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.
Due to circumstances this year there are probably still some matches remaining to be played and, if this is the case, you will no doubt be ready and waiting in the starting blocks with all the pre-requisite materials and equipment to hand for an immediate start.
A peppering of showers intermingled with sunshine can be expected during May and you may find yourself dodging in and out of showers to complete your tasks. Periods of extended rain have been known during this month too but the important thing is to get done what you can, provided that the conditions remain suitable for the task that you are undertaking. You could of course equally be reaching for your hoses too.
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 coordinated and smooth fashion.
The list of operations required for a successful spring renovation:
As well as well as these tasks you will also need to at some stage to think about weed control. There is, however, some very careful consideration needed on this front to ensure the time of application is right, but we will go into that presently.
If the list above is taken as a sequence of events then you won't go far wrong with your renovation though you may need to give some further attention to goalmouth and centre spot areas and we will cover that later.
Weed treatments: At some stage you will need to consider where your weed killing programme fits into the picture of you pitch renovations. Selective weed killers remain persistent in the ground for a number of weeks when sprayed and this can have an adverse effect on your seedling grasses it not timed properly.
If you have a noticeable amount of weeds present already, then you may be better spraying immediately to eliminate the heavy competition that new grasses will get from the already established weeds.
This will also ensure that your seeding operation will be going into the voids left behind from the deed weeds. You will however need to delay the renovation program if this is the case by some 5 - 6 weeks but, always seek advice from the on label instructions for the period that should be given between spaying and sowing for the product you are using.
Don't forget also to tailor the product to the predominant weed species i.e. if the majority of weeds present are yarrow then look for a product that specifies on the label that it provides good control of this weed
If you have little in the way of weeds then it may be better to get straight on with your renovations and apply a weed killer application later in the season when your grass has established and has reached the two leaf stage. Always consult the label
Scarifying: however you achieve it, you will need to clean out the surface, removing the remnants of old divots etc. and to get rid of the build up of dead organic matter accumulated over the winter months. 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. Before carrying out this task you will need to reduce the height of cut. This will not only help your grass to establish better but will help your machinery to carry out the work without struggling
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 allowing the job to be completed in one operation. This method can be advantageous as the scarifying tines can leave a grooved surface ideal for ensuring over sown grass seed is buried just beneath the soil surface and in contact with the soil.
Whichever method you use, you will be aiming to achieve a surface that is short and clean with a finished mown height of 13mm to 20mm that will give your grass seedlings time to grow and establish without competing too much from the existing grasses.
Koroing is 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 to be higher.
Spiking: Relieving compaction is important and spiking as deeply as possible is required. There are several ways this can be achieved and to a depth of 250 - 300mm. Some clubs may have a vertidrain or Weidenmann 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. Pay particular attention to your goal mouth and centre spot areas and don't forget too the off pitch areas where your linesman and spectators stand.
Fertilising: A good pre-seeding fertiliser, typically one low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus and potash, will provide the young seedling with the essential nutrients to root quickly and to resist disease. This should be worked into the surface brushed or drag matted in. Water in if rain is not expected.
Seeding: 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 range of recommended cultivars listed by fineness of cut, resistance to disease etc. and choose a mixture with the characteristics suited to your needs and situation
Over sow at the rate of 20 to 35g/m2. Personally I like to 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 the equipment you have to hand. If you have a Quadraplay for instance 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. (Quadraplay or not the important thing is to get as many surface holes as possible for the seed to work its way into the surface so a sorrel roller could complete this task equally well in combination with a brush).
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 method will produce a linear seeding pattern and it is best to complete two passes or more at a slight angle to the first.
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 tons per pitch.
If you are using a general topdressing of say 70/30 you should be aware that this could have 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 topdress 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 topdressing regularly with compatible sand will be required to ensure that the slits do not become capped over.
There are two main functions of topdressings here, the first being to cover the grass seed to ensure good soil to seed contact that will ensure good germination of an expensive resource, secondly to restore surface levels.
Low areas in the pitch can be concentrated on. Usually low areas, minor dips and hollows that collect water noted during the winter can be further spiked. A slightly heavier top dressing spread than the surrounding area will help to raise these areas, though be careful to ensure the topdressing is worked into the holes and into the base of the sward. The topdressing should not be thick and left covering the top of the grass as this will only lead to a weakened sward. Repeat the operation if necessary and check it with a straight edge.
Goalmouth and centre spot areas: At this time of year how much grass is still around in these areas depends on a number of factors and is a combination of the condition of the sward at the start of the season, number of games played, the conditions that they were played in and finally the adopted post match and winter maintenance regimes.
Suffice to say that the wear can range from minimal with some pitches sustaining little loss of grass in the goal mouth area to an area or strip if you like running the whole length of the pitch completely devoid of grass cover. Some goalmouth areas may even have lost both grass cover and soil where the soil has migrated out of the area. In these areas it is important that they receive more concentrated effort to relieve compaction and to bring the surface levels back.
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.
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.
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. 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, slitting and deep spiking.
By Malcolm Gardner