I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy new year. 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 majority of pitches at this time, particularly ones that have little or no drainage, will be susceptible to surface damage. 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 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 fork.
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 Quadraplay unit or similar type of equipment.
Applications of tonics, such as seaweed based products can be applied in accordance with your annual programme to help your grass get over the stress of the cold weather, but apply when the conditions are correct and your grass will get the most benefit from it. Always read the label and consult the manufacturers if unsure.
Brush regularly to keep the grass upright and air circulating around the base of the plant.
January and February are good months to formulate and set your plans for your end of season renovations and your maintenance strategy for ensuring that next year your turf surface is better than ever.
Key Tasks for January
It is imperative you carry out pre and post match routines
Divoting: this is the replacement of divots and scars using a fork, taking time to walk over the whole playing area and repair the pitch.
Keep casual play out of goalmouth areas if you can. This can be easily achieved if you have a set of portable goals that can be moved around to different parts of your field or pitch. However, if you have socket goals then your task may be a little more difficult requiring erecting and dismantling rope and pins.
Pitch set-ups:- Continue your pre match preparations: brushing, spiking, cutting, marking out, not forgetting your post and net inspections.
Check weekly - goals for loose bolts, and tighten as necessary.
Check nets - make sure the net is properly supported at the back of the goal and isn't sagging.
Check team dugouts are stable and anchored securely. Make sure that they are tidy and free from litter.
Cut with a box to clean surface debris. Continue cutting regularly 25 -37mm to ensure a good sward density. Check the cutting action of your cylinder regularly to ensure that the units are cutting and not tearing the grass.
Brush to bring the grass back upright. 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.
Brushing during the right conditions has benefits, but I have seen some pitches where the grass has become smeared with mud through brushing or dragmatting while the grass is still damp, and particularly in the presence of worm casts. Of course, the rain will wash it off the plant eventually, but it will rob the grass plant of valuable light. Much better to leave it until the right conditions are available to carry out the task.
Continue spiking when the conditions are right (this should only be carried out if the soil is suitably moist) to augment your deep spiking carried out to alleviate build up of compaction. Keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting.
Take your time when marking out as rushed lines will invariably wander and will look messy. This creates a poor impression, lowering the overall standard and vision of an otherwise perfect surface.
There are now a wide range of line marking machines available for marking pitches, these generally come in two formats, transfer wheel and spray jet, both are cabable of putting down a good line, Howerver, in recent years, many groundmen have tended to go for the more expensive model, the spray jet line marker which often paints a better line on uneven ground conditions. Also, there are a wide range of paints for these marking machines, choose carefully as price and perfomance of the paint can be different. An accurate line will make such a difference; you should always be prepared to run a string line out to aid you in this, particularly if you already have a crooked line.
Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis that enables you to get specific results for the soils you manage. Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants. There is an optimum for each plant nutrient and, when coupled with other properties such as soil structure and particle sizes, determine how vigorous your plants are. Different nutrients undertake different tasks within the plant.
Ideally, it is good practice to undertake at least an annual soil test to analyse the nutrient status of your soil. This will help ensure you only apply what is required and not waste money and time applying products you do not need.
The choice of materials and how well it works can be dependant on many factors, including soil type and the weather, with moisture and warmer air temperatures being the catalyst for growth.
Keep an eye out for any disease; continue the work of brushing to keep the air circulating around the base of the plant to reduce the incidence of disease.
Brushing during the right conditions has benefits, but I have seen some pitches where the grass has become smeared with mud through brushing or dragmatting whilst the grass is still damp and covered with worm casts.
Earthworms may be a problem, particularly with the recent heavy rains, so regular dragbrushing will be necessary. Brushing can be daily when conditions are right. Regular aeration to keep the surface open will aid drying. A drier surface may help towards reducing the effects of the earthworm activity near the surface.
Diseases have been widely reported, particularly red thread, leaf spot and fusarium. These outbreaks have been mainly due to the heavy dews and changing climatic air temperatures we have recently experienced.
The combination of early morning dews, warm and wet weather and diminishing daylight hours increases the risk of fungal disease outbreaks. The right conditions to trigger these disease attacks are weakened or susceptible plants, a disease-producing organism (pathogen usually fungi) and weather conditions which favour the formation of fruiting bodies and spores (moist, mild wet conditions).
Most cool season turfgrass diseases spread via water droplets. Plants also release excess nutrients via their stomatas (gutation) during night hours when there is no sun and rarely any wind to evaporate it. These exudates become mixed with the dew water and become the perfect food source for disease pathogens in their early stages of development.
The majority of diseases that are occurring now have responded to the unusually warm weather conditions. Boundary layers around the leaves have stayed very moist and humid. Relative humidity is important for spore germination and penetration of leaf tissues, and constant wet conditions will allow the development and transportation of active fungi spores.
The first step in turfgrass disease management is identifying the true nature of the problem. Diseases are only one cause of turf loss, and disease control measures will do nothing to alleviate damage from other causes such as management, wear or plant stress. It is therefore essential to determine whether the problem is disease, and if so, which disease.
The three disease factors: susceptible grass / host, pathogen, and environment, provide the evidence for disease diagnosis. Symptoms are the expression of the susceptible grass to the disease and can take on a variety of forms.
Symptoms may appear on the leaves as small, circular, tan-coloured lesions surrounded by brown or purple borders (leaf spotting); as yellow, red, or tan blotches over most or all of the leaf blade (blighting); stunting; wilting; or as a brown or black rot on the crowns and roots. The appearance of these symptoms will also vary depending on the type of disease, the severity of the attack and the developing stage of the disease.
Early identification of the symptoms is essential for good disease management, however the best form of management is using preventive, cultural turf maintenance methods that reduce the ideal environmental factors that these diseases require for development, e.g. regular brushing/switching of the grass to remove excess moisture, regular aeration to allow gaseous exchange and water percolation.
Over the years, we’ve developed many methods of removing dew from playing surfaces, from dragging hose pipes over pitches to switch canes on bowling and golf greens. However, these laborious tasks have been superseded with the development of brushing attachments that can be fitted to both mowers and gators to speed up operations, though hand switching also gives you an opportunity to get close and personal and keep an eye on what’s happening.
Other cultural methods to help reduce disease pressure would be removal of thatch, which harbours pathogens, by verti-cutting and end of season renovations, as well as checking mower blades are sharp to provide a precise cut of the leaf blade and reduce the potential for disease.
Identification of these diseases can sometimes be difficult in the early stages of attack. It’s often only possible to recognise the type of disease when the fruiting bodies of the disease produce structures such as spores, mushrooms, or mycelium (small, thread-like filaments produced by fungi) that can be seen without the aid of a microscope. A good example of this is Red Thread (Laetisaria fuciformis) where the distinctive red filaments can be seen amongst the grass.
Site characteristics and turf management practices have a large influence on disease management. Factors such as air movement, drainage, soil conditions, and the amount of sun or shade, slope, fertilisation and aeration programmes are important in influencing the development of turf diseases.
It is important to remember that pathogenic fungi can survive and remain in a dormant state in plant debris and soil until favourable conditions arrive again to stimulate another disease outbreak.
The pathogens that cause these diseases are always lying dormant, waiting for the ideal conditions to become active. Once these spores are activated, and have found an appropriate host, they are able to grow and reproduce themselves, spreading new spores and infections to other areas of turf. This cycle continues whilst favourable conditions prevail.
Understanding and implementing works that can break up the disease cycle will help reduce the opportunities for disease development and outbreak.
When it comes to disease identification, there is as much emphasis on you, as the turf manager, to provide appropriate turf samples for analysis as there is for the lab to accurately identify the problem. In most cases, the best place to remove a turf sample for analysis is from the leading edge of the symptoms, where the affected or discoloured plants give way to healthy turf.
It is also important for the lab to be able to see what the general composition and condition of the sward is like and what the rootzone profile is like and, for those reasons, a 90mm diameter core sample, taken to a depth of approximately 60mm using a golf hole changer (or similar) makes for an ideal sample.
If possible, email photographs of the symptoms so that the lab can get an idea of how the problem is developing - a good picture can often tell so much more than a detailed written description.
There are a number of excellent laboratories that offer disease recognition, along with some good weather services that offer disease watch forecasts. One we recommend is Syngenta’s Greencast service.
Hopefully, your machinery service requirements are well under way. List which are urgent and make a start now and you will be rewarded by machinery ready and able to help you carry out your maintenance when you require them, and in the long run to avoid nuisance breakdowns.
Look at the overall condition and check for extra requirements needed to keep it compliant with current health and safety legislation (correctly functioning safety cut out switches, belt/chain guards in place etc.).
Check also for things that may cause a problem in the future such as fatigue fractures on handlebars or on grass box carriers etc.
Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Winter Sports Pitches. It is a one day course designed to provide a basic knowledge of rugby and football pitch maintenance. The course enables the Groundsman to grasp the basic needs of a winter sports surface throughout a 12 month period.
Delegates attending the Winter Sports Pitch Maintenance course and using the accompanying manual will be able to develop their own skills, working knowledge and expertise, by understanding the method of instruction and the maintenance principles it sets out.
Details of all forthcoming autumn courses can be found on our website Groundsman Training
Included in the Course Manual, there are working diaries showing the range of tasks needed to be accomplished each month. The Course Manual is available for purchase separately.
In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.
Service Irrigation systems and equipment, especially after any frosts.
Check goal posts:- ensure they are safe for use and have the appropriate safety approvals.