DSCF2615.JPGHere we are in January, at the start of a new year, though it would be true to say that for most football grounds the year began back in August/September and, as such, this marks the middle of the season. It seems with each passing year, each season throws up some very difficult working conditions for us to work under.

This year is proving no exception with the higher than normal rainfalls recorded up and down the country and now, as we enter into January on the back of some particularly cold weather, we saw a lot of that rain turn to snow providing us with, in some parts of the country, a thick covering and frozen surfaces..

Some may wonder how it is that we keep an optimistic outlook. But then, when things aren't going our way we will often look for ways to improve the grounds, so they are not so badly affected next time around.

January and February are good months to think about your plans for renovation and your strategy for grass establishment, ensuring a good healthy even coverage of grass to start your next season with.

DSCF1355.JPGYou could make up a chart to help you get an overview for the whole year. This will help you to plan your year, with also your material requirements and when you will need to order them. It is in excel format and can easily be changed to your needs is easily downloaded by the link below. Pitch Maintenance Programme [LINK]

Frosty mornings are also a good time to catch up on some machinery maintenance while you wait for the frost to work its way out of the grass. Check to ensure that the frost has fully lifted before venturing out with machinery to avoid stress and damage to the grass.

The met office is forecasting below average temperatures for the period of January,so it is a good month to get on with some of those winter jobs such as maintenance repairs, painting (if conditions are right) or cleaning surround and perimeter areas. On the subject of cold, don't neglect your irrigation pump room if you are fortunate to have one.

DSCF2759.JPGThis should have been winterised by now and, if you have one, a frost stat heater should be ensuring that when it comes to setting it up for the summer, there are no complications.

It may be worth turning some thoughts to some pitch maintenance strategies, for any ongoing maintenance, that will help you to ensure your pitch or pitches end the season in as good a condition as can be mastered. This may require you to plan and carry out some regular intermediary repair work of seeding (and in some extreme cases turf laying), spiking and sanding goalmouth areas, along with the continuance of regular divoting.

Continue brushing during the right conditions. If there are worm casts, leave brushing or dragmatting work until the ground dries a little to avoid them smearing. Of course the rain will wash it off the plant eventually but, in the meantime, it will rob the grass plant of valuable light.

Should temperatures begin to rise again we could again see a return to some dewy mornings that will bring with it the increased chance of fungal outbreaks. Though some outbreaks will need treatment with a fungicide, prevention is better than the cure, and this can be aided by the reduction of stress on your turf through good cultural practices.

The important thing is to keep the air circulating around the grass plant with a combination of regular brushing, dragmatting and spiking to a variety of depths.

Sand applications can be a benefit to ensure pitch playability, but it is important to understand that in the absence of a good free draining soil and/or a good drainage system little or no benefit will be gained from just adding sand to a worn goalmouth or centre circle area and walking away. You may think of this a little like throwing a hand full of marbles into a bowl of porridge. After spreading the sand, it is important that the area is hand forked or spiked and the sand worked down the holes.

Don't buy any sand, and especially not builders sand, as this can lead you to further problems down the road (consult your local specialist supplier for the correct sand for your ground).

Applications of tonics can also be applied in accordance with your annual programme to help harden your turf against damage and the ingress of turf diseases.

Keep an eye out for disease and treat at the early signs.

If worm activity is a problem then brushing the surface when dry will help to dissipate the casts, reducing the problem of smearing. In some circumstances the use of a casting worm suppressant may be required, in which case always follow the manufacturer's recommendations regarding timing, PPE, dose and volume rates and, just as important, what adjuvants can be used in the mix. Keep to the recommendations. For the record, an adjuvant can be defined as a substance, other than water, which is not in itself a pesticide that enhances or is intended to enhance the effectiveness of the pesticide with which it is used.

Some areas may require some topdressing to restore surface levels, such as goalmouths. Use a fork and work it well into the ground and ensure that the topdressing is worked fully into the holes.

Pre-match Preparations

Continue your pre match preparations: brushing, spiking, cutting, marking out, not forgetting your post and net inspections. Crisp lines with neat nets on upright posts help a great deal with your pitch presentation

Post match repairs

DSCF1888.JPGDivoting, brushing to bring the grass back upright. Cutting with a box to clean surface debris. Continue your pre match preparations: brushing, spiking, cutting, marking out, not forgetting your post and net inspections.

Ongoing maintenance

Keep casual play out of goalmouth areas. 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.

Cutting: Continue cutting regularly 25-37mm to ensure a good sward density. Grass growth may slow some towards the end of the month, which makes cutting at the correct time essential to avoid thinning a sward that will be slow to recover from mowing in the wet and smearing worm casts etc. Also ensure that any cutting equipment used is keenly set to cut without tearing.

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. This will also help to reinforce the presentation of the pitch.

Verticutting: Will help to ensure that the sward is kept clean of lateral growth that may be appearing, and also help to ensure that good circulation of air around the base of the plant.

Spiking: 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.

Marking out: Take your time over this as rushed lines will invariably wander. This creates a false impression, lowering the overall standard and vision of an otherwise perfect surface. An accurate line makes such a difference. Always be prepared to run a string line out to aid you in this.

Divoting: This is an obvious, but continue this essential work and it will pay you dividends later in the season. At this part of the season a little addition of seed may still germinate providing the conditions are right and mixed with some topsoil as part of your divoting mix.

Harrowing and light raking (with a grooming rake) when conditions are right will help to maintain surface levels.

Equipment Checks:

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.

Machinery Maintenance: Keep your machinery in tip top condition. Grease where you find a grease nipple, oil where you see a metallic moving part, check the oil, check the water. If in doubt consult the owner's manual. Clean it when you've finished. All this may seem mundane but will keep your mower going when you need it, and save you money in costly down time.

By Malcolm Gardner
Grounds Manager
BA Clubs