February has, in the past, seen some glimpses of unseasonably warm weather, but don't be taken in just yet. Working in shorts sleeve shirts one day could soon have you reaching for a warm thick coat the next.
Early This Month
As we enter into this month we are hit with some severe weather warnings with strong gales and snow forecast. If you have portable goals and are in exposed areas you might think about laying the goals down to alleviate damage from the wind.
Check anything else that may come flying at you. Pitch presentation at this time of the year becomes very important, more so this year were the higher than average rainfall experienced by groundsmen up and down the country. A very wet summer followed by an equally wetter than average winter this year has put a high strain on grounds that normally respond well to the occasional dry spell.
With cold wet soils hampering the occasional growth of grass that helps with the grass infill, it is very important that essential work is carried out immediately when conditions allow. Well striped pitches with lines that are both bright and straight and goalposts that are both upright with nets that are tidy, will help to take the eye off some of some of these areas.
Later This Month
It would be fitting also to turn some thoughts later this month if you haven't already; to how you will be tackling your end of season renovations. Some may feel that this is a bit early to be thinking such thoughts but May will soon creep up on you and catch you out. Those working in schools will be looking even earlier than this with for some, having just the week including the Easter weekend to complete all their winter pitch renovations.
Give some thoughts to what equipment you will need to complete your plans. If it's part of your inventory, drag it out, dust it off and fire it up to make sure it will work for you when you need it. If you don't have it in your inventory but you know someone that has, a neighbouring groundsman perhaps, then now's the time to offer to take him down the pub for a few beers.
Alternatively, look at the option of hiring. There are a growing number of hire companies these days that are now specialising in the hire of sports ground equipment. Start thinking about what materials you will need on hand before the planned start date for your renovations. I'm told that fertiliser, seed and topdressing costs are set to rise this year, again, due to the rise in the cost of oil, so early purchases may be cheaper than leaving it to a time every one else is buying.
February is the month where every ones thoughts are full of ways and means to ease their pitches through the rest of the season. Particularly in the north of the country where the temperatures struggle a bit more than in the south where grass growth responds better to slightly warmer average temperatures.
Dragmatting 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 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 every one can afford the necessary time to go divoting on the scale of some of the premiership grounds but even if you could afford just a couple of hours post match divoting sorting out some of the worst, I can guarantee that you will notice the difference over time. If you cannot afford a full divoting programme then you could equally tackle the worst and clean the rest off with a mower or pick up sweeper.
Cutting: If the opportunity presents itself you may find yourself mowing early this month. Keep your height of cut as near as possible to the high end of a winter cutting height. This will ensure the grass has the optimum leaf area for the production of carbon (The building blocks of plant growth) through the site of photosynthesis.
Spiking: Continue spiking when the conditions are right. A colleague of mine rightly commented earlier this month "You can never have too many holes" keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting. Hand fork goal mouth and centre circle areas if difficult to get onto with machinery.
Goal nets and posts: Check these after each game. Make sure they are upright and the nets are tidy and tied in properly.
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.
Planning your renovation Programme
Raising/restoring surface levels and getting rid of those compacted areas in front of the goal is everyone's obvious 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: Is your own equipment is in good working order? Book what you need to hire now to avoid disappointment later. If you can't afford to buy it, can't afford to hire it, check your neighbour you may be able to come to some arrangement.
Check your material needs: Grass seed, fertilisers, selective weed killer, turf treatments and topdressing
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 particularly on the wings of the pitch 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 on 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 soil 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 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 and also fresh seed is important as old seed will not germinate as greatly or as well as new. Look at the STRI list for the list of recommended cultivars.
Topdressing Get it ordered ready. Choose 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 top dress you may consider hollow coring, recycling them by breaking them up and drag matting them back into the surface.
Fertilising: A good pre-seeding fertiliser low in nitrogen and high in phosphate and potash (P:K) 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 you supplier for a trial amount and test it for yourself. I'm sure they would be pleased to accommodate you.
Equipment cleaning/painting & 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.
I will be including a monthly spotlight in the diary each month focusing on a particular aspect of maintenance or management of football surfaces. This month I thought I would focus on divoting following a game. Divoting at this time of year is particularly important after a match, more so than at any other time of the year. With low temperatures and minimal grass growth the grass sward is not likely to fill in these bare areas without some help. There are a number of techniques that you can use and I'm sure that the more experienced groundmen among us have adopted their own variation that works for them. This is how we go divoting at the club: Grab yourself a border fork and a bucket of soil with some seed mixed in.
Some smaller divots can be repaired without the need for seed or soil and I'll focus on this type first with the help of Matthew who is the willing assistant this month.
Gently lift the depressed area or divot hole with the fork
Gently pat the sides of the divot hole with the fork prongs to tease the surrounding grass plants into the bare area.
Lightly firm the grass back in with the foot and hopefully you will end up with a result better than when you started
Head Groundsman BA Concord Club