Temperatures dropped below average for much of the country in late February as overnight frosts crept in. March will see most of the country battening down the hatches as spring gets off to a cold, wet and windy start. Experts warn to expect a washout to the start of the season, with the south in the firing line for the worst of the stormy onslaught.
March is a good time to start planning end of season renovations, making it important to invest time and money into your pitch. Typical end of season renovations are centred around scarifying, aerating, topdressing and overseeding. If you haven't yet thought of what equipment or materials you will need for your end of season renovations, then I think you need to give it some serious thought, starting now. Time is moving on and you really need to have everything to hand to maximise the available time you have for renovations.
Give some consideration to how you will achieve your objectives i.e. what are your problem areas? How are you going to solve the problems and what methods are you going to use to carry out the tasks effectively (often dependant on what you can afford and what equipment you have available to carry out the work)? Work out timescales for each step of your renovation programme. Quite often there can be a lot of things to think about, so having a written plan is not a bad idea.
If you are not doing the work yourself, make sure you shop around and get the best quotation for the supply of services and materials.
Key Tasks for March
March is normally the month when the warmer temperatures kick the grass plant back into life; however, many areas of the country have had continued growth throughout the winter. Recently, I was at a school venue where they were cutting the football and rugby pitches three times a week! And overseeding in some places! We can only assume that there will be even more growing and cutting taking place as the year progresses.
With mowing keep your height of cut as near as possible to the high end of a winter cutting height. This will ensure the grass has the optimum leaf area for the production of carbon (the building blocks of plant growth) through the process of photosynthesis.
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 and should be completed after each match. Arm yourself with a border fork and a bucket of topdressing with a little seed mixed in. Just a couple of hours post match divoting, sorting out some of the worst, will make all the difference. If you cannot afford a full divoting programme, then you could just tackle the worst and clean the rest off with a mower or pick up sweeper.
Continue spiking, when the conditions are right. Keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting. Hand fork goalmouth and centre circle areas if difficult to get onto with machinery.
Keep you lines looking bright by overmarking before each match, and string them when you start to see them wander. Giving some thought and taking some time with a string line helps give a better impression of a groundsman's skills, particularly as this is one of the visible aspects of what we do.
For training pitches used on a daily basis, try and reduce wear, rotate where activities may take place, especially fast feet drills.
If you are planning to carry out your renovations earlier in April, then you might want to think about reducing the height of your grass over the next few weeks. 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.
If you have irrigation reels or equipment, it is wise to look over them and check that they are working ok and complete any service requirements, if they are needed.
Try and ensure all matches are completed in time for your renovation window.
Particle Size Distribution (PSD). March is a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis. 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.
Soil pH. 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. Carrying out these test also allows you to check other physical conditions of the pitch, such as root depth, levels of compaction and aerobic state of the soil.
Some clubs continue to apply wetting agents to help improve and enhance soil performance. A wetting agent is such a substance that reduces the surface tension of a liquid, causing the liquid to spread across or penetrate the soil profile more easily. These are usually applied on a monthly basis.
Keep a look out for the visible signs of nutrient deficiency and compaction which may lead to the ingress of Red Thread, which in most cases will disappear very quickly, especially after a dose of fertiliser.
Many pitches will be in need of a feed, with a low nitrogen input with some iron would be beneficial, allowing the grass plant a kick to get going, and the Iron (Fe) will help colour up the sward and kill off any moss spores. Keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth.
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, however 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.
Always keep an eye open for turf disease. Prevention is always better than a cure. The combination of moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade can make the plant susceptible to disease attack. Many turf grass diseases such as Fusarium and Red Thread can be active at this time of the year.
Symptoms of Fusarium (Microdochium nival) (image right), the most common and damaging disease, are orange – brown patches, 2.5-5cm across, increasing in size under suitable conditions as the disease progresses. Active patches have a distinctive ‘ginger’ appearance when viewed early in the morning. Creamy white mycelium resembling cotton wool can be seen in the centre and towards the outer edge of the patch. Grass in the active patches is often slimy; once the disease is controlled, the scars will remain until there is sufficient grass growth to fill in. Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak.
Red Thread is ill defined bleached grass with Pink mycelium visible in early morning dew. Close inspection will reveal red needle like structures which are attached to the leaf blades. The needles become brittle upon death and are easily detached, allowing fragments to spread the disease. Systemic curatives and protective fungicides such as Chlorothalonil and Iprodione, applied in liquid form with water as a carrier, can be used to control any outbreaks. Mixing two or more products in the same tank can help reduce the potential for disease resistance developing. Fungicides are selected with different modes of action so that resulting mixture will attack the target disease on two or more fronts. This makes it more difficult for the pathogens to develop resistance to treatments.
Worms can be very active at this time of the year so treatments can be carried out, if needed; the use of Carbendazim is the only active ingredient for controlling worms.
All personnel should be suitably qualified in the application of chemicals.
Please note: More information on diseases and their treatment can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php
Start thinking about your end of season renovations, and how you may be tackling the possibility of an extended season and the need to get onto the pitches to carry out the work. Start to build your strategy and get it down on paper. Look at what resources you will need - manpower, materials and machinery.
With reference to your machinery needs; if it's part of your inventory, drag it out, dust it off and fire it up to make sure it will work for you when you need it. If you don't have it in your inventory, but you know someone who has, a neighbouring club or school perhaps, particularly if you are on good terms with them; you may come to some arrangement to borrow it when they are not using it.
Alternatively, look at the option of hiring. There are a growing number of hire companies these days that are now specialising in the hire of sports ground equipment. With reference to your material needs, get them ordered now so that they are on hand when you need them.
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.
Details of our forthcoming autumn courses can be found on our website Groundsman Training
Our next course:
Wednesday 20 April 2016, Finnimore Pavilion, Alton, Hampshiree
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.
Pre and post match routines
Before the match
- Check that the pitch is fit and safe for play
- Check for debris (glass, stones etc.)
- Clear away leaves – a thankless task, but one that needs doing
- Ensure the surface is firm and not saturated, correctly marked out and flagged, and that the posts are safe and secure
- Replace divots, even if it’s just the worst affected areas - it will make a difference!
- Dragmat/brush/harrow to restore playing surfaces and remove worm casts
- Clean up the playing surface with a rotary mower
- Plan ahead for end of season renovations; particularly important if you have been affected by flooding
- You could also consider booking in your machinery for its annual service/repair, ensuring you get the time slot that suits you
- Dragmat, harrow and groom rake surface, as required, to maintain levels, remove early morning dew, control disease and generally get air in and around the plant
- Spike/verticut as often as possible
Remember – the more that club members, players and officials understand what you role involves, the better. You could use any spare time to provide a members newsletter/blog detailing what problems you are experiencing (training regimes, waterlogging etc.) and to seek additional help as required.
- Check goals for loose bolts and tighten as necessary
- Check nets - make sure they are properly supported at the back of the goal and aren't sagging
- Check team dugouts are stable and anchored securely. Make sure that they are tidy and free from litter
- Repair and maintain fence lines
- Sweep up/vacuum fallen leaves