The winter hasn't been too bad from a grass growing point of view; we've had some cold spells but, in the main, temperatures have been generally decent. In almost all parts of the UK, groundsmen have been cutting most weeks. Now, however, is when the real growth kicks in as the temperatures average mid-teens on a consistent basis. A suitable feed will further encourage the grass plant.
April is usually the time when clubs start planning their end of season renovations. There's a lot to consider, so the earlier you get things booked in, the easier you will sleep before the work really starts. In particular, make sure that you have the right tools, equipment and materials by ordering well in advance to avoid delays. This early planning is doubly important if you are planning to bring in outside contractors - get them booked before somebody else does!
Key Tasks for April
April is usually manic, with fixtures piling up and trying to get them all in before the end of the season. It will be hard going, but sticking to the basics, and making an effort with the presentation of the pitches will go a long way.
Regular brushing will help to prevent disease outbreaks and also stand the grass up.
Always ensure that any disease is correctly identified prior to applying any plant protection product.
Maintain a height of cut between 24-30mm.
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.
- 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
- 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
- If you have not already done so, you should 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 any dampness, control disease and generally get air in and around the plant
- Spike/verticut as often as possible
Spring represents the best time to undertake a broad spectrum chemical soil analysis. The subsequent report will help turf managers to make factual based decisions on further nutritional requirement throughout the year. Deficiencies can then be addressed through granular or foliar fertilisers, thus maximising plant health and surface quality.
The role of potassium is increasingly being understood with respect to water mobilisation, and recent research indicates an application of potassium in the spring helps to guard against drought stress in the summer.
Since the enforcement of the clean air act, we see that sulphur levels are often low in many soils. Sulphur is a vital element for plant health, playing a key role in protein production which drives immune response in many organisms. Proteins are created from amino acids, many of which are sulphur based. Ensuring adequate sulphur levels in the spring, with an application of a granular fertiliser containing ammonium sulphate, will help to boost levels as the season starts.
Be sure to check and compare the nutritional analysis lists on all your fertilisers; looking at values other than NPK will reveal additional nutrients in the mix which may be of benefit - Fertilisers
Increasingly the role of biostimulants is being recognised by turf managers at all levels:
- Carbon sources: for example BioMass sugar facilitates a balancing of the carbon to nitrogen ratio in the soil. This allows both microorganisms and plants to maintain this vital ratio within their systems when up-taking the nutrient, better facilitating nitrogen efficiency and utilisation. Simply put, sugars are essentially soil life and plant carbon fertilisers, which can be applied regularly to rootzones throughout the year.
- Seaweed: when applied as a liquid foliar treatment, contains a variety of plant hormones, enzymes, vitamins and trace elements which should be utilised to prime plant defences by eliciting better responses to stress events and provides a general stimulator of plant metabolic function. Liquid seaweed also acts as a chelating agent for nutrients. Seaweeds should be used on a regular basis to prime plant defences and stimulate efficient plant function.
- Humates: are naturally occurring core components of healthy soils, produced as a by-product of organic decomposition. Humate substances act as a soil structure improver, microorganism habitat, microorganism stimulant, nutrient bank improver, nutrient carrier, chelator. Humates can be applied throughout the year to increase nutrient uptake and efficiency, boost soil biology function and habitat, and increase the nutrient holding capacity of the soil.
Often wetting agents are applied too late in the season to be made the best use of. Quite often, the use of wetting agents will be approached in a similar vein to disease management i.e. waiting for symptoms before treating the problem. Once dry patch areas are visible, the chemistry within the soil necessitates the need for a curative wetting agent to strip away the organic proteins causing the water repellence; these wetting agents can be quite harsh to soil ecology and, as a result, there are not too many on the market.
The majority of wetting agents contain two molecules which act independently from each other for different effects:
Penetrant molecule: a penetrant wetting agent is designed to move water away from the surface and down through the profile.
Polymer molecule: a polymer molecule is designed to capture water and hold it lower down in the profile.
The majority of wetting agents will utilise both molecules, the penetrant to firstly move water away from the surface where it may contribute towards surface wear or just simply evaporate; the polymer molecule to then capture that water further down the profile and retain it for plants to uptake.
This strategy requires a build-up of the molecules and subsequent water cycling processes ahead of dry periods to help PREVENT the onset of dry conditions. As a result, to gain the best effect from wetting agents, they should be applied monthly through the growing season starting in the spring.
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.
The normal cultural control for disease prevention should be adopted, such as monitoring weather conditions for peak periods, removing morning dews and avoiding excessive applications of nitrogen. Increasingly, turf managers will find that many of the weapons in the fungicidal armoury are likely to become less available in the years to come, particularly in respect to curative contact type active ingredients.
Under this climate, it will be critically important that turf managers at all levels are equipped with the knowledge and understanding to maximise the use of systemic fungicides for best effect. This integrated approach will go hand in hand with reference to historical occurrence records and disease forecasting technologies, prior to visible signs of infection, and will be the only method of chemical control. Increasingly, turf managers will have to manage disease outbreaks preventatively, by using cultural controls and maintaining plant health and eliciting plant resistance through careful nutritional applications. The key elements in this instance being calcium, phosphite and iron.
The wisest of individuals will take early opportunities to seek out and engage with organisations and associations, when learning and professional development opportunities present themselves.
More advice and information is available on the website – Fungicide Programmes
Worms can also 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, for the time being. All personnel should be suitably qualified in the application of chemicals - Carbendazim withdrawal timescale
Moles can be attracted to areas where worms are prevalent; these need to be treated as they can cause a lot of damage to outfields and other surrounds.
Many areas are suffering the effects of chemical insecticide withdrawal over the past year, with chafer grubs and leatherjackets causing problems for turf managers, either through their direct action on the grass plant or through the indirect damage of mammals and birds seeking out a meal.
There are no effective treatments for the control of these insect pests in the spring control should be carried out at the correct time of the year with entomopathogenic nematodes. Nematode treatments are very successful when applied within the correct application windows which respect the life cycles of both pest and control.
More information and advice is available on the website – Chafers and Leatherjackets.
- 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
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.
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.
Other courses available include:
Safe Use of Pesticides (PA courses)
Pedestrian operated mowers
- 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