Key Tasks for February
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.
January seems to have come and gone in a flash, in what has felt like a busy period. The heavy rainfall and freezing temperatures earlier in the month seem to have subsided and it has allowed many to be full steam ahead with projects and continued turf maintenance. It’s always nice to hit the ground running at the start of the year and make good progress, to set things up for the year ahead.
The long-term forecast looks favourable at the beginning of the February, but then towards the back end of the month things look likely to change, with much wetter conditions and low temperatures still no higher than 4°C. Suggesting that there won’t be any significant growth potential for most of the month, which is as expected. Although, in recent years there has been known to be almost a ‘false’ spring in February, which has allowed for more maintenance to be carried out and some recovery from winter wear. If this is to be planned in this year, tracking the forecast will be key to ensure the right window of opportunity is found, to get the best possible outcomes.
There is a significant difference in the amount of daylight available at the beginning of February compared to the end of the month, with approximately two hours more daylight and above 50% increase in the height of the sun (Mid-day). This can mean a turning point for areas of turf that have been cast in shade for long periods, which comes at the end of the month, and so will now benefit from this increase in light, improving the overall health of the turf. The increase in sunlight provides more opportunity for photosynthesis and the turf can begin to ‘wake up’, however this is not an immediate shift, given it’s following on from the colder winter weather from January and early February. Unless you are fortunate enough to have resources, such as undersoil heating and growth promoting lights, its’s best not to hastily try to force growth into action. This 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.
Monitoring current soil temperatures will give a good indication of when suitable and worthwhile applications can be made. Once soil temperatures start to reach 8-10°C, the rhizosphere will start to have sufficient warmth to support biological activity and influence soil respiration by increasing enzyme activity. At this point, you can start to encourage winter recovery and stimulate some early season growth; an application of a low % nitrogen granular fertiliser with a readily available source of nitrogen such as ammonium could be applied. Soil samples, if already carried out will provide useful information for planning future nutrient inputs. Supplementary applications of biostimulants such as seaweed, humic acids and sugars will start to stimulate soil activity and provide a much-needed carbon source as activity starts to increase.
Protecting the plant in February against potential oncoming stresses can maintain good plant health and will lessen any potential damage. 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.
Gains can be made in February, but nutrient applications should only be made to provide the plant with what it needs or what it can use. Applying excess amounts that can’t be utilised by the grass plant will only be wasted. The possibility then is to make further applications to try and encourage growth, and with a change in conditions there can be bountiful amounts of nitrogen in the soil which could lead to an undesired growth response later in the year.
Low temperatures should continue to assist in keeping disease pressure low. As ever, monitoring weather conditions is key, and any applications should ideally be made preventatively ahead of disease development. If required, an anti-sporulant fungicide such as fludioxonil is suitable for when growth is minimal.
There is still no chemical available to provide control, therefore continue your cultural practices to minimise their impact as much as possible. As conditions improve and surfaces dry out, brushing ahead of mowing may help clear the surface to keep the effect of smearing minimal.
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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.