Expected weather for this month:

Changeable with cold, showery interludes

January was yet another mixed bag from a weather point of view; those early cold snaps followed by relatively mild conditions, then more cold conditions; and I don't envisage February being much different. It is likely to remain changeable with unsettled, milder spells interspersed with colder interludes. The most unsettled and windy weather is likely to occur in the north and northwest whilst the south and southeast should see somewhat drier conditions overall, though even here, some rain and strong winds are likely. Despite milder conditions dominating, some overnight frost and fog is quite probable.

Pre-season work on the square will be uppermost in groundsmen's minds. If you have any questions, try the Pitchcare Forum or possibly consider booking on one of the Cricket Pitch Maintenance training courses we run - there are some available for booking on the new Grounds Training website, together with the opportunity to do the Online Course version.

Key Tasks for February

Regular brushing should be carried out to lift the sward, keeping it upright to help dry the plant and reduce disease. 

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. A low nitrogen, higher potassium feed (NPK 6:5:10 +6% Fe) will help green up the plant and, at the same time, contribute to control any moss that may have accumulated in the sward during the winter months. 

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.

Keep an eye out for disease and worms, and spray accordingly.

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.

Rolling

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.

As daytime temperatures potentially begin to warm, it is important to nurse the plant through the end of winter with a gentle amount of NPK fertiliser, either as little and often foliar applications or with a conventional release mineral fertiliser. The aim should be to keep the plant healthy, not to force growth, as excess nutrition will either go to waste when cold or force the plant on too much when warmer, in turn making soft young growth susceptible to damage from the harsh winds and temperatures during cold snaps and fungal attack in warm, damp, still periods.

Sulphur is an important nutrient when it comes to assisting plant metabolic function early in the season. So, planning now to apply a feed in March, which contains a high percentage of this vital element, should be considered.

Towards the end of the month, the sun may begin to feel noticeably warm in sheltered areas, but turf managers should be mindful that it is soil temperatures which drive growth with night time temperatures the biggest contributing factor to average soil temperatures throughout the day.

Put simply:

warm day and warm night  = warming soil temperatures

warm day and cold night = stable soil temperatures

It is important to try and continue the protection of the outfield if played by winter sports. A notable reduction in plant surface density at this point will dramatically reduce the sward's ability to kick on in the spring, resulting in prolonged periods of reduced playing quality.

February represents a good time to undertake PWS testing on your surfaces. A cost effective broad spectrum soil analysis is available from the Pitchcare shop, with the subsequent report giving you a tangible point of reference as to what the soil requires when it comes to planning your spring and summer fertiliser applications.

Implementing an integrated turf management approach to managing disease is the responsible way to approach this issue, reducing periods of extended leaf blade wetness to a minimum by either removing dews by brushing or switching. Dew dispersal products offer a solution for this situation on club facilities where daily removal by hand is more difficult.

Keeping an eye on weather forecasts, and applying fungicides in good time when weather conditions are predicted to be the most conducive for disease development, is the best way to minimise damage. Once obvious damage is evident, applications are entering into a curative phase. The most effective and responsible approach is to aim for a preventative or early curative regime whereby diseases, and in particular microdochium patch, are treated prior to, or at the earliest signs of infection.

Aeration, as always, continues to be of utmost importance and should be undertaken whenever conditions allow good recovery and the risk of damaging wet soils is at a minimum.  

If moisture and warmth coincide towards the end of the month, then it is an opportunity to seed any remaining small bare patches which might have lingered over winter, although germination will be slow especially if colder weather then intervenes.

Ideally, get your soils sampled for nutrients, organic matter content and pH. A pH of 6.5 is the optimum for a cricket square. Anything higher or lower would be too alkaline or acidic and have an impact on grass growth, recovery and pest invasion. This information will help decide on the appropriate course of action with regard to applying the correct NPK balance for your site.

Worm activity can be quite prevalent during the winter months, especially during periods of mild weather. Worm treatments can be carried out if needed, but please remember to ask yourself why worms are present. pH levels, organic matter and your cultural practices on the square need to be assessed. Carbendazim is now the only active ingredient available for controlling worms - for the time being; it is still available for purchase up to the end of May 2017, and the end of August 2017 as the final date for its use, storage or disposal - Carbendazim Products

With pests such as rabbits, foxes and moles it a case of identifying the problem and controlling their activities; employing approved pest control services to eradicate them from site may be a solution.

Brushing or switching of the playing surface keeps the square clean and removes any dew or surface water. Keeping the surface dry will aid resistance to disease.

The typical types of diseases you may come across are:

  • Fusarium Patch
  • Red Thread
  • Fairy Rings
  • Anthracnose

Use appropriate fungicides to control any further outbreaks, however, with the grass soon beginning to grow, it won't take long for these scars to grow out.

More information on these and many others can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php

All personnel should be suitably qualified in the application of chemicals, having gained PA1/ PA6 certificates for hand held spraying or PA2 certificate for tractor or vehicle spraying - see the Grounds Training website for information on courses.

Still some time left in February to send any machinery away for repairs or servicing. 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.

We are pleased to announce the launch of our new Grounds Training website, together with our new suite of Online Courses. Now you can learn about how to maintain a cricket pitch in the comfort of your own home and in your own time. This newly developed course covers Spring & Summer Maintenance and consists of a number of videos with assessment questions, and an accompanying hard copy Course Manual. The Online Course is Lantra accredited and provides you with all the basic knowledge required to maintain a cricket pitch over the period stated. There is also the option of attending a one day practical course.

Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of a Cricket Pitch.

More information

We will also be running our regular one and two day courses at various venues during the year. 

Our spring courses are now available. Up to date information can be found on our new Grounds Training website.

Our next planned courses are:

Monday 14  March 2017,  Ferndown, Dorset BH22 9EN

Thursday 23 March 2017,  March CC, PE15 9RS

More information

Delegates attending the courses and using the accompanying manuals will be able to develop their own skills, working knowledge and expertise, by understanding the method of instruction and the maintenance principles they set out. Included in the Course Manuals are working diaries showing the range of tasks needed to be accomplished each month.

The Course Manual is available for purchase separately.

We can also arrange Lantra accredited training on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.

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.

Useful articles:
https://www.pitchcare.com/magazine/on-a-cold-and-frosty-morning.html
https://www.pitchcare.com/magazine/the-club-groundsman.html
https://www.pitchcare.com/magazine/nevill-ground-by-royal-appointment.html