shukers field hereford glouester ccc 120.jpgAlthough it's December the current temperatures make it feel like autumn still. The last remaining leaves are falling from the trees, the shortage of sharp frosts has prolonged the task of leaf clearing. However, Groundsmen are now facing their next challenge dealing with the onslaught of cold, frosty weather. Early morning and evening frosts will be affecting the performance of the playing surfaces, especially if the turf is in shade. Many Groundsmen will be making good use of frost protection covers to ensure that worn areas prone to freezing stay soft enough for play.

Day to day preparations for games and matches continues. Marking out, particularly during the wetter winter months can often be a problem especially on poorly drained, muddy pitches. Wheel to wheel transfer markers can be difficult to operate on these surfaces, and Groundsmen may be switching over to spray jet markers and dry line markers to cope with the conditions.

Many football pitches up and down the country may now be near to or reaching field capacity due to the heavy rain we have been experiencing. Pore spaces, particularly in soil dominant pitches, will be filled with water (saturated). 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 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 Blec Groundbreaker and the versatile vertidrain machines that are now available. 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.
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Some grounds may encounter snow falls particularly clubs north of the border.There is not a lot you can do whilst the snow remains on the pitch, the problems often occur during the thawing when the snow turns to water and generally saturates the playing surface. It is best to keep off playing surfaces during this time. Also playing on frosted surfaces can lead to turf damage once the pitch thaws out. The grass plant becomes bruised and is slow to recover.

Remember to check the height of cut; at this time of year, the pitch height is usually raised slightly, affording a little more protection to the grass. Cut at a height between 25mm-45mm. Continue to mow on a regular basis, although frequency of mowing will be dependant on growth, ground conditions and presentation requirements.

The condition of the pitch may also affect the quality of your line marking. Muddy and uneven surfaces are often more difficult to mark. Trying to mark a muddy pitch with a transfer wheel line marker often results in a poor line, as there is little grass surface for the wheel to transfer material onto. You may need to change to another method of line marking, either spray jet or dry powder.

Method

Materials

Pros and Cons

Dry Line markers

A variety of shapes and sizes, generally constructed of lightweight materials and come in two and three wheeled versions. Material holding capacity is usually 25kg.

The cost of these machines range from £350-£600. See shop :-www.pitchcare.com/shop/category/152


Powders can be bought in 25kg bags, 1-2 bags will mark out a senior size pitch

One of the cheapest methods of line marking. It is a very easy operation with no mixing required. However, it is important to keep the materials dry; using damp materials will affect the performance of the machine.

Very effective when having to mark on wet and muddy surfaces as there is no need for surface contact.

Transfer Wheel Markers

Offer a range of marking widths, with different tank capacities.

Cost of transfer wheel markers range between £200-£500. See shop :-www.pitchcare.com/shop/category/151


Powders mixed with water and emulsion products can be used.

Produce a very good line on turf surfaces. Easy to use.

The quality of line can deteriorate on muddy and very wet surfaces. Machines can get blocked up with debris picked up on the marking wheel.

Ready made fluid saves time compared to mixing powder and water.

Spray Jet Markers

Now becoming the most popular line markers of natural turf on the market; they are fast, reliable and easy to operate.

Some even have a tank washing process built into the unit for ease of maintenance.

Pedestrian spray jet markers cost between £450-£600. See shop :- www.pitchcare.com/shop/category/154


Various emulsion products available on the market in a range of colours.

Fast and efficient.

Large tanks. Easily adjustable line widths. Some models are self cleaning.

This technology has enabled the development of ride on markers that can complete a pitch in 15-20 minutes.

A range of attachments are available for multi line marking.

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 to provide adequate air space for roots to colonise.

Brushing/Sweeping

Daily/weekly

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

Disease

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Daily/weekly

Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Red thread (Laetisaria fuciformis) can still be quite prolific in December.

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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 to lift depressed turf and gentle pressing with the foot is the best way to return/replace divots. However, on larger areas that don't allow the close personal touch, 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.

Outside of the professional grounds, fertiliser applications are generally not made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some Groundstaff may apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up the plant and provide some cell wall strength and resilience to disease during the winter months.

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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 full of holes (no pun intended).

Grooming / verticutting

As required

Grooming and verticutting are operations that remove unwanted side grass growth and reduce the amount of debris in the sward. These operations are carried out only if required at this time of the year.

Harrowing/ raking

When conditions allow

Helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.

Irrigation

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 evapotranspiration rates (ET).

If you do have to irrigate then it is important to irrigate uniformly, ensuring the right amount of water is applied.

Many professional Groundsmen often have to water the pitch prior to games, specifically to 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 height is usually raised slightly, affording a little more protection to the grass. Cut at a height between 25mm-45mm. 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, allowing air pores to become blocked. This will inevitably help to 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 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)

  • Topdress to restore levels (localised)

Pre match inspections

As required

  • Inspect pitch surface and line markings

  • Check post safety

  • Keep goalmouths roped off to stop unwanted early 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.

Seed bare & worn areas

When conditions allow

Seeding of sparse or bare areas can still be carried out. Use germination sheets 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 seed may not give you the required germination rates.

Weeds

As required

It is 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 Groundsmanship. 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.