January is always a difficult time for groundsmen, having to prepare and repair football pitches during the coldest and wettest time of the year, and especially after coming out of one of the busiest holiday fixture periods (Christmas and New Year) when pitches have been in constant use.
The recent wet and mild weather will have taken its toll on many already saturated pitches. Most soil based pitches are likely to remain in a near saturated state for most of the winter months. There has not been enough rain-free periods 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, a lot of nutrients will have leached from the soil profile, thus leaving the grass looking unhealthy and needing a feed. 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 only 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.
January and February are good months to formulate and set your plans for your end of season renovations. It is also a good time, whilst it is quiet, to plan and get yourself organised. What are your targets for this year? What do you want to achieve? Have you organised your spring renovation works? Have you ordered materials and machinery for the forthcoming season?
Key Tasks for January
The majority of pitches at this time of the year, particularly ones that have little or no drainage, will be susceptible to surface damage after matches. Wet and saturated soils are more prone to damage than free draining, drier soil profiles. Once wet, the soils can become de-stabilised, reducing their strength.
Playing on wet and saturated pitches leads to the grass plant being easily kicked out or torn from the playing surface.
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.
Using a pedestrain box mower (cylinder or rotary) will help clean and prepare the surface for matches.
Maintain sward height at 25mm-40mm. 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 mower may smear and damage the surface, especially when turning. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.
Use a harrow prior to and after matches; harrowing helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Repairing and replacing divots after matches is an important part of the maintenance programme to restore playing surfaces. The use of a hand fork to lift depressed turf and gentle pressing with the foot is the best way to return or replace divots. However, on larger areas, the use of harrows will help return levels.
When conditions allow, hand or machine aeration will aid surface drainage; vary depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan. As last month, if there is an opportunity to aerate, then do it. Regular winter aeration provides air space for the roots to expand into and allow the plant to breathe.
Brushing and Sweeping
Daily task, to remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.
Playing surfaces can often become muddy and very wet in January, which can affect the performance of wheel to wheel transfer line marking machines. To overcome this problem, other marking systems are available. Pressure jet and dry line markers are able to produce lines on uneven and muddy surfaces. Care should be taken when initially marking out new lines, ensuring that they are true, straight and measured correctly, using the 3,4,5 method to achieve accurate angles.
Always wash down the machine after use; if you are not likely to use the machine for a few days, it would be advisable to empty it. Particularly with spray jet markers, keep connections clean; spray with WD 40 to help keep it protected.
Generally, no fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some groundstaff do apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant.
January and February 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 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.
Keep and eye open for fungal disease, and use approved fungicides to treat any infected areas. Early morning dew on playing surfaces often promotes the chance of a disease attack; regular brushing off the dew will help prevent this.
Leaf spot can be quite damaging, especially in stadium environments; keep the leaf blade relative dry by regular brushing, and apply a approved fungicide to prevent further outbreaks .
Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery. Do not forget there are other ways of getting equipment for a particular job, such as hiring or borrowing from another local sports club.
Remember to get your machinery serviced and sharpened.
As for material supplies, check stock levels and re-order as necessary; take the opportunity to research new materials, compare costs and seek better deals on products and services.
Pitchcare 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.
Our next public course is taking place in Christchurch on Thursday 3rd April - more details can be found here.
In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.
Check goal posts, post protectors and corner flags to ensure they are safe and secure.
Floodlights, please also check they are safe and working, change any bulbs and ensure they have been inspected and/or tested by a qualified electrician.