Expected weather for this month:

Generally unsettled, with temperatures low teens

Another unsettled month ahead, according to the forecasters. However, the grass has been growing steadily for most of February thanks to some mild weather so, hopefully, groundsmen will be able to get onto the square for some necessary pre-season work. The big decision at the moment is when to start the pre-season rolling. There is plenty of debate about this on the Pitchcare Forum.

You will need to ensure your mowers are ready for the start of the season, serviced, sharpened and ready to go. Check your height of cut, you do not want to be cutting too low.

Ensure you brush off the dew before cutting, this helps reduce the amount of water on the leaf blade, a dry leaf cuts better than a wet one. This can be done by dragging a hose pipe, a dragmat or dragbrush or a switching cane.

With the increased daylight hours, milder weather and warmer temperatures, this should stimulate some much needed grass growth. We can now look towards to getting on with some serious business of preparing the cricket square and outfield for the forthcoming season.

Key Tasks for March

Maintenance Regimes

General:

Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak.

Many turf grass diseases, such as Fusarium and Red Thread, can be active at this time of the year. Keep an eye out for disease and worms, spray accordingly - Fungicides

Have your soil tested and fertilise the square with low nitrogen, higher potassium feed to harden the sward - Fertilisers and Soil Testing

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.

The Square:

As soon as possible (for all you early birds), 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.

Pre-Season Rolling

 

It is important now to start you pre season rolling programme. 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.

For current thinking on pre-season rolling, there is a very interesting and useful thread on the Pitchcare Forum.

 

If you have access to a core sampler, take a core between the edges of 2 pitches on a length. The profile should show good root development, white and about 100mm long, a consistent layer of soils compatible with each other, thatch-free and no root break. Do this on various areas of the square; make notes so to be able to monitor pitch performances throughout the course of the season. This will help form part of your renovation programme for the end of season and take out some of the guess work.

Closely monitoring soil temperatures with a digital soil thermometer is the preserve of the informed and agronomically focused individual as we enter into March. Soil biology and plant function depends on temperatures which encourage metabolic function – there is a reason your refrigerator is set to 5 °C. The minimum temperature whereby things will start to get going on a sustained basis is 8°C. Anything above 10-12°C is the point whereby good noticeable responses will take place.

One of the key points of understanding with regard to this principle is that day time temperatures are not the factor which drives an increasing base line with regard to soil temperatures. Night time temperatures are the key factor which will either hold the base line underneath the 8°C threshold or assist in pushing it over the bar into good growth response.

Understanding how the soil temperature is fluctuating, by taking and noting daily soil temperature readings (ideally at the same time of day), will provide you with insight into when you should actually be timing operations.

It can be all too tempting to apply fertiliser, stimulants, plant protection products, or undertake operations such as scarification, aeration, top dressing and seed sowing based on what the calendar says as opposed to what the data says. The key message here is that nature will run at nature’s pace, and when we strive to undertake operations to push things forward we can inadvertently result in placing stressed surfaces under more stress, which will hold back positive gains when everything does start to kick into gear. Not to mention money can potentially be wasted by applying products the soil and plant cannot utilise.

In terms of inputs; if weather conditions are cool, but surfaces are looking stressed, a light application of foliar fertiliser mixed with a good quality liquid humate product containing fulvic acid will aid uptake efficiency and response. Mixing in some calcium and chelated iron will toughen the leaf cells and guard the plant against stress. If soil temperatures are warmer and activity is increased, then a granular fertiliser containing a reasonable dose of sulphur will help to kick plant function into action.

Feeding soil biology with a carbon source, such as sugars and humates, will help to support the soil plant ecosystem crucial to plant health. Seaweed feeds are also vital in terms of assisting soil biology and priming plants’ natural defences.

Seed can be applied to any bare areas which may remain from autumn renovations, but establishment will benefit from it being pre-germinated (chitted) and, if appropriate, for your surface to be protected by a germination sheet.

Keep an eye out for warm temperatures coinciding with damp still days for more than 24 hours continually, as this will represent high risk for outbreaks of microdochium nivale. Applications of systemic fungicides during warmer spells will provide preventative protection. Removal of dews and minimising periods of continued leaf blade wetness is an essential cultural method of preventing disease.

Plant strengthening tank mixes of calcium, phosphite and chelated iron, facilitated with a humate adjuvant, will strengthen plant cell walls and natural defences. Managing plant vulnerability by understanding and using nutritional inputs can be done in isolation or alongside fungicide programmes.

One thing that everyone should bear in mind is that an integrated approach to the management of turf pathogens, utilising a multifaceted approach, is the future of the industry. Greater legislative pressure will place an increasing demand on many of the traditional chemical options. Individuals involved in maintaining turf surfaces at any level of the industry will be well served to be seeking out knowledge which will allow them to integrate alternative methods and programmes of maintenance into their surfaces now, in a proactive manner ahead of the inevitable changes. Changes which, if not planned for, will initiate a reactive approach from a weak position of understanding.

Particle Size Distribution (PSD). March is a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis, enabling you to get them back in time to start your new year's maintenance. Ideally, if you have not had one done before, you should have a full (PSD) Particle Size Distribution soil analysis done to tell you the actual make up of your soil profile.

Soil is made up of percentages of clay, silt and sand. The PSD analysis will identify the ratio of these and confirm soil type, thus giving you a better understanding of what soil you are dealing with.

Soil pH. Also, you can establish the amount of organic matter (OM) content, as well as soil nutrient status and soil pH. With this information, you will be able to identify the needs of your soil.

Carrying out these test also allows you to check other physical conditions of the green, such as root depth, levels of compaction and aerobic state of the soil.

Some clubs continue to apply wetting agents to help improve and enhance soil performance. A wetting agent is such a substance that reduces the surface tension of a liquid, causing the liquid to spread across or penetrate the soil profile more easily. These are usually applied on a monthly basis.

N:P:K: Keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth.

Disease Control

Always keep an eye open for turf disease. Prevention is always better than a cure. The combination of moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade can make the plant susceptible to disease attack. Many turf grass diseases such as Fusarium and Red Thread can be active at this time of the year.

Symptoms of Fusarium (Microdochium nival) (image right), the most common and damaging disease, are orange – brown patches, 2.5-5cm across, increasing in size under suitable conditions as the disease progresses. Active patches have a distinctive ‘ginger’ appearance when viewed early in the morning. Creamy white mycelium resembling cotton wool can be seen in the centre and towards the outer edge of the patch. Grass in the active patches is often slimy; once the disease is controlled, the scars will remain until there is sufficient grass growth to fill in. Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak.

Red Thread is ill defined bleached grass with Pink mycelium visible in early morning dew. Close inspection will reveal red needle like structures which are attached to the leaf blades. The needles become brittle upon death and are easily detached, allowing fragments to spread the disease. Systemic curatives and protective fungicides such as Chlorothalonil and Iprodione, applied in liquid form with water as a carrier, can be used to control any outbreaks. Mixing two or more products in the same tank can help reduce the potential for disease resistance developing. Fungicides are selected with different modes of action so that resulting mixture will attack the target disease on two or more fronts. This makes it more difficult for the pathogens to develop resistance to treatments.

Pests

Worms can be very active at this time of the year so treatments can be carried out, if needed; the use of Carbendazim is, for the time being, the only active ingredient for controlling worms.

All personnel should be suitably qualified in the application of chemicals.

Please note: More information on diseases and their treatment can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php

All machinery should now have been returned from any servicing in time for use. Ongoing inspection and cleaning of machinery after use is vital. Breakdowns cost money, as well as inconveniencing pitch preparations.

The workshop should be kept in a good order; good housekeeping is important, a tidy workshop reflects a tidy worker.

Keep a good supply of materials, such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance. Materials for spring remedial works should be booked to avoid disappointment or delay.

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 - are they ready for action, no repairs needed, all in good order? Remember, covers are used a lot in our climate for protecting the playing surface from rain and sun under preparation for play. 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.