For some, the football season will have already started, with pitches up and in use, some experiencing a flurry of pre-season friendlies, others may yet to be starting their season. Most of your pre-season work should have been finalised with your pitches looking, hopefully, at their best by now.
Of course, the weather this summer has thrown us a challenge, with large parts of the country awash after prolonged spells of rain, which for many clubs will have ensured the grass had plenty of moisture for growth, however, on more heavy soils, it may have led to problems of getting equipment on the pitch without causing damage.
Autumn traditionally sees the last opportunity to put some fertiliser down. The application of a good balanced feed, with perhaps a seaweed tonic, may help to fill your grass out, but bear in mind the need to apply it in line with your feeding programme. Don't be tempted to apply too much nitrogen, as you may find yourself struggling to keep up with the flush of grass growth.
A seaweed tonic will help your grass get over the stresses of the summer. If you managed to hold some of your seed back from your earlier renovations, then you can use it to help fill out the wear prone areas on your pitches. Bear in mind also that the window of opportunity for spraying a selective weed killer is nearing a close, and you will need to factor this in before the end of the month.
This is going to be the last opportunity to apply any selective weed killer, if you are still experiencing problem weeds (make sure you match the weeds you have to those stated on the label as providing good control).
An application of fertiliser beforehand, and in line with your fertliser programme, will help to ensure that the weeds respond well to any application of a selective weed killer. It may be a good idea for you to have another analysis done to see how your nutrient reserves are doing.
A soil analysis once a year is good practice, though some will carry out two, which cannot be argued with. Continue with your programme of wetting agents that will help you to manage an even soil moisture profile.
The addition of a liquid iron product will help to harden the grass against disease.
Make sure you have enough line marking material to hand and enough to get you through your season. Inspect your marker and ensure it is in good working order.
A clean transfer wheel marker is less likely to leave drips behind when lifted at the end of a line. Similarly, a well maintained spray line marker will give a better, even, crisp line without drips.
Keep an eye out for disease as the damp dewy mornings start to appear, and treat as soon as possible.
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 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.
Some of you will be on your final pitch preparations now, including setting out and initial marking. Always best at this stage to double check your measurements before committing to a white line, as this will show up badly if it is not straight and has to be corrected.
Take your time when marking out, as a rushed line will invariably wander. This can create a false impression, lowering the overall standard and vision of an otherwise perfect surface. An accurate line makes such a difference.
With the pitch prepared and in readiness for the start of the season, the final job is to set out and put in the pitch markings. It may be that there are already goal sockets in the ground which you have to marry up with, but for now we'll take it that you are starting from scratch.
It is important that you take care to get the measurements right when setting out. A few millimetres out at one end can lead to the pitch being a metre or more out of square at the far end. To do this, it is important that string lines are kept taught and that the right angles created are correctly formed.
So, to get the 90 degree right angle we fall back on Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician who discovered that to get a right angled triangle, the square distance of the two short sides would be equal to the square distance of the longer side. In other words a² + b² = c².
These days the equation is more commonly known as the 3:4:5 triangle and is the method that nearly all groundsmen use to set out a square or rectangle. The reason for this is that 3² + 4² = 5² or 9+16=25.
The great thing is that this equation works in multiples of those numbers and, for groundsmen, this is usually 30, 40 and 50 feet. You could also use 15, 20 and 25 metres. Remember that the bigger the triangle at the start, the more accurate the pitch will be.
Useful Information for Setting Out and Marking Out
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Check that your goal sockets are aligned with the goal line and the posts are upright. Correct this now to ensure a professional look, particularly with newly painted goal posts and nets ready to be put into place.
Try to 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 socketed goals, then your task may be a little more difficult, requiring you to be pro-active in cordoning off the area when not in use.
Ensure you only buy approved goal posts from reputable suppliers.
Useful Information for Goal posts
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Cutting: Continue cutting regularly 25 -37mm to ensure good sward density. It may be helpful sometimes with newly sown grasses to lightly roll the surface before cutting. This will ensure that the young seedlings do not get pulled out. 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.
Useful Information for Mowing / dragmatting / verticutting
Facts about mowing
||Top Dressing & Soils|
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 built up compaction. Keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting.
A very good regime would be to:
Deep spike monthly (vertidrain or Wiedenmann)
Medium spike every other week (turf slitter such as Sisis maxislit)
Surface spike weekly (Sisis quadraplay)
With all the rain we have been having, most if not all grounds should be moist enough to be aerated; start with surface spiking and work up to deep spiking. Choose a thin tine for your vertidrain as this may get into the ground enough to open it up for taking a thicker tine later.
Useful Information for Aeration
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Firstly, we need to understand what problems are facing groundsmen when pitches become flooded and remain saturated for long periods of time.
Once a pitch becomes saturated, that is to say all the pore (air) spaces in the soil profile remain filled with water, then we are in a situation of the pitch being in a poor state and will be prone to damage.
It is important to understand what soil type you have on your pitch, as the ability of the pitch to drain freely and how long it takes for floodwater or surface water to disperse from your pitch will be dictated by the type of soil you have.
All grass swards are grown on soil/sand profiles that provide the appropriate environment structure for plant growth. This growing medium, commonly known as soil, is made up of proportions of soil solids (mineral and organic material) and soil pores (water and air).
Maintaining the correct balance of these components is critical for sustaining healthy plant growth. The spaces between the particles of solid material are just as important to the nature of soil as are the solids. It is in these pore spaces that air and water circulate, and help provide the plant with the necessary nutrients it requires to respire and grow.
These pore spaces can vary in size and are generally classified into two sizes - macro pores (larger than 0.08mm) and micro pores (less than 0.08mm). Macro pores generally allow movement of air and the drainage of water, and are large enough to accommodate plant roots and micro-organisms found in the soil.
The ability to retain a good balance of macro pores in soil structure is essential for maintaining grass plant health. It is when these macro pores are either reduced in size by compaction or filled with water (saturated) that we see deterioration in pitch playability and resistance to wear.
However, the main contributing factor that reduces and damages pore spaces in soil is compaction, caused by compression forces, normally associated with play and use of machinery, particularly during wet weather periods.
Over time, these compression forces reduce the pore spaces so that air, water and nutrient flow through the soil profile is restricted, and leads to many problems associated with compaction.
There are two distinct types of problems on winter games surfaces, one is compaction by treading (30-60mm depth) and the other by smearing and kneading (30mm depth) when playing in the rain and on bare soil surfaces.
The heavier the soil the longer it will take for the pitch to dry out; sandy soils are more free draining than heavy loam or clay soils and, therefore, will dry out more quickly.
Having an effective pitch drainage scheme will help. Most modern pitches tend to have primary and secondary drainage systems installed. These systems aid the removal of surface water quickly and tend to keep the pitches playable in periods of wet weather.
However, the effectiveness of any drainage system can be compromised over time when the drain runs become capped over; it is important to retain a link between the drains and the playing surface. This will be achieved by regular aeration work and the application of topdressing.
Ideally, clubs should be putting on at least 40-60 tonnes of sand per pitch each year. This not only keeps the playing surface free draining, but also helps to restore levels.
Playing on saturated pitches will bring disastrous results. It is often better to postpone a fixture rather than ruin the playing surface for the rest of the season. The severity of the damage will be dependent upon the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm to drain quickly.
It is important that, once the game has finished, remedial work is carried out to repair divots and stand the grass back up. Care should be taken not to further damage the pitch by trying to get machinery on when it is wet and saturated.
A rubber rake can be used to help stand the grass back up in localised wet muddy areas; if left buried, the grass will soon die. Once this has been completed, the use of harrows/brushes can be used to stand up the sward. This is often followed by rolling back the surface using a mower or, better still, a SISIS Quadraplay unit or similar type of equipment.
Undertaking a regular aeration programme will go a long way to ensuring your pitch is able to cope during wet conditions.
Useful Information for Drainage
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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: weekly, check 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.
Pitchcare run Lantra Awards accredited courses for groundsmen on the maintenance of winter sports pitches. To find out more, visit the Pitchcare training website - Pitchcare Training