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Winter weather has finally arrived! Many parts of the country have received heavy downpours of rain coupled with a drop in soil and air temperatures. The combination of the two is not good news for Groundsmen. Pitches, particularly soil based ones, are becoming saturated after the heavy rain. While in this state they are prone to surface damage. The knock on effect is that because soil and air temperatures are low, grass recovery is not attainable. The wet conditions allow grass to become buried under the mud and lost. Once grass cover is lost we are not likely to see any recovery until at least next March when temperatures rise again.

Playing on saturated pitches will certainly result in surface damage. Soils, when saturated, lose their stability and strength. The action of players running, stopping, sliding and turning in studded/bladed boots will result in severe surface damage. The severity of the damage will be dependant upon the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm to drain quickly.

To help keep the top 100mm free draining a programme of surface aeration is necessary. This is achieved by regular spiking with solid/slit tines to a depth of 150mm or more when conditions allow. There are other specialist machines that can help with improving surface drainage, for example the Earthquake, Groundbreaker and the versatile Verti-drain machines. Frequency will be dependant on resources available, money/labour etc. Most league clubs will be aerating on a fortnight/monthly basis varying the depth of aeration.

This time of the year is the toughest, especially during the Christmas period where several fixtures can take place within a short period. In most cases they have to suffer the consequences (loss of grass cover) of playing so many games during poor weather.

Once a game as been played it is essential to get the pitch put back as quickly as possible, this will involve hand work using a fork to replace divots and scars. Once put back a light roll with the mower will restore levels and re firm the playing surface.

However, care should be taken on the timing of aeration operations during the winter months. Getting on when the soil remains in a saturated state can do more harm than good. The photograph above clearly shows smearing damage to a pitch that has been spiked in wet conditions. The weight and vibration of the machinery has brought finer material to the surface, that will 'cap' the ground preventing water penetration and compound existing problems.

December tasks for football

Task

Frequency

Reason

Aeration

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When conditions allow

Hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, at varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan and provide adequate air space for roots to colonise. Soil organisms can still be active in December so any aeration processes will help increase microbial soil activity as well as increase drainage capacity.

Brushing/Sweeping

Daily/weekly

To remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.

Disease

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Daily/weekly

Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. With the colder weather disease outbreaks should be minimal now.

Divoting

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After matches and training

Playing surfaces are becoming wetter increasing the likelihood of surface damage during games. Repairs and replacing divots after matches is an important part of the maintenance programme to restore playing surfaces.

The use of a hand fork and foot techniques is the best way to return/replace divots. However, on larger areas, the use of harrows will help return levels on the pitch after play.

Drainage

Weekly

Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working efficiently.

Fertiliser programme


If grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured)

Fertiliser treatment and turf tonics can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results.

Generally, low nitrogen fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. Some groundstaff may apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant during the winter months.

Goal posts

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Weekly

Inspect goal posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. Check nets to make sure they aren't damaged.

Grooming/verticutting

As required

Grooming and verticutting operations are limited now, but brushing the surface and removing debris will help avoid accumulations of organic material in the base of the grass sward.

Harrowing/raking

When conditions allow

Helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.

Irrigation

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As required

The need for irrigation has been greatly reduced. Lower temperatures and early morning dews have increased the humidity of the air above the turf surface, thus reducing evaportranspiration rates (ET).

If you do have to irrigate then it is important to irrigate uniformly, ensuring the right amount of water is applied. Ensure that the water gets deep into the root-zone to encourage deep rooting.

Many professional football Groundsmen often have to water the pitch prior to games, to specifically speed up the playing surface for players.

Litter/debris

Daily/Weekly

Inspect and remove debris from playing surface, litter, twigs and leaves.

Marking out

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As required

Use approved marking compounds/materials and ensure all line markings comply with FA rules and regulations.

Always check your lines, it often pays to string out your lines when marking. Using a line helps keeps the lines straight and accurate.

Machinery (Repairs and maintenance)

Daily/Weekly

Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.

Mowing

As required

Remember to check the height of cut; at this time of year, the pitch can be cut at a height between 25mm-35mm. Continue to mow the on a regular basis when conditions allow. Stadium Groundsmen will in many cases be cutting at 28mm. Frequency of mowing will be dependant on growth, ground conditions and presentation requirements.

Cutting grass in very wet conditions can often be detrimental to the playing surface. The mower may smear and damage the surface especially when turning. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.

Quality of cut will be dependent on what type of mower is used. Cylinder mowers can offer different cutting qualities, which are governed by the amount of blades on the cylinder. A five bladed cylinder will give you a fine quality cut on rye grasses.

Post match renovation

After matches

  • Replace divots

  • Repair worn areas (goalmouths / linesman runs)

  • Top dress to restore levels (localised)

Pre match inspections

As required

  • Inspecting pitch surface and line markings

  • Checking post safety

  • Keep goalmouths roped off to stop unwanted early use - in an ideal world the pitch should be completely out of bounds between games.

  • Tidy up the edges of the pitch, strim around advertising signs and crowd barriers. Presentation on the pitch will be let down badly by unkempt edges.

Weeds

As required

It's now getting late into the season for applying selective herbicides; soil and air temperatures are not ideal for effective responses from these herbicide products. Hand weeding will be the most effective method of weed control during the winter months.

Soil tests

Ideally once or twice a year, or as required.

Soil sampling is an important part of Groundmanship. The results will enable the manager to have a better understanding of the current status of his soil and turf. There are many tests that can be undertaken, but usually the main tests to consider are:

  • Particle Size Distribution (PSD) this will give you accurate information on the soil type and it's particle make up, enabling you to match up with appropriate top dressing materials and ensuring you are able to maintain a consistent hydraulic conductivity (drainage rate) of your soil profile.

  • Soil pH, it is important to keep the soil at a pH of 5.5-6.5, a suitable level for most grass plants.

  • Organic matter content, it is important to keep a balanced level of organic matter content in the soil profile.

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

Once you have this information you will be in a better position to plan your season's feeding and maintenance programmes