Key Tasks for March
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.
As you are reading this in early March, hopefully the horrendous rainfall we experienced from the last couple of weeks in February are now a distant memory. Up to that point, the winter had been fairly kind, with mild temperatures, conducive for small amounts of growth and recovery and the rainfall hadn’t been too significant, which meant that most sites were reasonably dry, given the time of year. Well, what we didn’t get over December and January, certainly came in February, with what has felt like storm after storm.
The recent wet weather has meant that many have had to delay significant maintenance work they may have had planned. There were some who took advantage of the favourable weather very early season and managed to get activities finished before the bad weather hit. Everyone else will have to wait until surfaces become suitable to get back onto the land to carry out the required maintenance. Patience is key here, as going early when conditions are not right can do more harm than good.
Looking ahead to March, more settled weather has been forecast. Typically for the time of year, there is still some rainfall to be expected, but as the month progresses temperatures look set to gradually increase, with night-time lows breaking away from just above freezing to a consistent 5/6 °C. We are already seeing the increase in daylight hours, which is only going to have a positive effect on turf growth as they continue to get longer.
March is often the month that is synonymous with the start of spring. There is a raft of maintenance work to be carried out ahead of the summer season. This could involve small scale ongoing maintenance, or it could be more heavy duty ‘corrective’ maintenance, it all depends on the site and the conditions. Crucial to the success of these types of maintenance is the recovery following the work being carried out. Applying a fertiliser with the most suitable nitrogen sources, with readily available nitrogen for plant uptake, will stimulate growth and recovery.
Nitrate and ammonium are both readily available nitrogen sources. Nitrate is freely available for plants to uptake and can therefore stimulate growth in cooler conditions; it is highly mobile and can reach plants’ roots quickly, providing a quick nutrient supply. Ammonium also provides a readily available form of nitrogen, making it a particularly good choice in the early season. Its ability to fix to soil minerals makes it less mobile than nitrate. As soil temperatures begin to increase, microbes will rapidly begin to convert ammonium to nitrate in the process of nitrification. Utilising a nitrogen source that is not readily available may not give the desired response and growth required. Methylene Urea (MU) is an example of a long release source of urea nitrogen fertiliser. MU’s rate of decomposition 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. Organic fertiliser is composed of natural materials derived from animals and plants. Relying on natural biological and chemical processes, nutrient content tends to be lower, less exacting and released much slower than conventional fertiliser products. As the nutrient release is slower, so is the turf response. For those not carrying out maintenance work where recovery from surface disruption is required, liquid applications of fertiliser to coincide with the increase in temperatures may be adequate to gently ‘wake up’ the turf and give the necessary response ahead of subsequent granular applications later in the spring, when temperatures have risen further.
As the plant’s internal factories start to become more active, until there is adequate light, moisture and temperature for the plant to produce enough of its own energy resources, applications of biostimulants, in the form of carbon rich products such as seaweeds, sugars and carbohydrates will be beneficial to the plant and soil as they can act as a readily available energy supply for the plant and help reduce any stress, such as that from any maintenance works carried out. Reducing stress at this time of year can have an impact on the presence of Poa annua and specifically the flowering seed heads that are produced when the plant is under stress. Across all sports, this is an undesirable grass due to its characteristics, therefore it is recommended that steps are taken to relieve stresses that may induce flowering. Suitable plant growth regulators may also be applied at this stage to regulate the growth and reduce seed head numbers.
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- Check and service any 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.