If we thought last year was a good test for a grounsman's skills, then I guess that this year has been equally so, particularly with the levels of incessant rain, sleet and snow we have had in recent months. Most, if not all, pitches have taken a battering by the weather with many remaining in a saturated state for long periods of time, culminating in the loss of many fixtures and surface damage .

We should hope these easterly winds will help dry out the pitches, enabling them to be brought back into play. Many pitches will be devoid of grass, have heavy infestations of moss and looking on the pale side.

However, we would hope we will see a steady rise in air and soil temperatures in March to help stimulate some much needed grass growth. The condition of your pitch will no doubt dictate what renovations you need to undertake, however budgets may dictate what you can afford.

With the ground drying out, the opportunity of carrying out some aeration work and giving the pitch a feed will help enormously.

Hopefully, you will be well under way with your planning and material acquisitions for your pitch renovation programme, and equally giving thought to how you may be tackling the possibility of an extended season over the need to get onto the pitches to carry out the work.

Pitch presentation at this time of the year remains important. Well striped pitches with lines that are both bright and straight, and goalposts that are both upright with nets that are tidy, will help to take the eye off some of the thinner areas of grass.

Keep a look out for the visible signs of nutrient deficiency and compaction which may lead to the ingress of Anthracnose. Not often a devastating diesease, but it may become a noticeable issue when encouraged by conditions found often in pitches at this time of the season.

Getting your soil test carried out is now a priority to ensure that your nutrient programme can be mapped out for the summer leading into the start of your next season

If you have irrigation reels or equipment, then look at them and check that they are working ok and complete any service requirements.

March is the month where extra pressure can be placed on the groundsman to get the games on at any cost, with the idea that pitches will recover under better growing conditions and a renovation programme. The pressure comes from then not having the resources to complete the renovation required by the extra wear. Keep up with the ongoing maintenance, as this will encourage the grass as it comes out of dormancy.

Key Tasks for March
Renovations
IMG 6129

Some thoughts on planning your Renovation Programme:

Surface cleaning: However you achieve it, you will need to clean out the surface and get rid of the build up of dead organic matter that will have built up, particularly on the wings of the pitch, and the remnants of old divots etc.

A tractor drawn rake followed by a box mower is probably the most traditional method, and most likely within the means of most clubs and schools.

You may also have use of a pick-up flail mower, in which case you may find that scarifying tines can be fitted and the job will be completed in one operation. This method can be advantageous as the scarifying tines may leave a grooved surface, ideal for ensuring over sown grass seed is buried just beneath the soil surface and in contact with the soil.

An operation that is becoming popular to those that can afford it (mostly Premiership clubs fall into this bracket), fraise mowing is extremely efficient at removing the top organic layer of the pitch however, you will effectively be starting again with a newly sown surface, so your seeding rates will need be higher.

Spiking: Spiking to relieve compaction and getting air back into the soil is important. If you have a spiker that will allow some heave, such as a vertidrain or Weidenmann etc., you may find this beneficial, otherwise you may do well to hire one in or employ the services of a local sports ground contractor.

Over sowing: Get a good quality grass seed for your renovation, and also fresh seed is important as old seed will not germinate as greatly or as well as new.

Topdressing: Get it ordered ready. Choose wisely for compatibility with your current rootzone. If you employ the services of an agronomist, then he will advise you of the best topdressing for your situation. If you cannot afford to topdress, you may consider hollow coring, recycling them by breaking them up and dragmatting them back into the surface.

Raising/restoring surface levels and getting rid of those compacted areas in front of the goal is everyone's obvious, but don't forget the linesman's run-up. Sometimes forgotten, but easily incorporated into your programme and, whilst you're about it, the area beside the pitch that everyone stands to watch the game will need attention.

Fertilising: A good pre-seeding fertiliser, low in nitrogen and high in phosphate and potash (P:K), to provide the young seedling with the essential nutrients that will be deficient in a soil washed through by winter rains.

Turf treatments: Some turf treatments work well for some, and there are a number of them to choose from, such as organic based micronutrients, seaweed treatments, clay flocculants, amino acids and plant growth regulators such as Primo Maxx.

It can sometimes be difficult to assess the benefits of such treatments, but most managers will notice if it has been effective or not. If you are unsure, then ask you supplier for a trial amount and test it for yourself. I'm sure they would be pleased to accommodate you.

Useful Information for Renovations

Articles Products
A young man at the grassroots of Leeds United Football
Soil Testing
soil analysis chart

March is a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis, thus enabling you to get them back in time to start your new year's maintenance

Ideally, if you have not had one done before, you should have a full (PSD) Particle Size Distribution soil analysis done to tell you the actual make up of your soil profile.

Soil is made up of percentages of clay, silt and sand. The PSD Analysis will identify the ratio of these and confirm soil type, thus giving you a better understanding of what soil you are dealing with. Also, you can establish the amount of organic matter (OM) content as well as soil nutrient status and soil Ph. With this information, you will be able to identify the needs of your soil.

Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis service that enables you to get specific results for the soils you manage,Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants. There is an optimum for each plant nutrient and, when coupled with other properties such as soil structure and particle sizes, determine how vigorous your plants are. Different nutrients undertake different tasks within the plant.

Useful Information for Soil Testing

Articles Products
The soil food web - undoing the myth Soil Testing
Pre and Post match regimes
wolves new pitch 065

Pre match inspections / as required:-

Inspect pitch surface and line markings.
Check post safety.
Keep goalmouths roped off to stop unwanted early use - in an ideal world the pitch should be completely out of bounds.
Tidy up the edges of the pitch, strim around advertising signs and crowd barriers.

Presentation on the pitch will be let down by unkempt edges.

Post match renovation:-

Replace divots ( tread and fork).
Repair worn areas (goalmouths / linesman runs).
Topdress to restore levels (localised).
Harrow / roll to restore levels; however the term roll is generally deemed to be using your pedestrian or ride on mowers to restore surface levels.
Aerate to improve prorosity.

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. Pay particular attention also to the goalmouth areas and centre circles, post match, to lift the grass back up out of muddy areas. This is also important in keeping surface levels.

Divoting: This is important work and should be completed after each match. Arm yourself with a border fork and a bucket of topdressing with a little seed mixed in. Not every one can afford the necessary time to go divoting on the scale of some of the premiership grounds, but even if you could afford just a couple of hours post match divoting sorting out some of the worst, I can guarantee that you will notice the difference over time. If you cannot afford a full divoting programme, then you could equally tackle the worst and clean the rest off with a mower or pick up sweeper.

Useful Information for Pre and Post match regimes

Articles Products
New Home for Rotherham United Full Size Football Goal Posts
Mowing and marking out
ManCity CleanUp

Mowing:- Winter cutting heights will range from 25-40mm depending on the level of play and condition of the pitch, most stadium pitches are regularly cut at 27mm while council pitches are more likely to be cutting around 30mm plus.

A lot of stadium club pitches are now being mown using pedestrian rotary roller mowers, with the aim to reduce weight on the pitch, clean up surface debris and help stand the grass plant upright.

The top height will cushion heavy falls on hard ground. Ensure your mowing blades are kept sharp and well adjusted. Cutting grass in very wet conditions can often be detrimental to the playing surface. The mowers may smear and damage the surface, especially when turning.

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 Mowing and marking out

Articles Products
Facts about mowing Winter Sports Seed
Weed , Pest and Diseases
Red thread spores (2)

Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Early morning dew on playing surfaces often promotes the chance of disease attack. Regular brushing off the dew will help prevent an attack of turf disease.

For moss control, ensure water volumes are high to ensure good coverage and enable the fluid to move over the leaf surface by capillary action. It is advisable to rinse out the sprayer thoroughly as soon as spraying is complete, as the iron will degrade any metal surfaces it comes into contact with. Iron does not mix well with many products, and it is advisable to 'jug mix' any products before attempting to apply them.

Once the moss has died - yellow/brown with herbicide or black and breaking up if treated with iron - it should be thoroughly scarified out of the surface. In areas that have been neglected for a while, moss can be the dominant species and, in these situations, the amount of moss that is pulled out of turf can be staggering. It is then important to stimulate the grass with fertiliser so that it can respond and fill in the area that was occupied by moss. It may be necessary to overseed grass seed into the sward to provide vigour and assist in the recovery of the sward. Topdressing may also be required to make certain that the seed is in good contact with soil.

Soluble iron is the most economic way of blackening the moss in order to then scarify out, but this should only be undertaken if sufficiently vigorous conditions exist for the grass to compete against the moss potentially re-infesting.

Another alternative is to give the grass a little encouragement, with a low analysis fertiliser that also contains the sulphate of iron required for moss control: Iron Universal or Greenmaster Pro Lite Iron.

Once the grass is growing vigorously, it should continue to out-compete the moss, providing a regular maintenance programme is followed.

Useful Information for Weed,Pest and Diseases

Articles Products
Red Thread Disease Granular Turf Fertilisers
Other Tasks for the Month
  • Spiking: Continue spiking when the conditions are right. Keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting. Hand fork goal mouth and centre circle areas if difficult to get onto with machinery.

  • Goal nets and posts: Check these after each game. Make sure they are upright and the nets are tidy and tied in properly.