I am sure many of you have had quite a busy time during the Christmas and New Year holiday period. January is always a difficult time for groundsmen having to prepare and repair football pitches during the coldest and wettest time of the year. The recent poor weather has certainly influenced pitch maintenance regimes.
The majority of pitches at this time of the year, particularly ones that have little or no drainage, will be susceptible to surface damage after matches. Wet and saturated soils are more prone to damage than free draining drier soil profiles. Once wet, the soils can become de-stabilised, reducing the strength of the soil. Playing on wet and saturated pitches leads to the grass plant being easily kicked out or torn from the playing surface.
Having an effective pitch drainage scheme will also help, most modern constructed pitches tend to have primary and secondary drainage systems installed. These systems aid the quick removal of surface water and tend to keep the pitches playable in periods of wet weather.
Playing on saturated pitches will undoubtedly bring disastrous results. It is often better to postpone the fixture rather than ruin the playing surface for the rest of the season. The severity of the damage will be dependant upon the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm to drain quickly.
It is imperative to get the pitch put back as quickly as possible after play. Once the game has finished it is important some remedial work is carried out to repair the divots and help stand the grass back up. Care should be taken not to further damage the pitch by trying to get machinery on when it remains wet and saturated. Usually the first job after matches is to reinstate any damage, putting divots back and repairing damaged turf; this is usually done by hand using a handfork.
A rubber rake can also be used to help stand the grass back up in localised wet muddy areas; if left buried the grass will soon die. Once this has been completed harrows/brushes can be used to stand up the sward. This is often followed by rolling the surface with a mower or, better still, a SISIS Quadra-play unit or similar type of equipment.
January is a good time, whilst it is quiet, to plan and get yourself organised. What are your targets for this year? What do you want to achieve? Have you organised your spring renovation works? Have you ordered materials and machinery for the forthcoming season?
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 types of surfaces, and Groundsmen may be switching over to spray jet markers and dry line markers to cope with the conditions.
Aeration: Frequency - when conditions allow
Hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, at varying depths of penetration (50-300mm) to prevent the development of a soil pan and to provide adequate air space for roots to colonise.
Brushing/Sweeping: Frequency - daily
To remove dew and surface debris. Using a brush, SISIS quadraplay or similar will restore levels and produce striping or banding.
Diseas: Frequency - daily
Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.
Divoting: 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 the use of harrows will help return levels.
Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working efficiently. Pitches that have sand band/sand groove/gravel banding systems will require monitoring and some remedial works to keep the drainage channels open. Over time, particularly on clay and heavy soil pitches, the drainage bands get capped over, thus reducing their efficiency to drain surface water away. It is important to keep these drainage channels open. This can be achieved by regular aeration and applying approved sand top dressings.
Fertiliser programme: if grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured)
Outside of the professional grounds, fertiliser applications are generally not made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some Groundstaff do 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: Frequency - weekly
Inspect goal posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. Check nets to make sure they aren't damaged.
Grooming/verticutting: Frequency - 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: Frequency - when conditions allow
Helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Irrigation: Frequency - 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 surface for players.
Litter/debris: Frequency - daily
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 when marking. Using a string line helps keeps the lines straight and accurate. Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy and very wet in January, 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.
Ensure the machine is clean and ready for use. Always wash down the machine after use; If you are not likely to use the machine for a few days it would be advisable to empty it. Particularly with spray jet markers, keep connections clean, spray with WD 40 to help keep it protected.
Machinery (Repairs and maintenance): Frequency - daily
Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery. Always ensure your mowers are kept sharp and set to the correct height of cut.
Mowing: Frequency - 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 dependant 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.
Some groundsmen will use a pedestrian rotary mower to tidy up and remove any surface debris from their pitches during the winter months.
Post match renovation
- Repair worn areas (goalmouths / linesman runs)
Pre match inspections
- Top dress to restore levels (localised)
- 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: Frequency - as required
It is now getting late 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 profil
- 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.