Many football grounds are suffering from the recent spell of dry weather. April was reported to be the driest month since records began with many parts of the country receiving less than 2 mm of water in the whole month. The combination of sun, drying winds and no rain has escalated the speed soils are drying out, particularly pitches that have little or no grass cover.
It will be difficult to carry out renovation works while the pitches are so dry, cultivation operations will be affected along with the fact that any grass seed sown is not likely to germinate without adequate soil moisture. Even the professional clubs with hi-tech watering systems will be struggling to get enough water on.
As for local authority pitches and the majority of school pitches that have no watering facilities it will be a case of waiting for the weather to change with the hope of some decent rainfall in the coming weeks to re wet the soil profile.
The dry weather will also have an affect on the uptake of nutrients. With little or no moisture in the soil profile the exchange of nutrients from soil to plant will be reduced thus influencing the health of the grass plant. This will reduce the vigour and growth of the sward. Fertiliser applications will not take affect until there is sufficient moisture back in the ground. Without rain and the grass moving towards drought, fertiliser applications should be ceased until the weather breaks.
May is traditionally a very busy time for most football facilities with the season coming to a conclusion and the end of season renovation works programmed to start. The level of renovation and how it is achieved will vary greatly and will be dependant on a number of factors:
- Type of facility, its construction and soil composition.
- Extent of wear and damage to the pitches
- Skills and resources of the ground staff
- Time available to complete the works with allowance for establishment during the closed season window.
The use of specialised contractor services.
Your end of season renovations will be determined by what wear you have suffered through the winter and the present condition of the pitch.
Most of the Premier League Groundsmen will be completely renovating their playing surfaces utilising the Koro equipment to clean off or reduce the amount of existing vegetation from their pitch, possibly power harrowing the upper profile and oversowing.
Most, if not all of these operations are carried out by specialist sports turf contractors, who have the necessary equipment to complete this work within days, allowing more valuable time for establishment.
However, the key factors that influence what renovations are carried out, especially in lower level football facilities such as local authority, schools and club pitches, are cost, time and resources.
Advisors and consultants are available, at a price, to assess your requirements and provide a report detailing the works and costs required. However, also look in-house, you may already have the necessary expertise and equipment to at least carry out some of the work.
If possible, obtain a soil analysis of your pitch, measuring for soil particle size, organic matter content, soil pH and nutrient status. This information will help you decide what materials to use in respect of grass seed, fertilisers and top dressings.
In the main you should be looking to carry out the following end of season operations:
- Aeration to de-compact the pitch
After a season of play the soil profile will have become compacted. It is important to relieve this compaction and allow air back into the soil profile. Grass plants require air for growth. The use of solid tine or knife bladed spikers/vertdrain machines are essential tools to aid aeration of the soil profile.
Ideally, it would be best to hire a vertidrain or Shockwave type machine that can provide deep aeration down to 300mm depth. This will ensure you have relieved all the compaction and will also provide holes for the top dressing materials to fill.
Repair worn areas
All bare and sunken wear areas should be renovated, dressed and overseeded. This will involve some cultivation work, making good surface levels by adding new compatible materials and overseeding with a sports field ryegrass seed mixture.
Top dressing is carried out to help restore levels, improve soil structure, improve surface drainage and aid seed germination. Ideally the whole pitch (6000m2) should be top dressed with between 60-100 tonnes of suitable material.
Generally, the choice of material is either approved medium sand (particle size ranging from 0.125mm-1mm) or 70:30 rootzone (sand soil mix). The dressing should be brushed into the playing surface so it works its way into any low spots and the aeration voids.
It is essential to ensure that all worn areas have been overseeded at a rate of 35-40g/m2. The whole pitch should then be overseeded maybe at a slightly lower rate 15g/m2. Seed should be disc drilled into the profile to ensure seed/soil contact is made for better germination.
To help the sward recover quickly and encourage the new grasses to establish a dose of fertiliser is required, usually in the form of a late spring or early summer fertiliser appied at a rate of 35g/m2. Most groundstaff will be applying a spring/summer fertiliser, perhaps something like a 9/7/7 which will get the grass moving during May. Then, towards the end of the month, look to putting on a slow release fertiliser to see you through June and July.
Once the seed has germinated there will be a need to irrigate if dry weather persists. Newly sown seed, having shallow roots, will need adequate moisture to survive and establish.
The commercial cost (from an approved sports turf contractor) for the above operations for one football pitch ranges between £4000-£5000 depending on choice of materials used. The rate would come down if more than one pitch is to be completed.
The high cost is mainly due to the supply and spreading of the top dressings. The material alone (sand) can cost anything up to £24 per tonne, with the additional spreading cost of between £5-£10 per tonne. This item of work is the most costly part of the pitch renovation. Based on 100 tonnes supplied and spread, this item alone can come to around £3,400.
It is often this cost that deters people from top dressing their pitches, which is why we see so many poor pitches in the UK. Top dressing is an important part of the maintenance loop and is essential for restoring pitch levels and improving surface drainage.
Once the renovations have been completed and the new grass has germinated ongoing maintenance must be followed up. To help promote a dense sward regular mowing is essential.
Any major resurf
acing or drainage works are usually programmed to coincide with end of season renovations works.
May tasks for Football
Aeration / When conditions allow :-
Hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, at varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan.
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 /Daily / weekly :
- Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.
Divoting / Immediately after game :-
To repair scars and surface damage.
Drainage / Weekly :-
Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working.
End of season Renovation / As required :
- Goal posts are taken down, repaired, repainted, labelled and stored ready for next season. All bare areas are cultivated, levelled, top dressed and over seeded. Other works may include aeration works which need to coincide with applications of top dressing materials, fertilisers and seed.
/ If grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured) :- Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic 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.
Goal posts/ Weekly :-
If still in use, inspect goal posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure.
Harrowing / raking / When conditions allow :
- A practice that helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Irrigation equipment/ Weekly :- I
nspect irrigation installations for leaks. There may be a need to irrigate during any renovation programmes, as air temperatures and daylight hours are getting longer, increasing the likelihood of the ground drying out.
It is important to irrigate uniformly ensuring sufficient water is applied. Allow the water to get down deep into the rootzone to encourage deep rooting. Allowing areas to dry out can lead to problems of dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil, thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.
Litter / debris / Daily / Weekly :-
Inspect and remove debris from playing surface, litter, twigs and leaves.
Machinery (Repairs and maintenance)/ Daily / Weekly :-
Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.
Marking out / As required :-
Use approved marking compounds/materials and ensure all line markings comply with FA rules and regulations.
Mowing / As required :
- To maintain sward height 25-30mm. Frequency of mowing will now increase to maintain the correct sward height. As soil and air temperatures begin to rise grass growth will increase.
Post match renovation :-
- Repair worn areas (goalmouths/linesman runs)
Pre match inspections / As required :-
- Top dress to restore levels (localised)
Seed bare & worn areas / When conditions allow :-
- Inspecting pitch surface and line markings
Seeding of sparse or bare areas can be carried out, the rise in temperatures will help germination. Use germination sheets to aid this process but look under the sheets regularly to check for disease. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation will not produce a good result. Ensure you use new seed as old stored seed may not give you the required germination rates.
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.