September was a particularly dry month resulting in hard playing surfaces for many clubs and school grounds. This situation has changed with the recent heavy downpours of rain over much of the country. This change in climatic conditions, coupled with the warm temperatures may influence the incidence of disease outbreak.
Fairy rings, red thread and leaf spot have been rife on many sports fields. Fungicide treatments are essential to keep the disease under control, however, the best prevention is to carry out regular cultural operations that reduce stress and keep the plant and soil healthy. In the main, this includes regular brushing to remove early morning dew and keeping the plant standing upright to allow air movement. Aeration of the soil profile is important to maintain soil porosity.
Keep the sward maintained at the desired playing height for football between 25-35mm.
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.
Most groundstaff will be applying autumn N P K fertilisers, perhaps something like a 3/12/12 or 5/15/15/ (application Rates: 14-28 bags per Ha 35g-70g/m2 25Kg Bag) to maintain grass colour and vigour. The choice of materials and how well they work will depend on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and air temperature being the catalyst for growth.
Aeration :- Aeration should be carried out on regular basis when weather and soil conditions allow. You may contribute to surface deterioration if you aerate during bad weather when the surface is saturated and likely to smear, timing is the key to successful aeration. Ideally you should be looking at aerating your pitches at least once a month, using solid or knife tines that can penetrate the surface below 100mm.
It is essential to include a variety of aeration techniques to prevent pan layers being created. This usually happens if you continue to use the same aeration tine / corer set at the same depth, and will result in a compacted layer forming at the base of tine / core depth. Most turfgrass managers try and vary methods of aeration, changing the depths, size and diameter of tines.
The variety and choice of implements and devices now available is excellent, providing different tine sizes, operating widths and shattering features that can meet the requirements of any facility and, more importantly, do not disturb the playing surface and allow play to continue after use.
Brushing/Sweeping / weekly :- To remove dew and surface debris. Using a brush, SISIS quadraplay or similar will restore levels and produce striping or banding.
Disease / Daily :- 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 :- 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/ :- 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) / 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-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, 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
* Rotary Mow surface to clean up surface debris
* Repair worn areas (goalmouths / linesman runs)
* Top dress to restore levels (localised)
* Mow / lightly roll / using mower to firm up / presentation for next game.
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 :- 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.