With low light levels and low temperatures, January represents mid-winter and, unless there is a major change in the weather, the best advice is to stay off the square and refrain from doing any work. Just walking on the surface when frost is on the ground will do a lot of damage to the grass plant.
Tidying up the outfield and surrounds - hedges, trees etc.; and ensuring your machinery is in good condition, should be high on your priority list.
Key Tasks for January
If you are not able to work on the square, you could spend some time on the outfield (weather permitting). Regular brushing will help remove dew as well as lifting the sward. Aeration is a key activity that can be carried out too, along with some localised drainage/repair works to rectify any problem areas such as depressions you have identified. January is also a good time to carry out repairs and maintenance to resources such as sightscreens and other structures around the ground. You may get some favourable weather for painting and repairing these structures.
If you are in a part of the country protected from the forecast frost, the following may be undertaken:
BRUSHING: Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak
MOWING: It may be necessary to mow during the winter. Allowing the grasses to grow too long will encourage a weak leggy sward. Mowing frequencies during the winter months are dependent on the need and condition of the facility. It is important to maintain a constant height of cut on both the square and outfield. The outfield should now be maintained at between 25-35mm. The square should be maintained between 12-20mm using a rotary pedestrian mower, as a cylinder could tear or rip out fragile growth.
AERATION: The use of a sarrel roller to keep the surface free draining will also be beneficial to the square. Some Groundsmen may still want to carry out some deeper aeration work on the square; however, this policy is effective only where shallow rooting is a main concern and where pre-season rolling is not introduced until late March or early April. As a rule of thumb, many do not aerate after JANUARY. The outfield can be aerated though, using solid or slit tines when conditions allow.
The plant will require a small quantity of nitrogen during any warmer periods; anyone who applied a slow release fertiliser in late October or November should still have some residual longevity to draw from. If conventional release fertilisers were used, then the 4-6 weeks longevity will be coming to an end. In this instance, it is vital to keep a close eye on turf for any signs of yellowing and lack of vitality. Applying a granular turf hardener, with an NPK analysis close to 4-0-4, will be suitable. Alternatively, a soluble fertiliser with some nitrate will also be useful in maintaining health.
Iron will continue to be an important micro nutrient to apply when looking to help guard against fungal disease pathogens by thickening plant cell walls. Calcium and phosphite are also important nutrients which can be applied as liquid sprays for this purpose.
With cold conditions forecast, then a similar principle can be applied with the same plant elements. In this instance, they work to help the plant tolerate the stresses and strains of frost and harsh desiccating winds. A granular slow release iron such as Maxwell Bullet Duragreen is a very sensible solution for providing a nice steady trickle of iron for up to three months.
Consider also applications of Magnesium along with iron, which as a key component of chlorophyll will help to maximise photosynthesis on long dark days.
Diseases can still occur in January, especially during any spells of mild weather. It is important to keep the sward brushed, particularly in the mornings. Knocking off the dew helps remove surface water from the sward, allowing it to dry out and preventing disease attacks. Switching canes and brushes can be used to remove these dew deposits.
Continue to monitor the weather for any extended periods of warmth and humidity. Steady periods of milder temperatures, coinciding with dampness and minimal winds, are the most dangerous periods when guarding against Microdochium patch in particular.
As always, removing dews daily and avoiding nutritional stress are vital cultural controls. A contact fungicide containing Iprodione can be applied as protection when disease is active but, with any fungicide, early identification and action are absolutely crucial in achieving the best results.
If snow is forecast, then applying Iprodione to surfaces in advance will guard against disease spreading under a nice damp insulated blanket.
A sensible strategy to employ between outbreaks of disease is to apply a fungicide containing Fludioxonil. This active ingredient will attack fungal disease spores as they lie in wait for suitable weather conations to mount an attack. Fludioxonil disrupts the regulation of osmosis (osmoregulation) and results in the disease pathogen cells rapidly absorbing water to such a point that their cell walls can no longer maintain rigidity and explode, therefore nullifying the threat.
If your spraying equipment has not been checked for calibration and nozzle quality, then it is an operation worth undertaking as 10-20% of fungicide efficacy is reliant on the quality of the spray operation. Another way to look at this is 10-20% of the cost of a fungicide, or any other sprayed product for that matter.
Systemic curative and protective fungicides can be used to control diseases; there are a wide range of products on the market that have the active ingredients Chlorothalonil and Iprodione. These fungicides are usually applied in liquid form using water as a carrier. All personnel should be suitably qualified in the application of chemicals.
Worm activity can be quite prevalent during the winter months, especially during periods of mild weather. Keep an eye on the square and treat accordingly. 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.
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.
The combination of early morning dews, warm and wet weather and diminishing daylight hours increases the risk of fungal disease outbreaks. The right conditions to trigger these disease attacks are weakened or susceptible plants, a disease-producing organism (pathogen usually fungi) and weather conditions which favour the formation of fruiting bodies and spores (moist, mild wet conditions).
The typical types of diseases you may come across this time of year are:
- Fusarium Patch
- Red Thread
- Dollar Spot
Please note: More information on these and many others can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php
Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Cricket Pitches. It is a one-day course designed to provide a basic knowledge of Cricket Pitch (square and ourfield) maintenance. The course enables the Groundsman to grasp the basic needs of a cricket square and outfield.
There are two courses - Spring & Summer Maintenance and Autumn & Winter Renovations.
Up to date information can be found on our Grounds Training website.
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.
In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.
ARTIFICIAL PITCHES: Keep all surfaces clean, by regular sweeping and brushing to remove any algae and moss from surface. Sand filled systems also require regular brushing to maintain manufacturer's recommendations for sand levels and pile heights.
NET FACILITIES: Repair damaged structures and netting, order new if required. Strim and mow around structures.
STRUCTURES: Check and repair fences, scoreboards, covers and sightscreens. All removable structures should have been stored away for the winter. With very little activity seen on the ground during January, winter work can be dedicated to repairing and painting sightscreens, fences, and practice net structures.
DRAINAGE: Inspect drainage outlets, culverts, channels and ditches to ensure that they are working. Winter months are a good time for carrying out ditch clearing operations; blocked ditches may affect the performance of playing field drainage systems.
MATERIALS: Keep an adequate supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance.
PLANNING: Winter months enables you to evaluate how well your maintenance regimes have gone, which in turn will help you plan the work for next season. You may need to seek quotations for machinery and materials. Be prepared for next season. Failure to prepare – prepare to fail. It is important to keep records and diaries of the activities carried out, and how well the facility and each pitch have performed. The advent of the digital camera is a great tool for recording information. January is an ideal time to contact sales reps to find out what products are available for spring renovations; do not leave it late to order materials.