers will be preparing to embark upon various iterations of each of these outcomes to a greater or lesser degree across all practices within their remit.
There are no correct across the board answers with respect to how or why these outcomes are chosen to be implemented as each facility and each category of maintenance requirement is distinct to its own set of unique circumstances. Circumstances such as climate, soil type, construction type, previous maintenance, financial resources, labour resources, sport type and fixture pressure.
The current climate within the industry is one of change. Solutions which were previously effective are either being removed or superseded by enhanced understanding and refinement of existing methods.
Actively engaging with education via the attendance at seminars, talks and training is an incredibly valuable thing for each and every one of us to make the time to commit to at some point in the coming year.
In respects to the current climate and how that effects turf managers actions over the coming month, this overriding advice could be summed up as follows.
Make the most of windows.
If the weather conditions are favourable due to increasing warmth, sunlight and low humidity driving growth, introduce a small quantity of fertiliser on areas which are showing signs of sclerosis (yellowing); nitrogen in the form of nitrate or ammonium will be taken up by the plant the fastest. Be careful not to apply too much nitrogen and force lush growth, as cold winds will desiccate soft leaves, and fungal pathogens, fuelled by low temperatures and high humidity, will quickly take advantage.
Maintain applications of calcium to harden cell wall structure and provide a line of defence to both these challenges.
Moss is likely to be prevalent on surfaces at this time of the year. This is due to climatological conditions which favour it over grass. The end of February into early March is a good time to apply sulphate of iron to tackle moss, however try to time an application once the general trend in the weather is leaning towards the grass rather than the moss.
Soil sampling - now is the perfect time to undertake a broad spectrum soil analysis from which to make informed and cost effective decisions for the fertiliser programme ahead.
Speaking of programmes, surfactant, disease management and insect pest management plans and protocols are all necessities of sports turf management at all levels in 2019. Put together, they work towards an integrated approach with all the benefits that infers.
It’s important to maintain aeration when ground conditions allow. Helping the soil to expel carbon dioxide and drain water is absolutely vital when it comes to maintaining a healthy plant and soil. In water logged areas, be wary of anoxia which is when the plant starts to yellow due to a lack of oxygen around the roots.
Speaking of water, what is your soil reserve like? Dig a hole to check if the soil is dry more than 100-200 mm beneath the surface. If it is, then aeration combined with a penetrant wetting agent is critical to maximise rainfall ahead of the summer. If soil water reserves are low, then we won’t need a summer anywhere near as dry as 2018 to severely effect the quality of surfaces this coming year.
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
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.
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