Expected weather for this month:

Warmer, mild weather will help increase soil and air temperatures

The weather in February has certainly taken its toll on pitches, with many clubs not only having games called off but have lost precious grass cover after play. This loss of fixtures will also have a detrimental effect when clubs have to play hastily rearranged matches later on in the season.

Soil and air temperatures have been unseasonly high, into double figures at times, and we are all hoping that the weather will continue to improve to help these grounds recover. Some dry, windy sunny days will help enormously.

Once soil and air temperatures remain in double figures, the warmer weather and increased daylight hours will stimulate some much needed grass growth.

It is important to ensure your mowing equipment has been serviced and sharpened. There is nothing worse than cutting your grass with blunt mowing blades.

With less than ten weeks to the end of the season, it is vitally important you start planning or indeed have already organised your end of season renovation works; it will be essential to check the availability of labour, materials and resources required to plan for the work. 

Do not leave it too late to order your materials and services.

When the end of a playing season arrives, a pitch can sometime have as many as 60 -80 games played on it, as well as training. Whilst it is accepted that clubs have very different budgets, it is vitally important to understand what level of performance a pitch has to aspire to. A highly maintained professional pitch will require a high end budget, whilst a local league club may be able to get away with a low budgetary maintenance programme, where in some cases much of the work is done in house, which will result in cost savings for the club. Either way a decent playing surface has to be provided for and be fit for purpose. 

Key Tasks for March

First priority, once the ground begins to dry out and you are able to access the pitches without causing damage, you can carry out some aeration work to increase aerobic activity and get some much needed oxygen around the grass plants' root system. Regular spiking and, if possible, the introduction of sand dressings will definitely improve soil/water movement in the top 100mm of your pitches.

Marking out is done as required. Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy and very wet, which may sometimes affect the performance of wheel to wheel transfer line marking machines. To overcome this problem, other marking systems are available. Pressure jet and dry line markers are able to produce lines on uneven and muddy surfaces. Care should be taken when initially marking out new lines, ensuring that they are true, straight and measured correctly, using the 3,4,5 method to achieve accurate angles.

Always wash down the machine after use; if you are not likely to use the machine for a few days, it would be advisable to empty it. Particularly with spray jet markers, keep connections clean; spray with WD 40 to help keep it protected.

If your budget allows, do some overseeding, particularly on the bare areas. This will be very beneficial in promoting grass coverage for the coming spring and will give the new grasses longer to develop.
Surface level may need to be restored in areas where scrums have occurred, by light topdressing, seeding and raking over. Infill any holes that have occurred in the pitch surface with a sand/soil and seed mix. Lightly roll after repair work, preferably with a pedestrian mower.

Aeration:- Frequency - when conditions allow - hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan. As last month, if there is opportunity to aerate, then do it. Regular winter aeration provides air space for the roots to expand into and allow the plant to breathe.

One of the best pieces of equipment for rejuvenating your pitch after matches is the SISIS Quadraplay, a four in one piece of equipment that can roll, spike, rake and brush in one pass.

Keep up with the dragbrushing/matting or harrowing when conditions permit, for dew and wormcast dispersion and to help stand the grass up prior to any maintenance work. Repair divots as soon as possible after games or training, with particular attention to the scrum and line out areas.

Using a pedestrain box mower (cylinder or rotary ) will help clean and prepare the surface for matches.

Maintain sward height at 25mm-75mm. The top height will cushion heavy falls on hard ground. Ensure your mowing blades are kept sharp and well adjusted. Cutting grass in very wet conditions can often be detrimental to the playing surface. The mower may smear and damage the surface, especially when turning. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.

Divoting:- Frequency - after games. Playing surfaces are becoming wetter, increasing the likelihood of surface damage during games. Repairs and replacing divots after matches is an important part of the maintenance programme to restore playing surfaces. The use of a hand fork to lift depressed turf, and gentle pressing with the foot, is the best way to return/replace divots, however, on larger areas the use of harrows will help return levels.

End of season renovations

Renovations should be in the forefront of your mind. Bear in mind any problems that you may have encountered during the season ("wet-spots" or poor drainage). Try to solve these problems during or before renovations start. You should, by now, have quotations for your renovation work and a provisional starting date with the contractor, or booked the machinery with your local ground care hire shop.

The type of end of season renovation will be dictated by the condition of your pitches, however, the extent and what you can achieve will be driven by cost and the will of the club to invest in their pitches.

A typical end of season renovation will be centred around aeration (decompaction), scarification to remove thatch, open up the sward, topdress to restore levels and overseed to introduce some new grasses. 

Before starting any remedial work it is vital to know how much you will need to spend on renovation, as cost can easily escalate if you fail to research prices against the standard of surface you wish to produce. From a commercial point, the cost of renovating a football pitch can range from £4k -£40k The higher costs often relate to more intensified specialist work being required such as fraise mowing and the cost of top dressing materials being used.  

The application of the topdressing as the material alone can cost anything from £35 per tonne, this work alone is the most costly part of pitch renovation and, based on an application of 100 tonnes, can easily run out at three to four thousand pounds for a 6,000m2 pitch. With various options to choose from, you may decide on a high end budget if finances allow, but, at grass roots level where every penny counts, it is more likely that a low expenditure option is chosen, with much of the work done in house with borrowed or hired equipment. 

It is this cost that deters most clubs from spending money on top dressings for their pitches, which is why there are so many poor sports pitches across the country. Top dressing is an important and integral part of maintaining good football and rugby pitches by restoring levels and improving surface drainage.

Whilst we have established that maintaining a rugby pitch is an all year round activity, we do have to start somewhere, so where better than at the END of a very long playing season, usually at the end of April.  

The condition of your pitch will dictate what work will be required; most pitches will have lost between 50-75% grass cover during the playing season coupled with the fact that the soil profile will have become compacted. To rectify these problems, it is essential that a programme of deep aeration (100-300mm deep) is carried out, followed by fertilising, overseeding and topdressing which will help restore levels, feed and re-introduce some new grasses into the playing surface.

However you achieve it, you will need to clean out the surface and get rid of the dead organic matter that will have built up, particularly on the wings of the pitch, and the remnants of old divots etc. A tractor drawn rake followed by a box mower is probably the most traditional method and most likely within the means of most clubs and schools. You may also have use of a pick up flail mower, in which case you may find that scarifying tines can be fitted and the job will be completed in one operation. 

This method can be advantageous as the scarifying tines may leave a grooved surface, ideal for ensuring oversown grass seed is buried just beneath the surface and in contact with the soil.
An operation that is becoming popular to those that can afford it (mostly Premiership clubs fall into this bracket), fraise mowing is extremely efficient at removing the top organic layer of the pitch, however, you will effectively be starting again with a newly sown surface, so your seeding rates will need to be higher. 

Raising/restoring surface levels and getting rid of those compacted areas in front of the goal is everyone's obvious, but don't forget the linesman's run-up; sometimes forgotten, but easily incorporated into your programme and, whilst you're about it, the area beside the pitch that everyone stands to watch the game will need attention. 

Spiking to relieve compaction and getting air back into the soil is important. If you have a spiker that will allow some heave, such as a vertidrain or Weidenmann etc., you may find this beneficial, otherwise you may do well to hire one in or employ the services of a local sports ground contractor.

Get a good quality grass seed for your renovation, and also fresh seed is important as old seed will not germinate as greatly or as well as new. Ensure that you achieve good seed to soil contact slightly below the surface, as seed lying on the surface will not germinate as well as seed that has been worked into the surface.

There are a number of ways to achieve this, by means of tractor mounted or pedestrian dimple/sarrel roller based seeders or disc seeders. Other ways to achieve this would be through surface spiking the area, brushing and then topdressing.

Topdressing - get it ordered and ready. Choose wisely for compatibility with your current rootzone. If you employ the services of an agronomist, then he will advise you of the best topdressing for your situation. If you cannot afford to topdress, you may consider hollow coring, recycling them by breaking them up and dragmatting them back into the surface.

Raising/restoring surface levels and getting rid of those compacted areas in front of the goal is everyone's obvious, but don't forget the linesman's run-up; sometimes forgotten, but easily incorporated into your programme and, whilst you're about it, the area beside the pitch that everyone stands to watch the game will need attention.

A good pre-seeding fertiliser, low in nitrogen and high in phosphate and potash (P:K), to provide the young seedling with the essential nutrients that will be deficient in a soil washed through by winter rains.

Turf treatments - some 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, but 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.

A planned programme of work involves mostly renovation, which is the repair and restoration of the playing surface back to its original state, condition or, improved upon in order to be used again.

Timing is the key to success as many operations will fail and cause more problems than benefits when carried out at the wrong time of the year. In order to achieve this all operations need to be carried out in the right methods, having the right soil & weather conditions, the ability to time the schedule of work and in the right sequence.

The main objectives of renovation which should be considered are:

1.    To maintain the standard of the surface.
2.    To improve the standard of the playing area.
3.    Rectify and install any new drainage requirements. 

Once we have removed the goal posts, we can proceed to reduce the amount of grass from the surface to about 10 –15mm, preferably boxing off all arising’s at this stage.

Totally scarify the surface to remove all debris, thatch and organic matter. A number of passes may be required at different depths depending on the amount of organic material that is to be removed. 

All arisings should be removed from the surface before the next stage of work is started. By creating a seed bed through scarifying, overseed the playing area with a 100% Perennial rye grass (preferably with three or more cultivars) by use of machine (auto seeder) bury the seed in about 10-12mm deep to ensure good seed to soil contact. 

Topdress the whole pitch with a sandy/soil rootzone of 70/30 to address your levels. Aeration can then be performed to de-compact the surface allowing the top dressing to migrate down the tine holes to help with draining the surface and improve the soil profile. Drag matting or brushing will assist in this operation. An application of a pre-seed fertiliser to speed up germination or a spring/ summer 9-7-7 could be used. A soil test should determine you N.P.K, if in doubt. 

Ensure bare areas such as goalmouths, centre circles are well irrigated to establish early germination. Allow new grasses to grow to at least 2nd or third leaf stage before mowing with a sharp rotary, as a cylinder mower will most likely tear the grasses from their roots. Mow and aerate regularly throughout the summer and where possible Verti- cut to help thin and prune the sward through this period. Spray for control of pests, weed and disease and over the coming weeks your sward will thicken up and become denser providing a perfect carpet for the forthcoming season.

Soil and air temperatures in March should be rising into double figures, promoting some much needed growth and recovery. Apply a fertiliser dressing on the results of a soil analysis, however, applying something like a 12 :6 :6  NPK will help initiate some colour and vigour.

An application of spring fertiliser will also help reduce the incidence of red thread disease, that can often be seen on winter sports pitches due to the plant being under stress and lacking food.

Disease: Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Early morning dew on playing surfaces often promotes the chance of disease attack. Regular brushing off the dew will help prevent an attack of turf disease.

Red thread can be quite prolific on ryegrass swards especially when the soil has been leached of nutrients; topping up with a dose of spring fertiliser will help control Red thread. If it persists, then you may have to apply a fungicide.

Red thread is an extremely common turfgrass disease that can develop at any time of the year during cool, wet weather, but frequently appears most severely during late spring and autumn. It can develop on most turfgrasses but ryegrasses, meadowgrasses and fescues appear to be more commonly affected. This disease is often referred to as an indicator of low fertility and symptoms will often develop more severely if nitrogen or potassium is limited.

Red thread is caused by the fungus Laetisaria fuciformis. The initial symptoms of infection are water-soaked areas of leaf tissue, but these often go unnoticed. As the infection progresses, the infected leaves rapidly dry, become straw-coloured and appear as irregular patches across the sward. Patches can range in size from 5 to 50 cm in diameter and will often develop characteristic red needles (sclerotia) throughout the damaged area.

The sclerotia are aggregations of countless strands of very pale pink fungal mycelium which grow out of the infected leaf tissue and become wound tightly together appearing pink or red when complete.

The development of these 'needles of mycelium' allows the infection to progress by enabling the fungal mycelium to spread over the turf under humid conditions. Once the sward is dry or the relative humidity around the turf is reduced, the needles become desiccated and brittle. They then become dislodged from the infected plants and fall to the base of the sward where they will remain until favourable conditions return.

Red thread spores (7)Fungus spores can remain viable for up to 2 years, survive temperature as low -20°C or high 32°C, This fungus is capable of growth at pH 3.5 -7.5 this means that the disease can occur on almost any amenity turf rootzone.

The disease can be spread by infected clippings and direct movement of the sclerotia but the fungus also produces arthroconidia (fragmented mycelial strands) that can be windblown over long distances.

Red thread is almost invariably a foliar disease and although the causal fungus has the ability to enter and damage the crown tissues, it very seldom does. Because of this, the symptoms of the disease can frequently be reduced by light nutrient applications and removal of the diseased tissue by boxing off the clippings.

However, there are increasing reports of this disease developing on turf that has been maintained under adequate nutrition and in such instances, symptoms will not be satisfactorily reduced by nutrient application alone. Where red thread regularly causes damaging symptoms, it would be worth considering over-seeding with grass cultivars that have been bred with reduced susceptibility to the disease.

Red fescues: slender and strong creeping red fescues (Festuca spp.), Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) are the main susceptible species affected by red thread other grasses which can be affected are bentgrasses (Agrostis spp.) and (Poa sp.) The above grasses are used in most sport turf situations including Golf, Bowls, Cricket, and winter game pitches.

Keeping the sward healthy and using resistant turf grass species will reduce the incidence and severity of disease attacks. Apply a balanced fertiliser programme with emphasis on nitrogen input.

Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery. Do not forget there are other ways of getting equipment for a particular job, such as hiring or borrowing from another local sports club /golf club.

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.

Our next Winter Sports Pitch Maintenance courses are taking place as follows:

Wednesday 11 March, Derby RFC, Haslams Lane, Darley Abbey, Derby DE22 1EB

Wednesday 18 March, Hurn Bridge Sports Club, Avon Causeway, Christchurch, BH23 6DY

More details are available on our Groundsman Training website.

Goalposts: Inspect goalposts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. Also ensure post pads are secure during matches.

Drainage: Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. It is important to ensure that pitches with primary/secondary sand bands/sand groove drainage systems are kept operational. During wet conditions, these bypass systems often get capped over by surface soil, thus reducing their efficiency. Regular spiking and annual sand dressing of the pitch will keep these drainage channels open and working.


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