The month of May can be a time, full of sweat and hard work, where your planning skills are put to the test. Most of us will now have had our last games of the season played and will be thinking about rolling our sleeves up and getting on with our end of season renovations, assuming that these are not in full swing or yet completed.
While memories of frosty weather, cold snaps and for some, flurries of snow are rapidly falling behind, for some the grass is still proving slow to kick into growth. At the time of writing, we appear to be in a period of sunny spells interspersed with rain showers and some of them quite heavy. The Met office are forecasting average or above average rainfall for this month with slightly enhanced chances of more frequent cloudy and cool spells compared to 2007. Your renovation programme will need to be worked in and around these showers so it would be wise to keep an eye on the weather forecast.
Last month I advised that it would be a good idea to get a plan down on paper to help you with your planning decisions. Hopefully you will have a detailed idea of the operations that you will need to carry out and will have to hand all the materials that you will require to carry out the work in a co-ordinated and smooth operation.
Relieving compaction is important and deep spiking will need to be carried out. There are several ways this can be achieved and to a depth of 250 - 300mm. Some clubs may have a vertidrain or weidermann which will carry out this work well, providing that the model is matched to the tractor size. Other aerators include an air injection system that will help to fracture compacted soils. Remember to check the depth of existing under soil drainage or soil heating before carrying out deep spiking.
Surface cleaning and preparation: 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. Thatch can build up particularly on the wings of the pitch away from the more intensively played areas in the centre and goal mouth areas.
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 soil surface and in contact with the soil. Which ever method you use you will be aiming to achieve a surface that is short and clean with a finished mown height of 20 to 25mm.
An operation that is becoming popular to those that can afford it (mostly premiership clubs fall into this bracket), Koro topping 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.
Over sowing: Obtain a good quality rye grass seed mixture for your renovation. 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. Over sow at the rate of 20 to 35g/m2. Personally I like to over sow with some in hand in case I need to over sow any thin areas later on.
The important thing is to get good seed to soil contact to ensure good seed germination. This can be achieved in a number of ways depending on you the equipment that you have or the finances of hiring in equipment. If you have a quadraplay you could start by surface spiking, over sowing and then continue to work the seed into the surface using the surface spiking unit and brush unit. Traverse the pitch in as many different directions as possible to work the seed into the surface.
The roller can be lowered on the final run to firm the surface and ensure good soil to seed contact. Alternatively the use of seed drills will help to bury the seed into the surface and at a depth where it won't be subject to drying out. This will produce a liniar seeding pattern and it is best to complete two passes or more at a slight angle to the first.
Fertilise 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.
Topdressing chosen wisely for compatibility with your current root zone is an essential ingredient to ensuring good surface levels. If you employ the services of an agronomist then he will have advised you of the best topdressing for your situation. This may typically have been a medium to fine sand and of a quantity of 60 to 80 tonnes per pitch.
If you are using a general top dressing of say 70/30 you should be aware that this could have a high clay content despite the high percentage of sand that could give you some problems later. It would be wise to ensure you know what is being supplied. 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. If the construction of your pitch is a sand slit system then top dressing regularly will be required to ensure that the slits do not become capped over.
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 & 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.
Early This Month
As we enter into this month we leave April with some rather delayed April Showers that for some have been frequent and heavy at times. An early starter fertiliser can be applied now which may typically provide for good grass recovery and help the establishment of young grass seedlings. Something like a 9-7-7 would be ideal but should be In line with your soil analysis.
Later This Month
Monitor the progress/success of your renovations and over sow any thin areas to ensure that you have the best opportunity for the grass to be strong with good coverage for the start of the next season. A slow release fertiliser can be applied late in the month to take the grass through June and July.
May is the month where soils can dry out quickly as we move later into the month. Make sure that your irrigation systems are functioning as once soils become hydrophobic and dry patch sets in, it becomes very difficult to get water back into the surface. If you follow a programme of using wetting agents to ensure a uniform wetting this will help, particularly on soils prone to dry patch.
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. Following a pitch renovation, suspend this operation for a period to allow for the germination of the new seedlings to take place.
Cutting: Continue cutting regularly 25 -37mm to ensure a good sward density. It may be sometimes helpful with newly sown grasses to lightly roll the surface before cutting to ensure that the weakly held grasses in the surface do not get pulled out. Also ensure that any cutting equipment used is keenly set to cut without tearing.
Spiking: Continue spiking when the conditions are right to augment your deep spiking carried out to alleviate built up compaction. keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting.
By Malcolm Gardner