With the season well underway, most groundstaff will now have a better understanding of how their pitch is performing. Presentation and good management of your pitches is essential to maintain playability.
However, we have not had the best of starts due to the weather in terms of preparing pitches for matches; the met office have declared the start of September as being one of the wettest months on record, some places have seen a month's rainfall in two days.
The presentation of the pitch is important. If it looks tidy and well presented, with bands and stripes, it often inspires the players to perform and, more importantly, gives them a safe, consistent surface.
Soil based pitches, generally the heavy clay and clay loam ones, will be susceptible to surface damage during wet weather, especially when the top 100mm becomes saturated.
Soils, when saturated, lose their stability and strength. Damage from fast feet drills and play generally are the main causes of damage on football pitches during wet weather periods. The severity of the damage will be dependent on the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm to drain quickly.
Essential tasks to be undertaken in October are centred around preparing pitches for play, and repairing this will involve, mowing, marking, divoting, brushing and carrying out some aeration practices.
Grass heights will vary depending on type of mowers used, however, most will be looking to maintain a height of cut between 25-35mm. Particular attention should be made when mowing and marking out.
Training areas will be prone to damage from specific training regimes, such as goal keeping drills and small sided games. Try and rotate the areas where these drills take place.
Keep machinery clean and serviced.
Keep an eye out for any disease outbreaks and treat accordingly.
Floodlights should be checked and serviced, make sure they are fit for purpose and safe. Portable lights are now becoming a popular choice as they can be moved around.
Autumn/winter fertilisers can be applied that are low in nitrogen, which will suppress the production of soft sappy top growth susceptible to fungal diseases, and high in phosphate and potash to help the grass maintain a healthy root structure.
The choice of fertiliser will be largely based around your soil tests, but may be influenced by whether you choose to use a conventional type fertiliser or a slow release product that will release the nutrients over a period of time based on soil temperature and moisture.
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.
Worm activity is starting to become noticeable and brushing the surface when dry will help to dissipate the casts, reducing the problem of smear.
Keep your machinery in tip top condition. Grease where you find a grease nipple, oil were you see a metallic moving part, check the oil, check the water. If in doubth 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.
Continue cutting regularly at 25 -35mm 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.
Many groundsmen are now using rotary mowers to help clean up pitches after games, the suction from the rotating blades helps stand the grass back up while at the same time collect any debris off the surface of the pitch.
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.
Useful Information for Mowing, verticutting and dragmatting
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Start out with shallow spiking and, as the moisture works its way down the profile, you will be able to increase the depth you are able to spike at. Keep in mind that you need to regularly change the depth of spiking, as to carry out the operation to the same depth over a period of time can lead to a soil pan (a hard zone within the soil profile that both water and grass roots find difficult to break through). Keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting.
Those with access to a vertidrain or Wiedenmann spiker can use some heave in order to break through these conditions, but the soil still needs to be moist in order to achieve the optimum benefit from this type of spiking.
I have said this on many occasions - an accurate line that is bright and crisp can make such a difference to the finished presentation of a pitch. It is well to take your time to ensure that you walk a straight line (not very achievable if you are in a hurry) and, if the line you have to follow is not very straight, then don't be afraid to re-string it.
Spend time keeping your equipment clean and fit for purpose, try not to leave unused marking fluid in your machines. Always wash out spraying systems after use.
Be mindful, there are a wide choice of marking materials now available, choose one that suits your requirements and budget.
Also refrain from using weedkillers in your marking fluid. Yes, it may enable a longer lasting line but, over time, the grass dies off and you end up marking bare soil, which doesn't give you a crisp white line.
Also, you can often end up with soil erosion in the line and you end up with a deep rut , which could become a hazard for players.
Divoting:- This is an obvious, but start as you mean to go on. At this part of the season, a little addition of seed mixed with a little topsoil will soon germinate and help to repair any deep scars.
Equipment Checks:- Check goals weekly for loose bolts, and tighten as necessary.
Check nets: make sure the net is properly supported at the back of the goal and not sagging.
Check team dugouts are stable and anchored securely. Make sure that they are tidy and free from litter