Key Tasks for February
In the hope and expectation that cricket at grass roots level will be allowed this spring and summer, there is a massive amount of work to be done on the squares and outfields. For guidance on what COVID-19 procedures are to be followed, please refer to the ECB website for current regulations.
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.
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.
Unfortunately, January may not have been the positive, fresh start to the year that many were wanting. Let’s hope that by the end of February things have started to improve somewhat.
The recent heavy rainfall and cold snap which has seen freezing temperatures and snowfall across the country has caused numerous issues for turf managers. Long term forecasts are predicting that the whole of February will be varied, with a mixture of sunny days but also periods of rain. Daytime temperatures are slowly increasing but night-time temperatures are still relatively low. As we leave January and enter February, we can start to look ahead to get some early response from our turf, or can we?
Some key points from a previous diary which I feel is worth repeating as they highlight some very relevant facts that we are faced with this month. February has typically been classed as late winter, however more recently it has provided windows of favourable weather. This has allowed many agronomic activities to be carried out that wouldn’t usually be done until a couple of months later. The 1st of February is 42 days post winter solstice (21st December), and towards the end of the month that figure will rise to around 70 days and the summer solstice (21st June) will be around 113 days away. To explain what this means in terms of day length, using Leeds as an example (a generic, central location in the British Isles), on the 1st February it will be 8 hours 54 minutes and the suns altitude from the horizon will be 11.65°. At the end of February, day length will be up to around 10 hours 47 minutes and the sun’s altitude from the horizon will now be 20.46°. That’s a difference of 1 hour 53 minutes and an altitude difference of 8.81°. This means from the start to the end of the month you gain approximately 2 hours of sunlight and a large increase (around 57%) in the height of the sun at mid-day.
Increased day length means an increase in sunlight and a gradual increase in temperatures through more exposure to solar radiation. With an increase in sunlight. there is more opportunity for photosynthesis and the turf can begin to ‘wake up’, however this is not a quick process given it is on the back of the cold winter weather. The key is to remember that this can’t be forced, unless you have access to additional resources where artificial conditions can be created, such as undersoil heating and growth promoting lights. This equipment is not available to the masses and therefore trying to force turf into action so early in the season is not advised. Doing so can lead to needless wastage of products and potential impacts on the environment from leaching of nutrients that can’t be taken up by the plant. Therefore, unnecessary applications should be avoided.
If conditions are favourable, this month can be the start of gaining some recovery from any winter damage, by utilising the environmental changes outlined above and the increased ability of the plant to grow and develop. It is important that growth is encouraged not forced, which could lead to agronomic issues later in the year. The weather is unpredictable and unforeseen changes following a heavy application of fertiliser with a high Nitrogen content, given the right conditions, can promote excessive soft tissue growth which can be more susceptible to disease outbreaks. This can be an unwanted set-back when coming out of winter and trying to get turf back to an excellent condition.
Monitoring current soil temperatures will give a good indication of when suitable and worthwhile applications can be made. Once soil temperatures reach 8-10°, the environment will have sufficient warmth to support biological activity and influence soil respiration by increasing enzyme activity. To encourage winter recovery and early season growth, an application of a granular fertiliser with a relatively low % of a readily available source of nitrogen, such as ammonium, could be applied. Ideally, these will be in line with any recent soil testing that has been carried out. This will give a good response whilst conditions are favourable. Applications of biostimulants such as seaweed, carbohydrates and simple sugars, amino acids and humics will start to stimulate the soil ecosystem and rhizosphere.
As turf managers, we must be mindful of the challenges the weather can pose, and although in recent years we have had a ‘false’ spring, that has brought decent weather and favourable conditions. This month can also provide weather that can be a real threat to turf and impart further stress on top of what has already been imparted over winter. This stress can come from numerous sources, such as cold winds, frozen ground and even snowfall. To tackle these, planning is paramount to be ahead of any inclement weather. You can supply the plant with what it needs to strengthen against oncoming stresses, which will lessen any potential damage and, in doing so, also allow for faster recovery once conditions are favourable. The use of silicon and calcium will assist in strengthening cell walls, amino acids and harpin protein can help protect against cold weather damage. Where conditions may not be suitable for granular fertiliser applications, turf hardener type products, in the form of liquid applications, can also strengthen the plant ahead of these stressful situations.
With grass growth on the horizon, the temptation can be to start too early, with no real benefits realised and at unnecessary cost. The target for this month is to continue to protect the turf from any potential stresses, which will enable a quicker recovery response when conditions become favourable. Aim to maximise any opportunities afforded by ideal conditions to nudge growth forward, without over applying and trying to force unrealistic expectations in terms of growth response. Any small gains made this month will have a positive impact come spring.
With milder weather due, your machinery will be in use sooner rather than later, so make sure all the necessary repairs and servicing has been done. 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.