I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy new year. I am sure many of you have had quite a busy time during the Christmas and New Year holiday period.
January is always a difficult month for groundsmen, having to prepare and repair football pitches during the coldest and wettest time of the year.
After a year of constant rainfall, it is no wonder most if not all football pitches are suffering from the affects of this poor weather; most soil based pitches have remained in a near to saturated state for most of the winter months. There has not been enough drying time to allow these pitches to dry out, hence they are currently more prone to surface damage during play or training whilst in this current state.
Also, this constant wet weather has washed out a lot of nutrients from the soil profile, thus leaving the grass looking unhealthy and needing a feed. Applications of tonics, such as seaweed based products can be applied in accordance with your annual programme to help your grass get over the stress of the cold weather, but apply when the conditions are correct and your grass will get the most benefit from it. Always read the label and consult the manufacturer if unsure.
Brush regularly to keep the grass upright and air circulating around the base of the plant.
January and February are good months to formulate and set your plans for your end of season renovations and your maintenance strategy for ensuring that next season your turf is better than ever.
Hopefully, your machinery service requirements are well underway. List which are urgent and make a start now and you will be rewarded by machinery ready and able to help you carry out your renovations when you require them, and in the long run to avoid nuisance breakdowns. Look at the overall condition and check for extra requirements needed to keep it compliant with current health and safety legislation (correctly functioning safety cut out switches, belt/chain guards in place etc.). Check also for things that may cause a problem in the future, such as fatigue fractures on handlebars or on grass box carriers etc.
The majority of pitches at this time, particularly ones that have little or no drainage, will be susceptible to surface damage. Wet and saturated soils are more prone to damage than free draining drier soil profiles.
Once wet, the soils can become de-stabilised, reducing the strength of the soil. Playing on wet and saturated pitches leads to the grass plant being easily kicked out or torn from the playing surface.
Having an effective pitch drainage scheme will help. Most modern constructed pitches tend to have primary and secondary drainage systems installed. These systems aid the quick removal of surface water and tend to keep the pitches playable in periods of wet weather.
Playing on saturated pitches will undoubtedly bring disastrous results. It is often better to postpone the fixture rather than ruin the playing surface for the rest of the season. The severity of the damage will be dependant upon the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm to drain quickly.
It is imperative to get the pitch put back as quickly as possible after play. Once the game has finished, it is important some remedial work is carried out to repair the divots and help stand the grass back up. Care should be taken not to further damage the pitch by trying to get machinery on when it remains wet and saturated. Usually the first job after matches is to reinstate any damage, putting divots back and repairing damaged turf. This is usually done by hand, using a fork.
A rubber rake can also 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, harrows/brushes can be used to further stand up the sward. This is often followed by rolling the surface with a mower or, better still, a SISIS Quadraplay unit or similar type of equipment.
Useful Information for Managing wet pitches
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Continue cutting regularly at 25-37mm to ensure a good sward density. Check the cutting action of your cylinder/rotary blades regularly to ensure that the units are cutting and not tearing the grass.
Pitch set-ups:- Continue your pre match preparations: brushing, spiking, cutting, marking out, not forgetting your post and net inspections.
Divoting. This is a must; continue this essential work and it will pay you dividends later in the season. Brush to bring the grass back upright.
Cut with a box to clean surface debris. Keep casual play out of goalmouth areas if you can. 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 requiring erecting and dismantling rope and pins.
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.
Useful Information for Pre and post match maintenance
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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 while the grass is still damp, and particularly in the presence of 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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As with any maintenance equipment, it will only work well if it is maintained properly and kept clean. Line marking machines are no exception, it is important to keep them clean and use the right marking fluids to get the desired results.
Make sure you are mixing the paint to the correct dilution rates as stated by the manufacturer, however there are now a number of marking fluids that are ready mixed ready for use.
Take your time when marking out, as rushed lines will invariably wander and will 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.
Useful Information for Marking out
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Servicing of machinery:- ensure you get your machinery checked over/ serviced for the new season, take the opportunity to get it done early.
Service Irrigation systems / equipment, especially after any frosts.
Check goal posts:- ensure they are safe for use and have the appropriate safety approvals.