Key Tasks for December
As ever, the caveat with the below advice is weather permitting. If you have waterlogging or frost, keep off the surfaces - you will do more harm than good.
Square: Inspect your ground regularly for disease, worm activity, and spray as required. Dragbrush your square to remove any surface moisture to discourage any disease, and sarrel roll to keep the surface open. Mow as required.
Mowing: The use of a rotary for mowing the square will be more beneficial as it will reduce the effect of surface compaction. Maintaining a consistent height of cut on both square and outfield is very important, as this helps to encourage sward density, the square should be maintained between 12-20mm with the outfield between 25-35mm. Remember the outfield too has a major effect on a game if unattended.
Outfields: Too many clubs tend to neglect their outfields, it is important to undertake some work on these areas as they play an important part of the game. They need to be firm, flat and free from weeds. The outfield should be treated through the winter the same as any other natural grass surface, Fertilising and mowing should not be neglected. Some cricket outfields are often maintained as winter sports pitches and the amount of work carried out may be determined by whether it is used for other sports (football/rugby).
Depending on ground conditions, some clubs may be able to complete drainage or reconstruction works during the winter months. Existing drainage systems can be overhauled and cleaned out, and additional drainage systems may be added.
Aeration treatments are of a fundamental importance. If not done so already, aerate your square and outfield. If your outfield is used for winter sport, link the work into your management programme. All soils are prone to compaction, but heavy clay soils which are inherently poor draining are particularly susceptible. To counteract existing compaction, aeration work should be seen as an ongoing process which must be carried out with modern, efficient equipment to achieve maximum benefits.
Deep penetration should be the objective to allow air in, facilitate water infiltration to lower levels and encourage deeper grass rooting. Without good gaseous exchange and movement of surplus water, excessively soft, thatch-riddled playing surfaces will be dominated by shallow rooted annual meadow grasses. For alleviating deep seated compaction, Verti-draining is invaluable and has become an integral part of a maintenance programme at many clubs. To maximize the benefits of Verti–draining, treatments must be carried out before ground conditions get too wet.
Verti-draining with solid tines are best suited for this work, as this will reduce deeper compacted layers and reduce the risk of panning; Slit tining is a preferred option as this opens up the surface and is much quicker. Hollow tine aeration has a key role in combating soil compaction within the top 75-100mm of the profile too, followed by a sandy top dressing mix will assist a more freely draining playing surface. In the main, you should be looking to aerate throughout the winter period on a monthly basis, weather and soil conditions permitting.
Looking ahead to December, we are fast approaching the festive season, and for many this can be a time of reflection. Unfortunately, this will undoubtably be a break from a ‘normal’ Christmas period, with new lockdown restrictions now in place and a return to the national tier system. We will, however, take this in our stride and make the most of the circumstances, as we have done throughout this year and adapting as best we can. I’m sure as many people look back over this year, there will be a mixture of emotions, both personally and professionally, with everyone having their own individual circumstances to manage and deal with.
Early December looks forecast to continue much on the same path as November with moderate conditions for the time of year of both temperature and rainfall. This does look like it will break around halfway through the month, making way for some more unsettled weather and a higher volume of rainfall. Those who have had staffing levels at full capacity through the last lockdown will have hopefully been able to make good progress with any project work planned. We have again seen mild temperatures in the run-up to the end of the year, with conditions in November not being too dissimilar to what you would expect in October. As noted in November’s diary, this means careful management is needed.
One of the main challenges that still remains is the management of fungal diseases throughout this period, such as Microdochium nivale (previously known as Fusarium patch). November is typically a high-pressure month and, although mild conditions can increase the disease pressure at times, it can also mean that there is still the opportunity of achieving some recovery from any outbreaks that occur with some new growth. As we move into December, with temperatures decreasing, albeit quite slowly, the amount of recovery that is achievable is also going to decrease. Turf managers will need to utilise the timing of any plant health promoting or plant protection product applications. Prevention is certainly better than the cure with the chemistry that is currently available in the market.
With wetter weather forecast for later in the month maintaining an aerobic soil for as long as possible will be key. The best chance of achieving this is through carrying out aeration practices at the appropriate time and in the most suitable ground conditions. Taking machinery over surfaces, when conditions aren’t suitable, will cause more damage than bringing benefits and sometimes the hardest decision is to stay off the turf. Subsequently, poorly timed operations can lead to surfaces being wetter, through water being held in the soil profile rather than being allowed to drain away. Preparation is key, planning the most appropriate method for the individual site given, available machinery, budgets, resources etc…
Many beneficial microorganisms thrive in a balanced soil with adequate levels of available oxygen. It is important that we ensure our soils are not depleted of this essential element and we keep them as oxygenated as possible. If soil structure is compromised and becomes compacted or waterlogged for periods of time then anaerobic species, organisms that don’t require oxygen, will become more dominant. This can have a negative effect on turf health. Anaerobic bacteria prefer an environment without oxygen and many pathogenic bacteria also prefer these soil conditions, with the ability to outcompete or kill off aerobic bacteria in the right conditions. Therefore, we do not want to promote conditions that will favour this environment.
Nutrition may still need to be applied to meet the needs of the plant and encourage recovery from play. Following on from November, inputs should contain the right source and amount of nitrogen which will not encourage soft, lush growth. Applied in modest amounts, further applications can always be made if required. With soil temperatures still not dropping particularly low, biostimulants are not to be overlooked at this time of year. Again, the change in seasons puts greater emphasis on evaluating the present environmental conditions rather than following the calendar month. Applications of seaweed, humic acids and amino acids will elicit important beneficial defensive and stress responses in the plant.
Worms show no sign of stopping, causing major issues for managing turf surfaces. The mild and moist climatic conditions continue to favour their presence and activity. There are no legal controls for earthworms and any product which is applied to directly affect them is done so illegally. Continue with cultural management practices, such as localised surface acidification, removal of grass clippings to reduce their food source and sanding of surfaces to assist in the drying out and dispersal of casts. Sulphate of iron is often used as a surface acidifying agent, but it is worth considering that over application may lead to an accumulation of iron in the soil and reduction of pH, causing long term imbalances and negative effects to plant health throughout the rest of the year.
2020 will be a year that is remembered for years to come, we’ve all had many obstacles to overcome both at work and in our personal lives. Although there is still a long way to go, hopefully we can look forward to 2021 with a sense of optimism for the things that can be achieved. Enjoy the Christmas period, in whatever capacity is possible in your region, celebrate the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, and fingers crossed for a good year.
Inspecting and cleaning of machinery - December is an ideal time to send any machinery away for repairs or servicing. Keep a good supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance.
Check H.O.C Ensure cutting cylinders are sharp and set to winter mowing.
Keep machinery in good order, clean after use and top up any oil/fuel levels.