November can often be a challenging month, contending with an ever changing weather front; the recent mild, wet weather has increased the incidence of disease, with leaf spot and red thread being seen on many pitches.
November weather can also bring cooler air temperatures; easterly winds will bring the likelihood of possible frost, snow and heavy periods of rain. Playing surfaces are more prone to damage in the winter months when ground conditions tend to remain in a wet state. Also, the onset of frosty weather can affect maintenance regimes.
Playing on frosted and flooded pitches will only cause damage to the playing surface. Allow for the frosts to clear and allow time for the saturated pitches to drain before use, or indeed before using equipment on the pitch.
You will soon lose grass cover if you play on wet playing surfaces. Grass growth is slowing down due to the low soil and air temperatures. Grass struggles to grow when temperatures drop down below 5 Degrees C, and recovery after damage is limited.
Keep up your weekly routines of pre and post match maintenance - mowing, marking out, divot replacement and brushing.
Presentation of the pitch is important. Use string lines to help keep straight lines and mowing bands.
Frosty mornings are likely to appear, if not already, but are a good time to catch up on some machinery maintenance whilst you wait for the frost to work its way out of the grass. Check to ensure that the frost has fully lifted before venturing out with machinery to avoid stress and damage to the grass.
Leaf clearance will become essential on pitches that are near large trees. Do not allow an accumulation of leaf litter to lay on your pitches, this will not only affect grass growth but will impede surface playability.
Key Tasks for November
Pitch set-ups: 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 socket goals, then your task may be a little more difficult.
Cutting: Continue cutting regularly at 25-37mm to ensure a good sward density. Grass growth may slow some towards the end of the month, which makes cutting at the correct time essential to avoid thinning a sward that will be slow to recover in the wet. Also, ensure that any cutting equipment used is keenly set to cut without tearing.
The use of pedestrian rotary mowers to clean up, mow and help the grass stand up is becoming a popular maintenance regime being undertaken by groundstaff at many stadium pitch facilities.
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 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.
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.
Marking out: Take your time over this, as rushed lines will invariably wander. This creates a poor impression, lowering the overall standard and vision of an otherwise perfect surface. An accurate line makes such a difference. Always be prepared to run a string line out to aid you in this.
Divoting: This is an obvious, but continue this essential work and it will pay you dividends later in the season. At this part of the season, a little addition of seed mixed with a little topsoil may still germinate, providing the conditions are right.
Harrowing and light raking (with a grooming rake) when conditions are right will help to maintain surface levels.
Apply autumn/winter fertilisers, low in nitrogen, which will suppress the production of soft, sappy top growth susceptible to fungal diseases, and high in phosphate and potash to help grass maintain a healthy root structure and ensuring the overall health of the grass plant.
The choice of fertiliser will be largely based around your soil tests, but may be influenced by your choice of either a conventional type fertiliser or a slow release product that will release the nutrients over a period of time based on soil temperature and moisture.
Applications of tonics can also be applied in accordance with your annual programme to help harden your turf against damage and the ingress of turf diseases.
Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis 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.
Ideally, it is good practice to undertake at least an annual soil test to analyse the nutrient status of your soil. This will help ensure you only apply what is required and not waste money and time applying products you do not need.
The choice of materials and how well it works can be dependant on many factors, including soil type and the weather, with moisture and warmer air temperatures being the catalyst for growth.
Diseases can still be prevalent in November due to the cool, wet ground conditions, and particularly with heavy dews on the playing surfaces. It is important that groundstaff remove these dews to prevent disease attack. Many stadium clubs are experiencing outbreaks of leaf spot and red thread. A dose of approved chemical fungicide will help control and prevent the spread of these diseases.
Worm activity is starting to become noticeable, and brushing the surface when dry will help to disperse the casts, reducing the problem of smearing. In some circumstances, the use of a casting worm suppressant may be required, in which case always follow the manufacturer's recommendations regarding timing, PPE, dose and volume rates and, just as important, what adjuvants can be used in the mix.
Keep to the recommendations. For the record, an adjuvant can be defined as a substance, other than water, which is not in itself a pesticide that enhances or is intended to enhance the effectiveness of the pesticide with which it is used.
A wetting agent is sometimes used with the fungicide to help it penetrate deep enough into the soil profile. With the sun now lower in the sky, shade problems in stadium environments tend to be increased. The sun tends to cast longer shadows that often remain on the ground for long periods. Shaded areas tend to take longer to warm up and dry out which, in turn, may affect maintenance operations and playability.
Brush or sweep daily to remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS Quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.
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.
If you haven't already turned some thought to your machinery service programme, start formulating a plan of what service requirements are needed for which machine, and a time when you will be sending your mowers out for sharpening etc., so they are not all be sent out at once.
Look at the overall condition and check for any extra requirements needed to keep it compliant with current health and safety legislation. Check also for things that may cause a problem in the future, such as fatigue fractures on handlebars or on grass box carriers etc.
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.
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.
Our next course is being held at Hurn Bridge, Christchurch on Wednesday 12th November - more details.
Details of all forthcoming autumn courses can be found on our website Groundsman Training
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.
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.