Key Tasks for March
March is normally the month when the higher temperatures kick the grass plant back into life; but this forecast cold spell will put a halt to that. Hopefully, the Siberian weather won't be with us for too long, so you can carry out the following maintenance work once temperatures are more suitable.
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.
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
As we leave what is likely to prove one of the warmest Februarys on record, we face the oncoming spring with the opportunity for recovery growth from the rigours of winter and a strong start to the growing season. However, the general lack of rainfall over the winter should be of grave concern to turf managers at all levels. The notorious drought of 1976 was a summer statistically not as dry as the summer we experienced in 2018. However, what made summer1976 so difficult was the fact that it followed a previous year's dry summer and a dry winter. As we move towards summer 2019, water reserves in the reservoirs are as low as the water reserves in the soil. If this continues, then there will be intense drought pressure on grass plants, much faster than in 2018, as soils which are already relatively dry lose their moisture content sooner.
March is the month to start applying polymer wetting agents, such that you have enough time for the chemistry to build up in the soil ahead of summer. Prevention is absolutely better than cure when it comes to dry patch, and planning and preparation now prevents poor surfaces later in the year. This is especially important against the context of soils which are already dry. Maximising the absorption of any rainfall which does occur, via a combination of aeration and penetrant wetting agents, is a very wise tactic to employ.
It is worth considering the principles which drive growth during the spring, with respect to temperature; and whilst February has already initiated good growth across most of the country, March and April may yet prove to live up to recent expectations of cold and wet, and cold and dry respectively.
Forcing growth in such conditions, however, is simply not feasible nor sensible. The plant and soil biology know what they need, and no amount of fertiliser will force them to respond when they are not ready and warm enough.
The onset of colder weather is, of course, often accompanied by sunshine, which will provide two benefits on areas which receive direct sunlight. Firstly, photosynthesis and, secondly, localised warming. Plants will use the combination of solar energy and localised warming from the sunlight to produce sugars and start metabolic function. However, the problem with cool air at this time of the year is twofold:
- Warming and photosynthesis happen in short lived concentrated blocks of time.
- Cold night-time temperatures mean the daily base-line soil temperature drops as the soil does not build up any warming momentum.
The result is patchy and inconsistent growth. A useful analogy is to think of it rather like a cyclist trying to get up to sprinting speed as quickly as possible, when every tenth rotation of the pedals his foot slips off.
In relation to inputs, it is a time to concentrate on maximising the opportunities when the plant and soil biology is active, as well as assisting the plant to withstand desiccation and drought from cold winds or a lack of adequate water. The means to do that is with little and often liquid or soluble applications aimed at the leaf, with the intention of maximising rapid uptake and assimilation. Tools to achieve this outcome are:
Nitrate nitrogen – research shows it is absorbed into the leaf over 48 hours, where it then resides in the spaces between cells ready and waiting to be assimilated when the plant requests it.
Ammonium nitrogen – the prime nitrogen source of many fertilisers; ammonium will stay in the soil for longer than nitrate. It is utilised more during warmer periods.
Urea nitrogen – Absorbed quickly into plant leaves; urea applied as a foliar is the faster source to be converted into free nitrogen atoms in the plant. However, a large proportion of its nitrogen content will volatilise into the atmosphere as ammonium gas when applied during dry conditions.
Humic Substances – in particular, micronised formulations containing a percentage of Fulvic Acid, which acts to pull fertilisers into the plant more efficiently.
Carbon – the foundation energy source of plant and soil life; providing carbon increases utilisation efficiency of fertilisers and props up the soil food web.
Seaweed – plant stress hormones prime the plant by eliciting metabolic functions which allow it to better withstand environmental (abiotic) and pathogenic (biotic) stress.
Calcium – strengthens cell walls, creating a more resilient plant.
Micro nutrients – anyone looking to make informed decisions on their soil health will have had a full chemical analysis undertaken. Foliar applications of deficient nutrients in the tank mix will allow you to overcome a lack of supply from the soil, and provide the plant with everything it needs to maximise those concentrated blocks of light energy and warmth.
Two other important factors with regards to nutrition in spring are:
Patience – understand what the plant needs and when; don’t be tempted to input nutrient that cannot be consumed. It will either leach into water courses or sit, slowly degrading, forcing a disease-susceptible and mower-demanding flush when conditions turn warm and wet.
Preparation – store a conventional release ammonium sulphate based granular fertiliser on the shelf, ready to go down as soon as you see and hear the forecasters confidently predicting a consistent upturn in temperatures and available moisture. Preferably, one containing a little calcium for cell division and magnesium for chlorophyll production.
March is an excellent time to treat moss; however, beware of applying too much sulphate of iron if desiccating winds are prevalent, and most certainly hold back scarifying unless strong consistent grass growth is there to repair the sward.
Aeration, as always, provides the bedrock of good turf surfaces. Little and often in multiple different ways is a good mantra, but beware of desiccating winds leading to too much drying of the surface; especially on poa annua dominated swards. As with everything; timing and consideration of local conditions is paramount.
March is a good time to prevent the effects from type two fairy rings in the summer. A combination of aeration, surfactants and azoxystrobin fungicide will allow water and active ingredient to move into hydrophobic regions occupied by the fungal mycelium.
2018 highlighted the weaknesses in many irrigation systems. Prioritising repairs, efficiency and calibration of coverage and timing is a key requirement to prioritise, with an eye to maintaining plant health in the summer. Remember, watering volume should be thought about as a replacement for daily readings of millimetres evaporated from the soil, not in an arbitrary amount of minutes watered. Take the opportunity to engage with irrigation specialists to help implementing this, if required.
Formulating plans of how you intend to monitor and deal with a range of challenges through the year, from leather jackets and chafer grubs to anthracnose, microdochium nivale and leaf spot, enables you to work in a best practice, proactive, preventative manner. As we continue to face the challenges of tightening legislation and climate change, doing what it takes to create and follow a plan becomes more and more essential.
- Check and service floodlighting systems; ensuring they are ready for the new playing season.
- It also important to replace any worn tines on your aeration equipment.
- Clean out the shed, sell off any old machinery and dispose of any junk that’s clogging up the shed.
Grounds Training was established in 2006 to provide a complete and unique service delivery training courses for the sports turf industry. We are now the go-to provider for on-site, bespoke training for groups. Alongside our renowned turf maintenance which now includes Lantra accredited Online courses. Grounds Training also works with the industry’s awarding bodies – Lantra and City & Guilds (NPTC).
Open courses for individuals to join are also offered at our Allscott (Telford) Training Centre, Most courses lead to Lantra Awards or NPTC qualifications; a small number of niche courses where the instructor is an experienced groundsman who is also Lantra Awards or NPTC registered, offer Pitchcare certification.
Whether your staff are involved with preparing and maintaining sports turf, operating ground care machinery and equipment or require a safe use of pesticides qualification, we have the course to suit them.
For more information on our online courses click here
The Course Manual at just £30 is available for purchase separately.
Here are our upcoming open courses:
Basic tree survey and inspection - Thursday 28th March, Cannock Chase WS12 0QU
Supervisory Essentials- Wednesday 27th March, Allscott Telford TF6 5DY
PA1/ PA6A- Thursday 28th/ Friday 29th March, Allscott Telford TF6 5DY