Maintaining sports surfaces in December can be fraught, with the likelihood of games being lost to the weather. Most parts of the country are again on flood alert with so much groundwater about and soil being near to saturation point; it only takes a few millimetres of rain to cause problems.
There are also predictions of a colder weather front coming in bringing frosts, which again bring their own set of problems .
Soils this year have not had chance to drain and remain dry for any length of time. The ongoing spells of wet weather throughout the year have kept soils in a saturated condition, leaving them prone to damage after use.
The most challenging time for any club groundsman or club volunteer that is charged with looking after the clubs pitches is during the winter months.
Most junior clubs are reliant on how well their pitches drain. Clubs which are blessed with free draining soils ( sandy soils ) or have a primary and secondary drainage system have a better chance of coping with the weather. Also, clubs that regularly undertake essential aeration work as part of their maintenance programme and control pitch usage will also be in a better position.
It is important to go into the winter months with a good sward cover.
Soil conditions should now be more favourable for deeper aeration work, as moist conditions allow easier penetration of tines without causing damage to soil structure or too much disturbance to the surface profile. Try and aerate your pitches to improve soil porosity.
However, the weather can change very quickly, and we could soon find ourselves caught out with frosts and snow cover affecting the playing surfaces, both on natural grass and artificial installations.
Morning inspections are essential to ensure the pitch is fit for play. Assessing the condition of the pitch should be carried out by an experienced grounds person who has an understanding of the damage that can occur when playing on an unfit surface, with regard to player safety and pitch protection.
Training areas usually get a lot of concentrated wear, especially floodlit areas. If you can, try and spread the wear by rotating the use of these areas of the pitch, allowing some recovery.
The real challenge during December is trying to keep as much grass cover on the playing surfaces as possible, and prevent pitches being used when they are saturated.
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.
For many stadium pitches, mowing regularly will be ongoing, not only to maintain playing height but to aid presentation and restore levels. 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.
If you haven't already turned some thought to your machinery service programme, start formulating a plan of what service requirements are needed for which machine, and a time when you will be sending your mowers out for sharpening etc., so they are not all sent out at once.
Look at the overall condition and check for any extra requirements needed to keep it compliant with current health and safety legislation. Check also for things that may cause a problem in the future, such as fatigue fractures on handlebars or on grass box carriers etc.
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 and check the water. If in doubt, consult the manufacturer'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.
Pre match:- Pitch inspection to see if the pitch is fit and safe for play; check for debris (glass, stones etc), the surface is firm and not saturated/ flooded, check that it has been marked out correctly and flagged, and the posts, nets are safe and secure.
Post match:- remove nets , ideally spend some time repairing any divots, large scars and, if able, run a brush/ harrow over the pitch to restore levels and stand the grass back up.
Useful Information for Pre and Post Match activites
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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 whilst the grass is still damp and covered with 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.
Useful Information for Brushing
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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.
Useful Information for Aeration
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Take your time when marking out, as rushed lines will invariably wander and will no doubt look messy. This creates a poor impression, lowering the overall standard and vision of an otherwise perfect surface. 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.
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.