Key Tasks for April
The lifting of restrictions has come at a good time; hopefully, cricket can have as near normal a season as possible; working within current guidelines of course.
As normal for this time of the year, squares will require a lot of time management, scarifying, mowing, rolling and marking out; then there is your outfield, which will require mowing, aeration, raking or harrowing to raise the sward.
It is not necessarily about how much Pre-Season Rolling you carry out, it is ensuring that the rolling is undertaken during optimum conditions by having enough moisture in the soil profile to allow for good consolidation.
Ensure your machinery and equipment is serviced, in good condition and ready for use.
Pitch preparation should start 10-12 days prior to the match. Following the guidelines below will help you achieve a good standard of pitch. Most groundsmen will have there own interpretation of these activities. Marking out the crease should be done with care, using frames or string to help achieve clear, straight lines. DAY 1 String out pitch lines to ensure correct width, 10 ft; Mow out @ 8mm. Always double mow (up and down the same line), using an 8 bladed pedestrian cylinder mower for maintaining the square. Test the pitch with a key or knife for moisture
DAY 2 Brush / light rake, mow @ 8 mm, light roll to consolidate surface levels.
DAY 3 Scarify or Verti cut to remove lateral growth and surface thatch avoiding deep surface disturbance. Reduce HOC & mow @ 7 mm. continue medium light rolling 1000 kg 10-15 minutes.
DAY 4 Roll pitches increasing roller weight to consolidate the surface.
DAY 5 Scarify with hand rake to raise sword after rolling. Reduce HOC to 6mm
DAY 6 20-30 minute’s with heavy roller.
DAY 7 Light scarify by hand to raise sward, mow @ 6 mm, increase weight of roller to 1500- 1700 kg continue rolling 30 minutes reducing speed to consolidate surface.
DAY 8 Continue rolling for 30 minutes at slow speed to achieve consolidation. Cover pitch over night to encourage moisture to rise to surface.
DAY 9 Brush / rake lifting any lateral grasses, reduce HOC mow (with a shaver blade) to 4mm, try to avoid scalping. Roll using heavy roller slow speed (crawling) 30 minutes morning & again late afternoon where possible. Cover pitch over night.
DAY 10 Brush & mow pitch, roll morning and afternoon slow as possible (crawling).
DAY 11 Brush, mow & roll to polish surface, test bounce with an old ball along edge of pitch. Continue rolling to consolidate surface. Cover pitch over night.
DAY 12 Brush, mow & roll polish up pitch. Your pitch should effectively have take on a straw like coloration, a sign that the preparation has been achieved. String and mark out as in accordance to E.C.B guidelines. (TS4 booklet)
Mowing heights for the cricket square during the playing season should be:-
8-12mm April-September (playing season)
5-6mm Wicket preparation
3-4mm Final cut for match
Soil and air temperatures should begin to rise substantially as we move into April. The application of a spring and summer fertiliser will also increase the vigor, sward growth and density. Ideally, get your soils sampled for nutrients, organic matter content and soil pH where possible. This information will help decide on the appropriate course of action with regard to applying the correct NPK balance for your site. Liquid fertilisers are becoming popular again.
Granular products have to rely on the granule breaking down, becoming mobile in the soil and then taken into the plant via the root system. Today’s products have been refined to act more efficiently, their mode of action allows the active nutrient ingredients to get into the plant tissue more quickly, and thus you tend to see a faster response to plant growth Wetting agents can now be applied; this is usually done on a monthly basis. The use of wetting agents will be a good tool for ensuring that any rain has the chance to soak deeper into the soil profile and not simply run off the playing surface.
Structures: Check and repair fences, scoreboards, covers and sightscreens. Finish off any painting that may have been delayed due to bad weather.
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.
Other work to consider:-
- Mark out boundary line or ensure rope is in place.
- Scoreboards are ready for use
- Erect security netting around buildings to deter balls from damaging properties.
- Ensure stumps and bails are correct size, yardage disks are available.
- Check sightscreens, covers and machinery as breakdowns could be time costly.
- Artificial netting facilities should be checked, cleaned and marked out ready for use.
Looking back to last April, when we were starting off on the journey we have all been on over the last 12 months, thoughts were very much towards the unknown. Which seems in stark contrast to the current situation, certainly for those who manage sports surfaces. Since the announcements were made detailing the plans for a gradual lifting of restrictions and the commencement of some outdoor sports from the 29th March, turf managers up and down the country have been working tirelessly to get facilities into excellent condition for the return of their sport. The level of work which has been undertaken has been phenomenal and so have been the standards produced. Everyone has had their own set of circumstances, regarding staff levels, budgets etc… but the sheer level of professionalism to provide the best possible conditions is a credit to everyone in the industry.
Looking ahead to the long-term forecast, the predicted temperature increases for the end of March (mid-twenties in some southern regions) unfortunately don’t look set to continue long into April. Temperatures throughout April appear to be fairly conservative with only 2 days predicted to be 15° or above, a further key factor here is that night temperatures are also remaining low, with 23 out of 30 days at 4° or below. This is reflected in the daily growth potential sharply dropping off from around 75% to below 25% from the 1st up to April 7th. This contrasts with last year, at the beginning of the first lockdown, where we experienced excellent weather for the time of year.
The cold nights forecast around this point in the month will mean soil temperatures remain relatively modest and will not make a huge jump forward. Towards the end of the month, the night-time temperatures are predicted to rise, with the last 6 days all around 8°. This will have a positive impact on growth potential and, dependant on the forecast for May, could be the start of consistent growth.
With this is mind, plant stress is going to be a key part of turf management this month; particularly for those who have increased maintenance practices over the last month in preparation for the commencement of play, cultural aeration and top-dressing work followed by fertilisation to encourage recovery. The added stress of wear on top of the changing temperatures will lead to plant stress. The cooler temperatures indicate that growth will be moderate and therefore nutritional inputs need to follow on from this information. Trying to force continued growth is not recommended as it can lead to further issues. Instead, look to support the existing growth by applying small inputs of nutrition when conditions are suitable and additional inputs of plant health promoting products, to alleviate some of the added stresses.
Keeping disruption to a minimum over the coming weeks will be a focus for many turf mangers not wanting to have too much of an impact on playing surfaces. However, when thinking about the additional stresses the plant will be put under, continuing to carry out some light maintenance is recommended. Light aeration work will allow for the gaseous exchange and will also aid the movement of water down the profile. This will be most beneficial should there be a period of dry weather, which in recent years has not been un-common for April. Wetting agents can also be a useful tool in this regard, to ensure even distribution of moisture through the profile. They can be used periodically, but prevention can be better than the cure, and starting early in the season ahead of any prolonged dry periods can have a positive effect on plant health.
Given as of the 28th March we entered British Summer Time (BST), temperatures increase (maybe not until towards the end of the month) and daylight hours increase. This gives the plant more opportunity to carry out photosynthesis; more photosynthesis means more growth. Applications of simple sugars and carbohydrates can provide the plant with a readily available supply of energy, which can be much needed at a time when growth is commencing and can assist in reducing any additional stress. As can choosing an appropriate fertiliser with a suitable nitrogen source for the time of year. If growth is not strong because of environmental conditions, applications in small amounts of readily available nitrogen can be used to keep a constant but low supply of nutrition, which supports healthy growth. Alternatively, a granular application with a portion of slow release technology could be used, which will provide nutrition gradually over a longer period, depending on the environmental conditions. Typically, part of the formulation will depend on microbial activity to break down the technology to urea which, once converted via further processes to ammonium and nitrate, can be taken up by the plant.
Biostimulants applied at the right time will be beneficial to the plant and soil. Applications of seaweed will elicit important beneficial defensive and stress responses in the plant and associated micro-organisms, when applied ahead of disease activity, before conditions favour its development. Amino acids play an important role in abiotic stress tolerance, helping plants to prepare for and cope with additional stresses such as varying changes in temperature and volumetric water content. As the level of nutrient applications increase, as we head into the growing season, applications of Humates can assist in maximising nutrient availability as well as stimulating and providing habitable zones for beneficial bacteria.
Pests such as leather jackets and chafer grubs will continue in their life cycles. Therefore, maintaining observations as part of your Integrated Pest Management plan will be crucial for timing operations later in the season. If damage is currently an issue, sheeting can be used to draw the pests out of the ground, which can then be physically removed. This method is being deployed by many turf managers as a method to reduce pest populations, whilst chemical control methods are restricted.
Maintaining a cricket square requires regular mowing, so it is important to keep your blades sharp at all times. Backlapping will help prolong their lives, but they should be sent for re-grinding, with your bottom blade replaced at the same time, especially a shaver blade.
Check your ground for foreign objects, such as studs or stones which can cause considerable damage to machinery and pitch.