Key Tasks for October
All clubs have their own methods of working and renovating their squares. In most cases the level of work will be dictated by what budgets and resources they have available at the time and what they are trying to achieve.
Make sure your machinery is up to the task with regular services. In the main, most club groundsmen are now putting on between 6-10 bags of loam per pitch. It is important not to under or over-dress your tracks. Even in the current economic climate, it is best not to skimp on the amount of loam used. I see too many club tracks that do not perform in terms of pace and bounce because of poor end of season renovation practices.
Generally, it is usually a combination of two factors that, when combined, causes problems - not removing enough thatch or organic material during renovations and spreading insufficient loam down to increase the bulk density of the soil profile.
However, there is a fine line between too much and too little.
Soil Analysis: - If you have not had your soils tested for some time, then do so at the earliest possible chance. Soil tests commonly carried out fall into two categories: Physical and Chemical.
The Physical analysis of soil reveals its texture, the amount of organic matter present, the rate of which the water passes through the soil profiles and the pore spaces within the soil.
The Chemical analysis produces information on soil acidity & alkalinity, the amount of mineral nutrients available for the grass plant to take up and the amount of toxins that may be harmful to the turf.
Scarification: - Scarification is important to remove unwanted vegetation, but also to produce a key for the new loam material to sit in. The level of scarification required will be dependent on how much of a thatch layer you have generated throughout the season. The best way to identify how much you have is by taking a core sample. It will be then a case of going through a vigorous renovation programme, scarifying in at least three directions, finishing in the line of play.
Depending on how much thatch is removed, where necessary, clean off all the thatch debris after each pass. The square can then be over sown using a suitable grass seed mixture; do not be frightened to try out new cultivars. Sowing rates now range between 35-50 g per square metre. In essence, you are aiming to establish new grasses into your square.
Aeration: - The very basics of grass growth has never changed; sunlight, water and air, three factors essential for good grass growth of all plant life. Whilst we have no influence over the quality and hours of sunlight, there is a single management operation that directly influences the availability of the latter two. That is aeration. The purpose of aerating a cricket square is the key to producing the foundation upon which additional treatments can work.
Aeration relieves compaction, assists in top dressing to migrate down the tine holes and improves water percolation through the soil profile. It also helps to create the general environment essential for healthy grass growth. Autumn and winter aeration treatments are beneficial to promoting drier surfaces for further maintenance practices to take place. Solid tining is usually the most common practice but, where saddling is a problem to your ends, then hollow coring over a period of time will help with settlement.
Soil compaction is often the main contributing factor to poor grass growth; the lack of air in the soil profile inhibits many beneficial activities such as water movement and retaining microbial organisms. A programme to decompact the soil is essential, preferably using a pedestrian powered vertical aerator, to re-introduce some porosity into the profile. Solid tine, hollow coring and linear aeration are a number of methods being used to aerate soil profiles.
These operations tend to be carried out on a frequency basis depending on the type and size of the tines being used. However, there are a number of groundsmen who never aerate their cricket squares; they believe that the aeration holes formed can cause a weakness/stress line in the clay profile that could eventually break, causing problems with the pitches. They believe that the clay's ability to shrink and swell provides the necessary voids to promote root growth.
Top Dressing: - It's important not to overdress the square, as you will not only be wasting the precious loam material but you may also be smothering your sward. The last thing you want to be doing is to bury any vegetation, which will lead to future problems. The object of the renovations is revitalize the top growing zone, restore levels and to integrate new material into the soil profile. This will help build up the clay content in your square.
Irrigation should follow as soon as possible to assist in the germination of new seed. By keeping the soil moist, the seed should germinate between 7-10 days weather permitting, a germination sheet will aid this process.
Once the grass has germinated out on the square, you should look to maintain a cutting height between 15-25mm, and continue to brush off the dew in the mornings to keep the sward in a dry and disease free condition
Once you have finished renovating your square, devote some time to the outfield. Outfields are often neglected if not used for any winter sport such as rugby or football.
They do not get much attention in the way of scarifying / harrowing, aeration, topdressing, over seeding and, in some cases, not even being cut through the winter months.
Mowing of the outfield should be undertaken on a regular basis. By maintaining a height of cut between 25-35mm, this will help to encourage a dense sward and reduce disease.
Invest some money on your outfield to restore levels, kill any weeds and aerate where possible. Some clubs even use their pedestrian Groundsman spiker to aerate their outfields.
It may not be too late to get some selective weed killer applied, especially if soil and air temperatures remain favourable. Also apply a winter feed to help keep some colour and stimulate some growth
ideally, when aerating the outfields, penetration should be down to a depth around 200mm to promote deeper rooting and surface drainage. Some groundsmen like to carry out a programme of solid tining, deep slitting or hollow coring, which again increases porosity but can also help redistribute/recycle topsoil which, in turn, helps restore levels.
The frequency of aeration activities will often depend on the resources - money, machinery and time - available. In the main, you should be looking to aerate throughout the winter period on a monthly basis, weather and soil conditions permitting.
We end September with what seems like more rainfall in the last few days of the month than we have seen over both August and September combined. Although looking back, there have been a few days of significant rainfall in these months, however this rain at the end of September feels much needed as there has been very little over the past weeks and most places are looking significantly dry, certainly for the time of year. Looking ahead at the forecasts, the unsettled end of the month carries on into the start of October. Although further into October appears more settled, those with renovations planned in early October may have to consider the option of drier but cooler conditions slightly later, or wetter but warmer soil temperatures slightly earlier.
As weather conditions change, October can be a high disease pressure month. Cooler temperatures, with increased leaf and soil wetness, mean that it’s important to constantly monitor the local environmental conditions with a view of the site’s previous history and patterns in disease outbreaks; knowing which areas are key indicators can help massively to stay ahead of damaging disease outbreaks. As conditions become more conducive for disease development, being aware of historic turf responses to certain weather conditions form a central part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach.
For many, the focus this month is Microdochium nivale (microdochium patch) control. There may still be some signs of the increasingly present Anthracnose, but as maintenance practices alter, raising heights of cut, reduced mowing etc… many of the stresses that contribute to this disease are eased slightly. Conditions in October can be ideal for Microdochium nivale outbreaks, and predicting when these outbreaks may occur is challenging. Gaining an understanding of what contributes to disease pressure reaching tipping point on your own site allows better informed decisions when selecting and timing any of the applications aimed at counteracting disease pressure. These may be fungicidal, nutritional or plant response applications.
As it becomes more difficult to rotate active ingredients, due to the decrease of new chemistry in the amenity market, the more information there is available then the easier it is to make accurate decisions on what, when and how to apply. Fungicide technology is only one part of an IPM approach, and increasingly it will be the other applications which will become more in focus as tools with which to reduce disease outbreaks and severity. Morning dews can lead to an increase in leaf wetness in October and this additional moisture on the surface can be the perfect vehicle for pathogens. Therefore, utilising dew dispersant technology can be a useful tool. Expectations need to be set to a realistic level in relation to longevity of the products compared to when using them in cool months when growth potential is low. When frequent mowing is still taking place, the longevity is going to be relatively short, however this can still be long enough to reduce the level of leaf wetness to get through a high disease pressure period.
With changes in temperatures and available sunlight, a shift in approach to nutrition should follow. The aim being to promote steady, hardy shoot and leaf growth, avoiding any flushes of growth that would be more susceptible to attack by fungal pathogens. Fertilisers with a slow release nitrogen source, such as IBDU or CDU will give longevity through the autumn and into winter. If slow release fertilisers are not suitable for a specific site, when using a conventional fertiliser ensure the ammonium value is not above 4 or 5 percent (to avoid the aforementioned flushes of growth) or use a suitable application rate.
Biostimulants applied at the right time will be beneficial to the plant and soil over winter. Applications of carbon energy in the form of sugar can assist the plant in being more resilient and well-developed in the early spring. Therefore, a well-planned autumn application can have benefits on the start of the following season.
Seaweed has been shown to elicit important beneficial defence and stress responses in plants and associated microorganisms. Amino acids play an important role in abiotic stress tolerance, helping plants to prepare for and to cope with autumnal and winter stress events, such as varying changes in temperature and volumetric water content.
Don’t forget the emergency authorisation for applicatons of Acelepryn for the control of leatherjackets is still available with an end date for sale and application being 29th November. A month later than previous years.
There has been plenty of activity recently reported, with some noting a particularly long hatch period. Applications of the product should continue to be made when peak activity of the adult crane fly on the wing are observed, if this has given satisfactory results previously. If satisfactory control is not been achieved, new research indicates applications can be made up to one month after peak flight. Adult flies commence egg laying almost immediately, with hatching and larvae emergence about two weeks later; Acelepryn is most active on the 1st and 2nd instar larval stages. As with an integrated approach to disease management, monitoring, record keeping and understanding of the pests organisms life cycle are key factors for success.
With the relatively dry August and September, worm activity has been minimal for most, however as moisture levels continue to rise, these may become a major issue to contend with. There are no legal controls for earthworms and any product which is applied to directly affect them is done so illegally. Cultural management is the only route currently available. There are many options available, but the result should be measured against the amount of input required to get those results and then whether it is justifiable to carry the practices out. Practices such as localised surface acidification, removal of grass clippings to reduce their food source and sanding of surfaces to assist in the drying out and dispersal of casts. This does not completely eradicate the problem, but it will lead to less negative lasting impressions on the surface from the casts. Sulphate of iron is often used as a surface acidifying agent, but it is worth using with caution to avoid over application which may lead to negative effects to plant health throughout the rest of the year.
Keep machinery in good order, clean after use and top up any oil/fuel levels.
Check cutting cylinders are at correct cutting height and are sharp.