April Rugby Diary
By Laurence Gale MSc
The poor weather has certainly being testing both the players and groundstaff alike in recent weeks. Cold, wet and windy weather has delayed the onset of spring this year. Playing on wet saturated pitches has also taken its toll with the loss of grass cover and the failure of any significant re-growth because of the cold temperatures.
Pitches may be showing signs of heavy wear, particularly from scrummages and line out play. These areas invariably lose grass cover, but this season the problems have been made worse by the severe winter we have experienced in many parts of the country.
Some Groundsmen will, if time and resources are available, overseed these areas during April while there is sufficient natural moisture in the ground for seed germination. However, many are not able to do this until the season has finished.
April is a good month for carrying out any aeration works, especially while there is sufficient soil moisture to allow deep penetration of the tines. The ground will soon begin to dry out reducing the opportunity for deep aeration without surface disturbance. There are a number of different methods for aerating rugby pitches. The vertidrain and earthquake machines are popular, deep aeration is a key maintenance operation to reduce soil compaction.
Increased soil and air temperatures will begin to stimulate some grass growth, which in turn will increase the need to mow on a more frequent basis. Stadia Groundsmen will be mowing 2-3 times a week to maintain desired sward height (28-50mm). Rugby swards need to be mowed at least on a weekly basis to ensure they maintain sward density.
April is also a good month for applying spring and summer fertiliser products. Ideally it is a good practice to undertake at least an annual soil test to analyse the nutrient status of your soil. This will help ensure you only apply what is required and do not waste money and time applying products you do not need.
Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can then 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 grounds staff will be applying a spring/summer N P K fertiliser, perhaps something like a 9/ 7 / 7 which will effectively get the grass moving during April, then towards the end of April early May applying a slow release fertiliser to see you through June/July. However, the choice of materials and how well it works can be dependant on many factors, including soil type and the weather, with moisture and warmer air temperatures being the catalyst for growth.
Brushing or sweeping the pitch daily helps to remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce aesthetically pleasing stripes.
With the onset of warmer weather, there may be a need to keep an eye out for disease, temperature changes can bring on disease attacks particularly when the turf is undernourished. Red thread can often be a threat to sports turf when the sward is in a stressed state. An application of a spring fertiliser will help the plant to become more resistant to disease attack.
Pre match maintenance will involve inspecting the pitch for debris, mowing and marking out. There may also be the opportunity to aerate the pitch to keep it free draining. Care should be taken when marking out. It pays to select the right type of marker and paint for the job. To ensure the lines are straight it is best to string out the lines prior to marking. With the advance in technology more and more spray jet markers are now being used, they are better suited for the ground conditions experienced by most local authority and club pitches in the UK.
Post match maintenance will involve replacing any damaged grass and divots, brushing, harrowing or light rolling to restore levels. The SISIS True Play is an ideal piece of kit for reinstating pitches after use.
With warmer temperatures likely, it will be beneficial to start seeding bare and worn areas early with the aim to re establish some new grass cover whilst there is sufficient soil moisture for germination. This may well be an important consideration as some sports grounds in the South East of the country may be affected by the recent hose pipe and sprinklers bans.
Ensure you use new seed, as old material may not give you the required germination rates.
If not already done, April is still an ideal time to obtain a soil analysis of the pitch. Measure for soil Ph, nutrient levels and organic matter content, which are seen as good indicators of the condition of the soil. Once you have this information you will be in a better position to plan your season's feeding and maintenance programmes.
With the season now drawing to a close, it will be essential to check the availability of labour, materials and resources required for your end of season renovations. Do not leave it too late to order your materials and services.
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 top dressing which will help restore levels, feed and re-introduce some new grasses into the playing surface.