April is a month often full of hope and some expectation that winter is finally behind us with steady rising temperatures, however, nature can still throw an occasional spanner in the works. Some clubs, schools and colleges may be in a position to get on with their winter pitch renovations. If you are in a position of having multiple pitches there is the possibility, depending on circumstances, to take the worst out of play to get on them early.
With the clocks going forward heralding a return to longer daylight hours, and a steady rise in temperatures aiding grass recovery, the ground will soon become, if not already, ideal for renovation work. April is always set for a busy month in the Groundsman's calendar.
Early This Month
We leave March behind with a surprise dusting of snow for some and, for others, a thick layer covering their ground. Hopefully, this won't have caused you too much concern, as it was very quick to melt away. Very importantly, brushing and harrowing should continue regularly to maintain surface levels and air circulating around the grass plant. Continue with your spiking to help relieve compaction levels and to ensure there is plenty of oxygen getting into the ground.
Later This Month
Your renovations should be kicking in later this month. Give some consideration to how you will achieve your objectives i.e. what are your problem areas. How are you going to solve the problems and what methods you going to use to carry out the tasks effectively (often dependant on what you can afford and what equipment you have available to carry out the work)? Work out timescales for each step of your renovation programme. Quite often there are lot of things to think about so writing it out in a plan is not a bad idea.
Continue with your general maintenance of cutting, marking, spiking and brushing to keep your surfaces looking good. This is the time of year when some of you will be hosting your most important matches, particularly if your team/s have made it to your regional semi and cup finals, and good surfaces and good presentation can make all the difference, often putting you into the spotlight.
Drag matting and brushing: Continue the work of brushing to keep the air circulating around the base of the plant ,particularly important for removing early morning dew and controlling disease. Pay particular attention also to the goalmouth areas and centre circles post match to lift the grass back up out of muddy areas. This is also important in keeping surface levels.
Divoting: This is important work even at this late stage in the season and should be completed after each match. Arm yourself with a border fork and a bucket of topdressing with a little seed mixed in. Not everyone can afford the necessary time to go divoting on the scale of some of the premiership grounds but it is an important part of keeping a surface in good condition. If you cannot afford a full divoting programme then you could tackle the worst and clean the rest off with a mower or pick up sweeper.
Cutting: Cutting will become very much a part of your daily routine this month. Make sure that you keep you mowing equipment cutting keenly. If you are expecting to carry out your renovations earlier in April then you might want to think about reducing the height of your grass, but this should be a gradual process if your grass is high. Not only will this ensure your emergent grass sowing will not have to compete for light amongst taller established grasses it also means that you will not need to be on the grass with heavy machinery whilst it is trying to establish.
Spiking: Continue spiking when the conditions are right. This is another important operation process.
Goal nets and posts. Check these after each game. Make sure they are upright and the nets are tidy and tied in properly. If you are taking goalposts down for storage make sure you note any problem areas - broken bolts that need replacing/greasing etc. Paint them before storing away and also make a note of any new net requirements.
Marking Out: Keep you lines looking bright by over marking before each match and string them when you start to see them wander. A good bright straight line is like a frame for a beautiful painting. Given some thought and taking some time with a string line would have helped give a better impression of a Groundsman's skills, particularly as this is one of the visible facets of what we do.
Planning your renovation Programme
Raising/restoring surface levels and getting rid of those compacted areas in front of the goal is everyone's obviousaim, but don't forget the linesman's run-up. Sometimes forgotten, but easily incorporated into your programme; and, while your about it, the area beside the pitch that everyone stands to watch the game will need attention. Here are some things to hopefully stimulate your thinking:-
Equipment needs: I am sure you will have received back into your workshop any machinery that was sent away for servicing. If not, chase it up, as you will need it this month. If you have booked to hire equipment in for your renovation, a short phone call a day or two before hand to your plant hire company may be wise to double check your arrangements.
Check your material needs: Hopefully, you will now have all your spring material requirements to hand.
Surface cleaning: However you achieve it, you will need to clean out the surface and get rid of the build up of dead organic matter that will have built up and the remnants of old divots etc. A tractor drawn rake, followed by a box mower, is probably the most traditional method and most likely within the means of most clubs and schools. You may also have use of a pick up flail mower, in which case you may find that scarifying tines can be fitted and the job will be completed in one operation. This method can be advantageous as the scarifying tines may leave a grooved surface ideal for ensuring over sown grass seed is buried just beneath the surface and in contact with the soil.
An operation that is becoming popular to those that can afford it (mostly premiership clubs fall into this bracket), fraize mowing is extremely efficient at removing the top organic layer of the pitch, however, you will effectively be starting again with a newly sown surface, so your seeding rates will need to be higher.
Spiking: Spiking to relieve compaction and to get air back into the soil is important. If you have a spiker that will allow some heave then this will become very useful; otherwise you may do well to hire one in or employ the services of a local sports ground contractor.
Over sowing: Get a good quality grass seed for your renovation. It is important to use fresh seed as old seed will not germinate as greatly or as well as new. Look at the STRI list for the recommended cultivars.
Topdressing: Hopefully you will be in receipt of your ordered topdressing, chosen wisely for compatibility with your current rootzone. If you employ the services of an agronomist then he will advise you of the best topdressing for your situation. If you cannot afford to topdress you may consider hollow coring and recycling them by breaking them up and drag matting them back into the surface.
Fertilising: A good pre-seeding fertiliser, typically a 6:9:6 to provide the young seedling with the essential nutrients that will be deficient in a soil washed through by winter rains.
Turf treatments: Some turf treatments work well for some and there are a number of them to choose from, such as organic based micronutrients, seaweed treatments, clay flocculants, amino acids and plant growth regulators such as Primo Maxx. It can sometimes be difficult to assess the benefits of such treatments, but most managers will notice if it has been effective or not. If you are unsure then ask your supplier for a trial amount and test it for yourself. I'm sure they would be pleased to accommodate you.
Equipment cleaning/painting and Storage: Make sure that goal posts are cleaned and painted before putting them away. The peace of mind this generates is worth it. There's nothing worse than rushing at the beginning of a season to get this job done when you have a thousand and one other things to do before your first game. Check for replacement nets and spare parts; order them in so they are on hand when needed.
By Malcolm Gardner