It would seem that many parts of the country are experiencing a dry spring, this exceptional warm March has stimulated some early seasonal growth.
Quite often we can experience extreme weather fronts in April, seeing temperatures rise and fall, early morning frosts, hail storms and the expected April showers; always a testing month for groundsmen hoping for some consistent weather to get on with their spring renovations.
Clubs should now be organising their end of season renovations, ordering materials and arranging for any contractual works, vertidraining, topdressing and overseeding.
A lot of pitches have suffered as a consequence of playing during wet and saturated conditions. Grass cover is soon lost and will be difficult to recover until we get some consistent soil temperatures above 12 degrees C. Pitches may be showing signs of heavy wear, particularly from scrummages and line out play. These areas invariably lose grass cover, but this season the problems have been made worse by the severe winter we have experienced in many parts of the country.
Some groundsmen will, if time and resources are available, overseed these areas during April whilst there is sufficient warmth and natural moisture in the ground for seed germination. However, many will not able to do this until the season has finished.
With reference to your pitch renovation programme, the earlier you can get on them, the better. Early establishment will help you to create a good strong healthy sward and root system that will bring your grass through the summer.
Key Tasks for April
Continue with your general maintenance of cutting, marking, spiking and brushing to keep your surfaces looking good. This is the time of year when some of you will be hosting your most important matches, particularly if your team/s have made it to your regional semi and cup finals, and good surfaces and good presentation can make all the difference, often putting you into the spotlight.
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 is important work even at this late stage in the season, 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 everyone can afford the necessary time to go divoting on the scale of some of the Premiership grounds, but it is an important part of keeping a surface in good condition. If you cannot afford a full divoting programme, then you could tackle the worst and clean the rest off with a mower or pick up sweeper.
Cutting will become very much a part of your daily routine this month. Make sure that you keep your mowing equipment cutting keenly. If you are expecting to carry out your renovations earlier in April, then you might want to think about reducing the height of your grass, but this should be a gradual process if your grass is high. Not only will this ensure your emergent grass sowing will not have to compete for light amongst taller established grasses, it also means that you will not need to be on the grass with heavy machinery whilst it is trying to establish.
Continue spiking when the conditions are right. This is another important operation process.
Goal nets and posts. Check these after each game. Make sure they are upright and the nets are tidy and tied in properly. If you are taking goalposts down for storage, make sure you note any problem areas - broken bolts that need replacing/greasing etc. Paint them before storing away and also make a note of any new net requirements.
Keep your lines looking bright by overmarking before each match and string them when you start to see them wander. A good bright straight line is like a frame for a beautiful painting. Giving some thought and taking some time with a string line would help give a better impression of a Groundsman's skills, particularly as this is one of the visible facets of what we do.
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 oversown 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 to be higher.
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.
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. Look at the STRI list for the list of recommended cultivars. Ensure that you achieve good seed to soil contact slightly below the surface, as seed laying on the surface will not germinate as well as seed that has been worked into the surface. There are a number of ways to achieve this, by means of tractor mounted or pedestrian dimple/sarrel roller based seeders or disc seeders. Other ways to achieve this would be through surface spiking the area, brushing and then topdressing.
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, while your about it, the area beside the pitch that everyone stands to watch the game will need attention.
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.
April is a good time to take soil samples, especially prior to end of season renovations 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.
Fertilising - An early starter fertiliser can be applied now, which may typically provide for good grass recovery and help the establishment of young grass seedlings. Something like a 9-7-7 would be ideal, but should be In line with your soil analysis.
A slow release fertiliser can be applied late in the month to take the grass through May /June Lebanon Proscape 25+0+5+1%Fe 51% MESA 22.7kg is an ideal product lasting several weeks
Weed treatment programme: co-ordinate your weed treatment programme to ensure that when you spray, you will not damage emergent grasses in newly sown areas. Most selective weed killers will persist in the ground for up to six weeks.
Always check the label for advice about the correct time to spray. If your priority is to spray treat your weeds prior to your renovation programme, then you will need to you delay you renovations for up to six weeks. Similarly, if your priority is to complete you renovations first, then you will need to ensure that your newly sown grass is well established (referred sometimes on the label as being at the two leaf stage) before your application.
Always make an effort to keep your machinery cleaned and serviced regularly, ideally any mechanical equipment should be washed down after use.
It is important to keep your mowers sharp, checking height of cut and ensuring the cylinder and bottom blade is adjusted for a clean cut. Do not tighten blades down too hard, as this will cause problems.
Keep an eye on oil levels and air filters, cleaning them and topping up as and when required .
Ptchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Winter Sports Pitches. It is a one day course designed to provide a basic knowledge of rugby and football pitch maintenance. The course enables the Groundsman to grasp the basic needs of a winter sports surface throughout a 12 month period.
Delegates attending the Winter Sports Pitch Maintenance course and using the accompanying manual will be able to develop their own skills, working knowledge and expertise, by understanding the method of instruction and the maintenance principles it sets out.
Included in the Course Manual, there are working diaries showing the range of tasks needed to be accomplished each month. The Course Manual is available for purchase separately.
In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.
Inspect goalposts and sockets to check they are safe and secure.
Harrowing/raking:- when conditions allow. Helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Inspect and remove debris from playing surface litter or any wind blown tree debris, litter, twigs and leaves.