Key Tasks for March
There's good news, with restrictions on outdoor sports being relaxed at the end of March. However, the priority is still to keep to the guidelines and keep safe.
The advice is also to be patient - keep off the square if it is waterlogged.
The following advice should be applied once weather conditions are favourable.
Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak.
Check all machinery has been serviced and sharpened ready for use. Give the square a light verti-cut and mow at 15-18mm to encourage sward density. As soon as possible, the square must be "squared off". Carry out renovation to bare areas such as ends and foot holes.
Start pre- season rolling if not already done so.
Outfields will also need some attention, with a light harrow, mowing at 25mm and aerating.
Check sight screens and covers are in good condition.
Keep records of work carried out, such as core samples, mowing and rolling.
Re-commission your irrigation systems and check you have not had any frost damage.
As soon as possible, the square must be "squared off". By using semi-permanent markings, this operation can be made very simple using the 3, 4, 5 system to produce your right angles. Fixed plastic points pushed into the ground on the four corners are valuable in marking the correct position of the square. These are sunk slightly below the surface to ensure no damage to machinery is incurred. As an addition, a fixed point for the stump line and return crease is also extremely useful. This can provide accurate measurement from stump to stump (22yds). It is advisable to spend time getting your square absolutely correct; it will save time in the future.
Continue brushing on a daily basis to remove moisture from the grass surface; this will allow for a much better standard of cut. Light scarification or verticutting can be carried out at fortnightly intervals pre-season. Removing horizontal and stoloniferous growing grasses and surface organic matter is always beneficial for the onset of pitch preparation; together with brushing, this will improve your quality of cut.
The mowing height should be lowered to around 15-18mm by the end of the month. Remember not to remove more than 2/3 of total grass height in each cut. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this vital time the better the results further on into the season.
Seeding of the ends with a perennial rye grass, where the grass is weak, sparse or bare can be undertaken as the rise in temperature along with sheets will help germination. Remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact, the operation is useless. The use of perennial rye grass is ideal for this. With its fineness of leaf, it combines superb close mowing with excellent wear tolerances and high quality aesthetics, is shade tolerant, fast establishing and produces very little thatch.
Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. Ideally, get your soil sampled for nutrients, organic matter content and soil pH. This information will help decide on the appropriate course of action with regard to applying the correct NPK balance for your site. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, then get your soil tested soon. To help kick start the grass into growing, you can begin to apply some low Nitrogen based fertilisers.
It is important to start your pre season rolling programme, subject to the surface conditions. Firstly, you need to ensure you can get the roller on to the square without doing any damage to the outfield. The square needs to be in a condition whereby the surface is dry but, when you press down with your thumb, some moisture is felt on the skin. This is a good indicator of when you can start your rolling. Gradually build up the rolling weight as described in February’s Diary:
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. 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. Gradually build up the rolling weight by moving onto the next size of cylinder mower and adding weights to the grass box as required. Allow time for the soils to dry before proceeding with the next roll. This gradual build up may be over a few weeks until, at the back end of the month, the roller (serviced and raring to go) should be coming out of the shed to get consolidation right for the start of the season. Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil be in a state of plasticity, or "plastercine" like. Consolidation is your main aim and the quality of pre-season rolling will show when you produce your early season pitches.
Pitches, where proper construction and gradual build up has taken place, are required to be consolidated throughout to a depth of no less than 100mm. This can only be achieved with gradual build up of roller weight, a constant speed over the whole square and measuring of soil density. The maximum achievement for soil density is the function of its clay content. As the clay content increases, the soil density increases with compaction. Higher clay content pitches of 28- 35% require more intense working regimes.
I started last month’s diary looking towards the weather hopefully starting to improve by the end of February, and thankfully it has. However, that doesn’t mean we can ignore the poor weather that has been before. The cold continued from the end of January and well into February with more freezing temperatures and snow cover, meaning prolonged issues for turf managers. Fortunately, the temperatures started to rise at the back end, and it felt like the ‘false spring’ had arrived. This has allowed many turf mangers to get some much-needed work carried out on surfaces. Although not the typical time to carry out ‘extensive’ work, there are many examples of success with utilising this method. There are undoubtedly though, also some examples of this being unsuccessful and highlights the point that everyone has different circumstances and we must try and do what is best for our turf on our site.
March’s forecast looks unsettled, which is typical for this time of year. The start of the month, moving towards the middle, looks fairly settled with sunshine and showers, combined with favourable daytime temperatures, which should be encouraging for early season growth and recovery. The predicted night-time lows will restrict any great increases in growth potential and therefore fertiliser applications should be made with this in mind, with caution at making unnecessary applications of excessive nitrogen. Then towards the back end of the month it is forecast to be unsettled with multiple days of rainfall predicted. This coincides nicely (not) with the upcoming commencement of outdoor sports, following the government’s latest COVID-19 lockdown restrictions update, allowing organised adult’s and children’s sport to take place from the 29th March, which will be welcomed by us all I’m sure.
Although I can imagine everyone is desperate to get back to doing the things they most enjoy, such as participating in sport, the date given allows turf managers some time to prepare for the return of sporting activities. The plant will have been under considerable stress, given that the ground in many locations has been saturated for some time and has undergone periods of snow and frozen ground. With the return to play approaching, many will look to carry out maintenance work that would typically be done later in spring, with a view to minimise any disruption; here the key is striking the balance to ensure there will be adequate recovery from the work carried out in time for when play returns. If this isn’t likely, then planning the work when conditions will be more favourable, with decent soil temperatures and more daylight hours, is a reasonable approach.
Selecting the ‘right’ fertiliser at this time of year is critical to ensure that the turf is encouraged to recover from the stresses of the winter, without unnecessarily trying to force growth that just isn’t realistic if the environmental conditions aren’t advantageous. This will give the turf a gentle wake up and help ensure optimal turf health moving through spring. The type of Nitrogen source(s) within the fertiliser will play a major role in this selection;
The nitrogen available from potassium nitrate or calcium ammonium nitrate, for example, is freely available for plants to take up, and for this reason it can be useful where rapid or immediate growth is required. This also makes it particularly useful in the winter and early spring where its availability can stimulate growth under colder conditions. Nitrate is highly mobile and will reach plant roots quickly providing an almost instant nutrient supply.
The ammonium form of nitrogen is typically used in the amenity industry as ammonium sulphate, also called diammonium sulphate or sulphuric acid diammonium salt. Fertilisers containing nitrogen in the ammonium form provide a readily available form of nitrogen and this also makes it particularly good in cool conditions with average to low growth potential, as grass will utilise nitrogen in both the ammonium and nitrate forms, its ability to fix to soil minerals makes it less mobile than nitrate. In warmer conditions, microbes will rapidly begin to convert ammonium to nitrate in the process of nitrification.
After application, urea first needs to be broken down by naturally occurring enzymes called urease to ammonium before it can be utilised effectively by the grass. As this process occurs rapidly in warmer temperatures, the grass is provided with an easily available source of nitrogen, although it becomes more limited during the colder winter months when growth potential is lower. The ease at which urea becomes soluble also makes it both an ideal liquid fertiliser and granular product. However, during the process of transformation, during the warmer temperatures of the summer months, urea can be prone to volatilization losses and this can make it less efficient than stabilised forms of this nitrogen source.
Urea Formaldehyde (Methylene Urea)
This is an example of a long release source of urea nitrogen fertilizer. Urea formaldehyde’s rate of decomposition into carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia gas (NH3) is determined by the action of microbes found naturally in most soils. The activity of these microbes, and therefore, the rate of nitrogen release, is temperature dependent. The optimum temperature for microbe activity is approximately 70-90 °F (approximately 20-30 °C) making this an ideal choice during high levels of growth potential.
An organic fertiliser is composed of natural materials derived from animals and plants, but they may also be from mined minerals e.g. rock phosphate. Relying on natural biological and chemical processes, nutrient content tends to be lower, less exacting and released much slower than conventional fertiliser products. However, many amenity fertilisers are also a blend of inorganic and organic forms and provide a broader range of benefits with regards to nutrient availability and soil microbiology.
Applications of biostimulants will be beneficial to the plant and soil as the rate of photosynthesis starts to increase, so will the requirement of energy from the plant. Therefore, applications of carbon in the form of simple and complex sugars can act as an energy supply for the plant and help reduce any stress from any maintenance works carried out. As the soil becomes more active with temperatures increasing, the carbon will act as a food source for the soil microbes and increase soil activity. Poa annua seed head development can start early and this is also a big consumer of the plant’s energy. Applying a plant growth regulator early to suppress the development of seed heads can help re-direct this energy away from seed head production into other plant development processes.
As we head into March, we move ever closer to hearing the synonymous ‘buzz’ of summer from the humble bumble bee. But as more and more species are becoming extinct or highly endangered, will this sound always be around in the future? There are numerous campaigns running nationwide to ensure the future of the bumble bee. Remember, one in three mouthfuls rely on pollinators, therefore if we can encourage the environments which they thrive in, we can help protect their and our futures. Spring is the perfect time to sow a wildflower mix and they can really transform areas into a bio-diversity haven that is also great to look at and enjoy.
- Check and service floodlighting systems; ensuring they are ready for the new playing season.
- It also important to replace any worn tines on your aeration equipment.
- Clean out the shed, sell off any old machinery and dispose of any junk that’s clogging up the shed.