Expected weather for this month:

Warmer soil temperatures to aid seed germination

With the Rugby World Cup being the main focus of the year, many rugby clubs, especially  the Premier rugby clubs will be focused on getting their end of season renovations done as soon as the playing season has finished.

May is a busy time for most rugby football facilities, with the end of season renovation works either already started or programmed to start. There may be a few exceptions, with some clubs having to complete end of season fixtures and cup games late into May.

It is vital clubs carry out some form of end of season works, at the very least a programme of deep aeration, overseeding and feeding should be carried out on your pitch. The pitches should be mown on a weekly basis to encourage the sward to tiller.

However, localised weather conditions will also dictate what can be achieved; It is surprising how quickly grounds can dry up once we have a few days of warmer weather in May. Ironically, you may need to irrigate to help any newly sown seed germinate. There are a number of excellent sprinklers now on the market.

Key Tasks for May

The commercial cost (from an approved sports turf contractor) for an end of season renovation will vary, dependent on what's required. However, a typical basic end of season renovation would see the pitch, scarified, aerated and topdressed with 60 tonnes of sand/sand soil rootzone, overseeded and fertilised. For one rugby pitch, the cost will range between £3500-£6000, depending on choice of materials used. The rate would come down if more than one pitch is to be completed.

For a further £2-3k investment, taking you to between £7,000-9,000, you could effectively get yourself a brand new surface if you were to kill off exisiting vegetation, stone bury, re-level, sand ameliorate and overseed. This option, however will need more planning, timing and after care to ensure its success.

Get your end of season renovations completed as soon as possible, the level of work will be dependent on needs and budgets available.

Good quality seed, fertilisers and topdressings can be quite expensive but, at the end of the day, investing in quality materials will give you good results. Ensure you use a competent contractor who has the skills and experience in doing end of season renovations.

Ensure you regularly mow your pitches, ideally mowing on a weekly frequency to help tiller the sward.

You may need to spray for weeds. Remember that you cannot spray newly sown turf for several weeks after the initial sowing.

Towards the end of the month, you may need to apply some additional fertiliser material depending on the needs of the grass.

There may be a need to irrigate during any renovation programmes, as air temperatures and daylight hours are getting longer, increasing the likelihood of the ground drying out. It's important to ensure that the water gets deep into the rootzone to encourage deep rooting. Allowing areas to dry out can lead to problems of dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil and thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.

The level of renovation and how it is achieved will vary greatly and will be dependent on a number of factors:

Type of facility, its construction and soil composition

Drainage capacity

Extent of wear and damage to the pitches

Budgets available

Equipment available

Skills and resources of the ground staff

Time available to complete the works and allowing for establishment

The use of specialised contractor services

Your end of season renovations will be determined by what wear you have suffered, and the present condition of the pitch.

Most of the Premiership Groundsmen will be completely renovating their playing surfaces, utilising the Koro fraise mower to clean off or reduce the amount of existing vegetation from their pitch, and oversowing.

For most top-flight clubs this method is now being done every year, or every other year depending on the condition of their pitch. The aim is to remove the poa and oversow with desirable perennial rye grasses. To do this, they use a combination of Koro machines, power harrows and seed drills.

Most, if not all of these operations are carried out by specialist sports turf contractors, who are geared up to complete this work within days, enabling valuable time for establishment.

However, the key factors that influence what renovations are carried out, especially in lower level rugby facilities, such as local authority, schools and club pitches, are cost, time and resources.

Advisors and consultants are available, at a price, to assess your requirements and provide a report detailing the worksrequired and costs. However, also look in-house, you may already have the necessary expertise.

If possible, obtain a soil analysis of your pitch, measuring for particle size analysis, organic matter content, soil pH and nutrient status. This information will help you decide what materials to use in respect of grass, fertilisers and topdressings.

Renovation Operations and Costs

In the main, you should be looking to carry out the following end of season operations:

Aeration/hollow core to de-compact the pitch

Verti-cutting/scarifying to clean out unwanted debris

Repair worn areas



Brushing /drag matting


Watering, if required

Aeration:- Ideally, it would be best to hire a vertidrain machine with 25mm diameter tines that can provide deep aeration down to 300mm. This will ensure you have relieved all the compaction and will also provide holes for the topdressing materials to fill. A linear aerator can also be used to decompact your pitches.

Verti-cutting:- The Weidenmann verticut harrow can be used for quick and efficient removal of thatch, using a high working speed of up to 12km/h. The verti-cutting tines aggressively pull up thatch and deposit it on the surface. The tines are placed in five rows with a 16mm distance between rows.

Repair worn areas:- Small localised worn areas can be repaired by cultivating to a depth of 75-100mm, then restore levels by adding any additional soil and overseeding.

Topdressing:- Topdressing is carried out to help restore levels, improve soil structure, improve surface drainage and aid seed germination. Ideally, the whole pitch (7000m2) should be topdressed with about 60-100 tonnes of material. Generally, the choice of material is either approved medium sand (particle size ranging from 0.125mm-1mm) or 70:30 rootzone (sand soil mix). The dressing should be brushed into the playing surface so it works its way into any low spots and the vertidrain holes.

Overseeding:- It is essential to ensure that all worn areas have been overseeded at a rate of 35-50g/m2. The whole pitch should then be overseeded. Seed should be disc drilled into the profile to ensure seed/soil contact is made for better germination. A typical method now being used is to overseed in three passes, two passes with a disc seeder that directly drills into the soil profile and one pass with a dimple seeder (surface seeding), both operations completed at a higher seeding rate of 50 g/m2.

Brushing:- You will then dragmat/brush the pitch to work in the materials and seed.

Fertilising:- To help the sward recover quickly and encourage the new grasses to establish, a dose of fertiliser is required, usually in the form of a late spring or early summer fertiliser applied at a rate of 35-50g/m2. Most groundstaff will be applying a spring/summer fertiliser, perhaps something like a 9+7+7, which will get the grass moving during May. Then, towards the end of the month, look to putting on a slow release fertiliser to see you through June and July.

Watering:- Once the seed has germinated, there may be a need to irrigate if dry weather persists. Newly sown seed, having shallow roots, will need adequate water to survive and establish.


The commercial cost (from an approved sports turf contractor) for the above operations, for one senior rugby pitch, ranges between £3500-£6000 depending on choice of materials used. The rate would come down if more than one pitch is to be completed.

The high cost is mainly due to the supply and spreading of the topdressings. The material alone (sand) can cost anything up to £25-£30 per tonne, with a spreading cost of between £5-7 per tonne. Based on 100 tonnes supplied and spread, this item alone comes to around £3000.

It is often this cost that deters people from topdressing, which is why we see so many poor pitches in the UK. Topdressing is an important part of the maintenance loop, and is essential for restoring pitch levels and improving surface drainage.

Having said all that, it is essential to consider doing something to improve the condition of the pitch. At the very least, you should be decompacting, seeding and feeding your pitch.

Decompacting pitches can be achieved using a vertidrain or linear aerator. This operation can cost between £250-£400 per pitch (7000m2), depending on travel and transport costs. A contractor will charge less if more than one pitch is aerated.

As for seeding, you will need 10-12 bags per pitch; cost of seed will vary depending on the cultivars chosen. A bag of high quality seed will cost between £80-100, plus the cost of seeding, so there will not be much change out of £1000 for this operation. Ideally, a dose of fertiliser will help promote some much needed grass growth, again you will need between 10-12 bags (£20 per bag) of fertiliser per pitch, therefore total cost plus spreading would be around £300.

Ongoing Maintenance tasks

Once the renovations have been completed and the new grass has germinated, ongoing maintenance must be followed up to help promote a dense sward, regular mowing is essential.

I see many rugby clubs which, once the season has finished, stop mowing the grass, resulting in the grass growing long (200-300mm) and weak. Regular mowing (cutting height 35-50mm), at least on a weekly basis, is essential to encourage the sward to thicken.

 Aeration /When conditions allow:- Hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan.

Brushing / sweeping / Daily / weekly:- To remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics. 

Disease /Daily / weekly:- Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. 

Fertiliser programme / If grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured):- Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results. Most groundstaff will be applying a spring/summer fertiliser, something like a 9/7/7.
Harrowing / raking / When conditions allow:- Helps restore levels and keeps surfaces open.

Irrigation equipment / Weekly:- Inspect installations for leaks. There may be a need to irrigate during any renovation programmes, as air temperatures and daylight hours are getting longer, increasing the likelihood of the ground drying out. It's important to ensure that the water gets deep into the rootzone to encourage deep rooting. Allowing areas to dry out can lead to problems of dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil and thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality. 
Useful Information for Irrigation

For many years, the turf industry has promoted the use of Performance Quality Standards PQS to ascertain the standard of sport pitch maintenance.

It is important to survey and measure the performance of your facilities. With modern technologies we can now measure all manner of aspects of the pitch/golf green or artificial pitch to ensure it meets any stated guidelines by the sports governing bodies.

These can include measuring sward height, composition of grass species, soil temperature, weed content, levels, hardness and infiltration rates (porosity) of the soil rootzone.

In recent years, we have seen the development of GPS mapping devices that can measure chlorophyll, moisture content and deviation in levels. Soil tests will also help determine soil type, nutrient status of the soil, organic matter content, CEC capacity and soil pH.

Keeping a record of these parameters will help you have a better understanding of what is going on within your playing surface and enable you to make better decisions on what maintenance inputs you will need to undertake to maintain surface playability.

Soil sampling is an important part of groundmanship. The results will enable the manager to have a better understanding of the current status of his soil and turf. There are many tests that can be undertaken, but usually the main tests to consider are:

Particle Size Distribution (PSD): this will give you accurate information on the soil type and its particle make up, enabling you to match up with appropriate topdressing materials and ensuring you are able to maintain a consistent hydraulic conductivity (drainage rate) of your soil profile.

Soil pH: a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 is a suitable level for most grass plants.

Organic matter content: it is important to keep a balanced level of organic matter content in the soil profile.

Nutrient Levels: keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth.

Once you have this information, you will be in a better position to plan your season's feeding and maintenance programmes.

Keep and eye on fungal disease attack; Red Thread can be a common problem on rugby pitches, especially on rye grass swards that are under fed. Usually, a dose of feed will eradicate this problem and reduce the incidence of this disease. As for other diseases such as leaf spot, you may need to apply and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.

May is also a good time to apply a selective herbicide, however,do not apply to newly sown areas.

Research which is the best product for use, clearly identify the weed problem you have and choose the appropiate weed killer to control your problem. Ensure you read the label and follow the instructions. You will also have to comply with pesticide legislation and be suitabley qualified to apply these professional products. For most clubs, the best route of action is to employ a qualified competent contractor to undertake the work.

Start thinking about your end of season renovations, and how you may be tackling the possibility of an extended season and the need to get onto the pitches to carry out the work. Start to build your strategy and get it down on paper. Look at what resources you will need - manpower, materials and machinery.

With reference to your machinery needs; if it's part of your inventory, drag it out, dust it off and fire it up to make sure it will work for you when you need it. If you don't have it in your inventory, but you know someone who has, a neighbouring club or school perhaps, particularly if you are on good terms with them; you may come to some arrangement to borrow it when they are not using it.

Alternatively, look at the option of hiring. There are a growing number of hire companies these days that are now specialising in the hire of sports ground equipment. With reference to your material needs, get them ordered now so that they are on hand when you need them.

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.

The next course taking place:

Wednesday 13 May, Salisbury & South Wilts Sports Club, Wilton Road, Salisbury, SP2 9NY - More information

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.

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