Key Tasks for March
You will be doing well if you have got your pitch in a playable condition. The wet conditions are likely to continue, so doing whatever you can is all you can hope for. March is normally the month when the higher temperatures kick the grass plant back into life; but this isn't likely in the foreseeable future. Once conditions are more favourable, you can carry out the following maintenance work..
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 in April, then you might want to think about reducing the height of your grass towards the end of the month. 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.
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
No number of graphs of historical data, or TV news bulletins that feature wellie-clad reporters against a backdrop of rivers that have burst their banks, can portray what we’re experiencing at the moment. Saturated doesn’t cover it, and even as I sit writing this agronomic diary update, it is steadily raining.
Although the Blackthorn is blooming and the Hawthorn is starting to break its buds in the hedgerows, spring feels like it’s a long way away. Spring officially starts in three weeks’ time, although the adage not to ‘cast a clout till May is out’, referring to the Hawthorn blossom which typically occurs during the month of May, and which also gave rise to the playground nursery rhyme:
Here we come gathering nuts in May,
Nuts in May, nuts in May,
Here we come gathering nuts in May,
On a cold and frosty morning.
The nuts actually referring to ‘knots’: the May blossom which would have been gathered as part of the May Day celebrations - an expression of the evident joy and relief that late spring and early summer finally bring; when all this water will be a memory.
Research has shown that a series of complex chemical signals are triggered in plants as soon as it starts raining. Myc2 is a protein which, when activated, causes thousands of genes to spring into action to prepare the plant’s defences. These warning signals travel from leaf to leaf and induce a range of protective effects. Why would plants panic when it rains? Rain is the leading cause of disease spreading between plants.
When a raindrop splashes across a leaf, tiny droplets of water ricochet in all directions. These droplets can contain bacteria, viruses or fungal spores which have evolved to utilise this means of transmission to a new host. A single droplet can spread these up to 10 metres to surrounding plants. Evidence also suggests that when it rains, the same signals spreading across leaves are transmitted to nearby plants through the air.
One of the chemicals produced is a hormone called jasmonic acid that is used to send signals between plants. If a plant’s neighbours have their defence mechanisms turned on, they are less likely to spread disease, so it’s in their best interest to spread the warning to nearby plants. When danger occurs, plants are not able to move out of the way, so instead they rely on complex signalling systems to protect themselves (Moerkercke et al. 2019).
It’s a good time of the year to undertake training updates, and during a recent education session that was provided to some members of our internal teams, I was reminded that the most diverse ecosystem that exists is in the environment immediately around the plant’s root system. The impact upon playing surfaces, of the volumes of water that we’re experiencing, is as direct consequence of the affect that saturated soils have upon the plant’s capacity to cope with inundation.
Apart from increased levels of disease, the disruption caused to the plant in the form of appreciably reduced populations of micro and meso-organisms, apparent in the amount of worms floating about on the surface trying to obtain respite from a saturated environment.
This loss was written about in the December update which discusses the means to mitigate against damage and develop a strategy which can aid effective recovery, and is as relevant now as it was then. The importance of a well-structured substrate when it comes to water flow off the surface and into aquifers was highlighted for me on a weekend walk over the Shropshire Hills. The fields with standing water have been worked over the winter, this disruption to the existing soil structure has impaired field drainage whereas the surrounding permanent pasture has removed the water off the surface.
It would appear that the intervals, or opportunities to undertake the timely operations necessary to maintain sports surfaces to a good standard, appear to be diminishing – speaking to managers over the winter, for some renovations were incomplete or lacking at the end of the season and the start of this period is proving to be troublesome.
As I get older, I appreciate my capacity to forget, and I can say with confidence that once the sun shines and the grass is growing vigorously, thoughts of this water will evaporate and more pressing problems will emerge for our attention.
Alex Van Moerkercke, Owen Duncan, Mark Zander, Jan Šimura, Martyna Broda, Robin Vanden Bossche, Mathew G. Lewsey, Sbatie Lama, Karam B. Singh, Karin Ljung, Joseph R. Ecker, Alain Goossens, A. Harvey Millar, Olivier Van Aken (2019) 'A MYC2/MYC3/MYC4-dependent transcription factor network regulates water spray-responsive gene expression and jasmonate levels', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , 116(46).
- 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. Grounds Training also works with the industry’s awarding bodies – Lantra and City & Guilds (NPTC).
Our Online Sports turf maintenance courses which are independently accredited by Lantra which are going from strength to strength. The video tutor is leading industry consultant, Alan Lewis MSc NDT FinstG. The course provides flexible, cost effective training and is accompanied by a comprehensive training manual. https://www.groundstraining.com/online-grounds-training-courses/
In addition we have a wide range of ground care machinery courses, safe handling of pesticides, tree survey, and ecology courses. All our which are delivered by industry qualified instructors registered with Lantra Awards and or NPTC.
We also offer a small number of open courses at our site at Allscott ,Telford.
All the courses we have to offer can be found by visiting https://www.groundstraining.com/
Here are our upcoming open courses:
PA1/ PA6A - Thursday 19th /Friday 20th March Allscott Telford TF6 5DY