With the clocks going forward last month, we can now look forward to some longer and, hopefully, warmer working days. This will make all the difference to grass growth. I am sure there are many groundsmen up and down the country glad to see the back of the last three months. The combination of cold, wet, dark days and a heavy fixture list will have taken their toll on many football pitches.
A lot of grass cover has been lost. Temperatures in April usually rise steadily allowing the grass to recover; a programme of aeration will help, putting some air back into the soil profile, this will not only improve porosity and surface water drainage but will encourage some microorganism activity.
Maintaining and improving micro activity in your soil is beneficial for a number of reasons, they not only help break down thatch but convert plant debris into beneficial plant nutrients.
Some facilities that have more than one pitch or schools that utilise winter pitches for cricket outfields will have started their spring renovations early, which usually sees a programme of mowing, aeration, overseeding and top dressing. The changing ground conditions will certainly be influencing what work can be achieved, be careful when working on saturated ground conditions. You could do more harm than good especially when operating heavy tractor mounted implements or machinery.
Wheel tyre marks can cause surface damage, often resulting in smearing and, in worst cases, rutting of the playing surface. Also, the use of heavy machinery will cause compaction of soil structure, reducing air spaces in your soil profile. Lack of air in soil leads to anaerobic conditions which, in turn, reduces the vigour and health of your grass plant.
Ongoing Maintenance :-
April is always a busy period. The better weather coupled with the fact that any fertiliser applied will begin to kick in, promoting a surge in grass growth which, in turn, requires more frequent mowing. There is also usually an increase in fixtures, which leads to more maintenance inputs such as marking, mowing and repairs.
Cut at a height between 25mm-35mm. Continue to mow on a regular basis, although frequency of mowing will be dependant on growth, ground conditions and presentation requirements.
Cutting grass in very wet conditions can be detrimental to the playing surface. Mower vibration can cause the finer particles in the soil/rootzone to migrate to the surface, causing air pores to become blocked. This will seal the surface, making it difficult for water and air to enter the ground. The mower will also smear and damage the surface, especially when turning.
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.
It is important to keep your mowers clean after use. Ensure you wash down, air clean off all grass debris and lubricate blades after use.
April is a good time to test your soil, measuring for soil nutrient levels, soil Ph and Organic matter content. These tests will allow you to analyse the current state of your soil to find out what deficiencies you may have. Why spend money on fertiliser compounds you do not require?
Generally, in most loamy soils, Potash and Potassium levels will be ok, with the need to apply some additional Nitrogen to give the grass a kick start. However, some soils may and can be lacking in trace elements such as Magnesium and Zinc. Knowing your soils nutrient status is vital for planning maintenance regimes.
Keeping a eye on your soil pH and organic matter content is also an important issue. High soil pH and organic matter can increase worm activity, which will help improve soil structure. However, a large increase in worm populations will increase the problem of worm casts, a problem that can often affect surface playability and increase the opportunity for weed invasion.
Brushing helps stand the grass up, remove surface dew and increase air flow around the grass plant, which helps reduce the likelihood of disease attack. Regular brushing also keeps the sward clean and free of debris and helps with pitch presentation.
Verticutting / Scarifying :-
Verticutting and Scarification of the turf surface will help reduce and remove thatch from the sward. Many Groundsmen now have verticutting/grooming attachments that they can use during their mowing regimes, enabling them to remove thatch on a regular basis.
Keep up your aeration programme, using needle tines or slits. This will be beneficial at this time of year to keep the water moving through the profile and allow air to get to the roots.
On sand-based pitches spiking will help to keep the playing surface "soft". Using needle tines will enable you to tine more frequently with minimum disturbance to the grass and playing surface. Try and vary the depth and type of tines used.
Top dressing :-
Top dressing is important for restoring playing surfaces. Ensure you have a supply of top dressing that is compatible to your soil type. Top dressing is used to repair divots and scars during the playing season.
Repairs / Divotting / Overseeding
:- An important part of the maintenance programme, particularly at this time of the year. Get on the pitch as soon as possible after games. Use a hand fork to lift depressed turf, gently pressing with the foot is the best way to return divots. On larger areas the use of harrows will help return levels. Levels may need to be restored in the goal areas, by light top dressing and raking over.
Lightly roll after repair work, preferably with a pedestrian mower.
If you are over seeding in April then use germination sheets, if you have any, to aid the process of germination, but look under the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless.
Ensure you use new seed as old, stored seed may not give you the required germination rates.
Pre match inspections
- Inspect pitch surface and line markings.
- Keep goalmouths roped off to stop unwanted use - in an ideal world the pitch should be completely out of bounds.
- Tidy up the edges of the pitch, strim around advertising signs and crowd barriers. Presentation on the pitch will be let down by unkempt edges.
Marking out. 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 string line helps keeps the lines straight and accurate.
Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy, which may sometimes affect the performance of wheel to wheel transfer line marking machines. To overcome this problem, other marking systems are available. Pressure jet and dry line markers are able to produce lines on uneven and muddy surfaces.
Post match renovation
- Repair worn areas (goalmouths / linesman runs).
- Top dress to restore levels (localised).
Structures / Machinery (Repairs and maintenance) :- Check equipment and machinery ensuring heights of cuts etc. are correct.
Inspect goal posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. Check nets to make sure they aren't damaged. Good housekeeping will keep any damage to a minimum - get on the pitch as soon as possible after a match and replace divots. Use a hand fork to replace and tap down the divot. As the weather warms up (hopefully), and if your budget allows, do some over-seeding, particularly on the bare areas.
Use some specified Rye grass mix in between games, this will be very beneficial in promoting grass coverage for the last couple of months of the season. Establishing a good sward now will help to cut costs at the end of the season and give the new grasses longer to develop.
Renovations should be in the forefront of your mind. Bear in mind any problems that you may have encountered during the season ("wet-spots" or poor drainage). Try to solve these problems during or before renovations start. You should, by now, have quotations for your renovation work and a provisional starting date with the contractor, or booked the machinery with your local ground care hire shop.