Groundsmen skills are being severely tested this winter. The recent spells of cold, wet weather, including snow coupled with a high turnover of fixtures, have taken there toll on many pitches up and down the country. We have seen in recent weeks a high number of high profile club pitches being re-turfed - Birmingham, Bolton , Glasgow Rangers to name a few.
When temperatures remain below 5 degrees Centigrade, the grass plant ceases to grow, remaining dormant until favourable temperatures return. Consequently, when playing in these conditions, the potential loss of grass cover is greater.
The need to repair turf damage after play is essential; ideally, as soon as the game has finished, all divots and scarring should be repaired. This is best done by hand using a fork. With the help of volunteers, a majority of the large divots can be replaced within a couple of hours. Once the pitch has been repaired levels can be restored by lightly firming with a cylinder mower, a quadraplay unit or harrow.
However, this approach may not be practical on sites that have more than one pitch. Local Authorities generally have 40-100 pitches to maintain after games, relying on tractor towed implements to restore playing surfaces, usually brushes and harrows.
February is usually one of the most difficult months of the year for maintaining grass pitches, particularly those that have no surface water drainage systems. Most soil based pitches can often remain saturated for long periods of time in winter. It is during this time that surface damage can occur. Often there is a lot of pressure on facility managers to get matches on whatever the weather, no one likes postponed or cancelled games.
However, playing on a saturated surface can be catastrophic, resulting in the loss of grass cover. The decision to play a fixture should be down to the groundsman/manager who knows the facility and understands the consequences of playing one game too many, particularly now when grass growth is slow or dormant due to the low soil and air temperatures.
It is also important to keep off football pitches during heavy frost. Foot or vehicle traffic on frosted pitches will cause leaf tissue damage ( bruising) .
Day to day preparations for games and matches continue. Marking out, particularly during the wetter winter months, can often be a problem on poorly drained, muddy pitches. Wheel to wheel transfer markers can be difficult to operate on these types of surface, and Groundsmen may be switching over to spray jet markers and dry line markers to cope with the conditions.
February tasks for Football
Aeration / When conditions allow :-
Hopefully, ground conditions will begin to dry out with the increasing daylight hours and drying winds often occurring in February. Once they have dried out enough to get machinery on then you should be looking to undertake some aeration works to improve the structure of your soil. Spiking on a regular basis, ideally at least once every 2-3 weeks, to achieve maximum depth/penetration of 150-250mm. Hand or machine aeration at varying depths of penetration will prevent the development of a soil pan and provide 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 / Daily/weekly :-
Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Red thread (Laetisaria fuciformis) can still be quite prolific in the winter months.
Divoting / After matches and training :-
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 the use of harrows will help return levels.
Drainage / Weekly :-
Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working efficiently. Surface water run off from nearby banks and slopes can and will cause flooding problems during periods of heavy rain .
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.
Goal posts Daily / 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 are operations that remove unwanted side grass growth and reduce the amount of debris in the sward. These operations are usually carried out when grass growth begins.
Harrowing/ raking./ When conditions allow :-
Helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Irrigation / As required :-
Very little required. Low 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 / 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 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.
Many Local Authorities now use rapid speed line marking vehicles to speed up the work, having the ability to mark out a whole senior pitch in 20 minutes.
Machinery (Repairs and maintenance) / Daily/Weekly :-
Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.
Mowing / As required :-
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 :-
- Rotary Mow surface to clean up surface debris
- Repair worn areas (goalmouths / linesman runs)
- Top dress to restore levels (localised)
Pre match inspections / As required:-
- Mow / lightly roll / using mower to firm up / presentation for next game.
- Inspect pitch surface and line markings
- Keep goalmouths roped off to stop unwanted early use - in an ideal world the pitch should be completely out of bounds.
Seed bare & worn areas / When conditions allow :-
- 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.
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 :-
Soil and air temperatures are not ideal for effective responses from 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.