Key Tasks for December
Maintain a winter height of cut between 24-30mm.
Continue with post match divoting and brushing and undertake aeration if conditions allow. A lot of pitches will be very soft or waterlogged after all the rain in November, so stay off the pitch with heavy equipment if your ground is holding water – a hand fork might be your best friend!
If snow does make an appearance, training will either head indoors or on the main pitch. If the latter, ensure that regimes, such as goalkeeping drills and small sided games are rotated on the pitch to avoid excessive wear.
- Continue cutting to encourage good sward density, ensuring that you do not over cut as this would thin out the sward due to the slowdown in growth
- Ensure that any equipment used is keenly set to cut
- Regular brushing will keep the air circulating around the base of the plant
- Deep spike to alleviate compaction when conditions allow
- 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 the pitch with machinery
- Use any downtime to overhaul/service machinery
- If it’s frosty, keep off the pitch until the frost has lifted or it becomes absolutely necessary. This will avoid damage to the grass plant/leaf
Try to keep the top 100mm free draining; this can be achieved by regular spiking with solid or slit tines to a depth of 150mm or more.
- Keep your linemarker clean
- Keep string lines taut
- Ensure that right angles are correctly formed. Use the 3:4:5 triangle method. The bigger the triangle at the start, the more accurate the pitch will be.
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
- Now is the time to check and repair covers!
- 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 – that the sun is at its lowest in December and daylight hours are at their shortest, so any shade problems you have will be exacerbated. These areas tend to take longer to warm up and dry out which, in turn, may affect maintenance operations and playability.
- 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
Looking ahead to December, we are fast approaching the festive season, and for many this can be a time of reflection. Unfortunately, this will undoubtably be a break from a ‘normal’ Christmas period, with new lockdown restrictions now in place and a return to the national tier system. We will, however, take this in our stride and make the most of the circumstances, as we have done throughout this year and adapting as best we can. I’m sure as many people look back over this year, there will be a mixture of emotions, both personally and professionally, with everyone having their own individual circumstances to manage and deal with.
Early December looks forecast to continue much on the same path as November with moderate conditions for the time of year of both temperature and rainfall. This does look like it will break around halfway through the month, making way for some more unsettled weather and a higher volume of rainfall. Those who have had staffing levels at full capacity through the last lockdown will have hopefully been able to make good progress with any project work planned. We have again seen mild temperatures in the run-up to the end of the year, with conditions in November not being too dissimilar to what you would expect in October. As noted in November’s diary, this means careful management is needed.
One of the main challenges that still remains is the management of fungal diseases throughout this period, such as Microdochium nivale (previously known as Fusarium patch). November is typically a high-pressure month and, although mild conditions can increase the disease pressure at times, it can also mean that there is still the opportunity of achieving some recovery from any outbreaks that occur with some new growth. As we move into December, with temperatures decreasing, albeit quite slowly, the amount of recovery that is achievable is also going to decrease. Turf managers will need to utilise the timing of any plant health promoting or plant protection product applications. Prevention is certainly better than the cure with the chemistry that is currently available in the market.
With wetter weather forecast for later in the month maintaining an aerobic soil for as long as possible will be key. The best chance of achieving this is through carrying out aeration practices at the appropriate time and in the most suitable ground conditions. Taking machinery over surfaces, when conditions aren’t suitable, will cause more damage than bringing benefits and sometimes the hardest decision is to stay off the turf. Subsequently, poorly timed operations can lead to surfaces being wetter, through water being held in the soil profile rather than being allowed to drain away. Preparation is key, planning the most appropriate method for the individual site given, available machinery, budgets, resources etc…
Many beneficial microorganisms thrive in a balanced soil with adequate levels of available oxygen. It is important that we ensure our soils are not depleted of this essential element and we keep them as oxygenated as possible. If soil structure is compromised and becomes compacted or waterlogged for periods of time then anaerobic species, organisms that don’t require oxygen, will become more dominant. This can have a negative effect on turf health. Anaerobic bacteria prefer an environment without oxygen and many pathogenic bacteria also prefer these soil conditions, with the ability to outcompete or kill off aerobic bacteria in the right conditions. Therefore, we do not want to promote conditions that will favour this environment.
Nutrition may still need to be applied to meet the needs of the plant and encourage recovery from play. Following on from November, inputs should contain the right source and amount of nitrogen which will not encourage soft, lush growth. Applied in modest amounts, further applications can always be made if required. With soil temperatures still not dropping particularly low, biostimulants are not to be overlooked at this time of year. Again, the change in seasons puts greater emphasis on evaluating the present environmental conditions rather than following the calendar month. Applications of seaweed, humic acids and amino acids will elicit important beneficial defensive and stress responses in the plant.
Worms show no sign of stopping, causing major issues for managing turf surfaces. The mild and moist climatic conditions continue to favour their presence and activity. There are no legal controls for earthworms and any product which is applied to directly affect them is done so illegally. Continue with cultural management practices, such as localised surface acidification, removal of grass clippings to reduce their food source and sanding of surfaces to assist in the drying out and dispersal of casts. Sulphate of iron is often used as a surface acidifying agent, but it is worth considering that over application may lead to an accumulation of iron in the soil and reduction of pH, causing long term imbalances and negative effects to plant health throughout the rest of the year.
2020 will be a year that is remembered for years to come, we’ve all had many obstacles to overcome both at work and in our personal lives. Although there is still a long way to go, hopefully we can look forward to 2021 with a sense of optimism for the things that can be achieved. Enjoy the Christmas period, in whatever capacity is possible in your region, celebrate the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, and fingers crossed for a good year.
- 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
- Clean it when you've finished