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.
As we head into the festive period, we can hopefully look forward to spending quality time with friends and family, resting and taking stock ahead of 2022. It has been a tough year for many as we continue to navigate through the pandemic and try to overcome the challenges we all face. Whether we ever return to ‘normal’ or what the new normal is, we will get there, wherever ‘there is’, in time.
Early December is forecast to remain cold, with daily temperature lows consistently below 4 degrees Celsius. This is amongst a mixture of clear days and forecasted rain, which could also lead to snow showers and overnight frosts as low temperatures drop around freezing, which is set to continue through to the end of the month. The decrease in temperatures has meant that growth potential has now decreased, and growth will be limited. Consequently, this will inform any decisions around what inputs to apply to the plant. The low temperatures should minimise the probability of disease outbreaks, notably Microdochium nivale (Fusarium patch). However, that shouldn’t mean that this turf disease is forgotten about. Also, as light becomes less available to the plant, a low sun trajectory means shade and damp environments become more of the norm, which is ideal for the development of mosses and algae, not only on turf surfaces but hard surfaces too, which can require careful management.
The rain which is forecast in the middle of the month may lead to surfaces becoming saturated, therefore it is essential to try and maintain an aerobic soil for as long as possible. This is best achieved by 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. Where fertilisers containing sulphur have previously been applied, ensuring aeration work has been carried out will avoid ground conditions sitting too wet for a period of time, which can lead to anaerobic conditions and the formation of black layer, which will have a negative impact on turf conditions and health.
With soil temperatures dropping lower, there may be a limited requirement for plant nutrition, unless in an environment where you can create more artificial growing conditions with extra light and soil temperatures. Nitrogen applied should only be to encourage recovery from wear, and should contain the correct nitrogen source, which will be plant available. Biostimulants, seaweed, fulvic acid and amino acids may still be used to elicit a beneficial defence and stress response from the grass plant, although when temperatures are low, soil applications should be evaluated for their effectiveness, and consideration for foliar application for more efficient uptake.
The recent increase in soil moisture, after a relatively dry November, means that worm casts continue to be one of the most damaging issues for turf managers. The mild weather has meant growth has continued, but areas have been uncut for concerns over creating what could only be described as a mud bath. Activity may slow as temperatures decrease which would provide some relief; however, with still no legal controls for earthworms this is hopeful thinking. Any product which is applied to directly affect them is done so illegally. The advice continues to be, to carry on with cultural management where possible.
2021 has been a year of getting back on track, adjusting to new ways of working and pressing on. 2022 will throw more challenges at us, particularly with expected price increases across the board, not only in our industry but also in our lives, alongside continued supply and delivery constraints. But as we have seen it 2021, we will as an industry and individuals meet these challenges head on and continue to provide excellent playing surfaces for the sports industry.
Enjoy the Christmas period, and a well-deserved break where possible. Take time to reflect on moments from the last year and what’s ahead in 2022.
Have a great Christmas and New Year!
B.Sc (Hons) | BASIS | FACTS
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.