July Rugby Union Diary

By Laurence Gale MSc

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I am sure the recent spell of dry weather will have influenced maintenance regimes on many rugby pitches. In the main, it will only be stadium pitches and some well resourced schools which will have the appropriate systems to keep these facilities watered. The remainder will be in the lap of the gods, waiting for some decent rainfall to help sustain growth.

The affects of dry pitches are many, the sward often goes into stress with many grasses changing there growth habit to promote seed head production, leaving you with a very stalky looking pitch. The only way to remove these seed heads is by rotary mowing. The dry weather also prevents you from fertilising your pitches. Water is essential to enable mobilization of the fertilisers active ingredients. The soil needs to be of a certain moisture level to allow movement of the nutrients into the conductive tissues of the plant (Xylem) via the root system. Fertilising during drought conditions with little or no soil moisture present will lead to scorching of plant tissue.

Best advice is to wait until we have some significant rainfall before commencing any fertilising.2006-rfu-dry-sand.jpg

End of season renovations could be affected, newly sown grass will soon die out if not watered as the plants' root structure will not be mature enough to obtain any soil water that may be available at greater depths.

Some pitches will have had specialised drainage works undertaken in the form of sand bands, sand grooves or gravel bands inserted to improve pitch drainage. The dry weather may cause these bands to widen, particularly on clay soils where cracking and shrinking is greater. It is important to monitor these newly installed drainage bands. Once they widen the infill material will invariable drop leaving a potential hazard. You may need to top up these drain runs with additional materials to maintain surface levels.

Many pitches may have been top dressed as part of their end of season renovations, usually with sand or a 70/30, 80/20 material. The purpose of this operation is to improve surface drainage, provide a medium for the seed to germinate and restore levels, the amount applied often varies. Generally anything between 40-100 tonne per (6000m2) size pitch.

It is important to ensure this sand has been well brushed in and not left in large deposits that may hinder grass growth. The use of a set of drag mats or chains will help brush the sand into the pitch.

Bare areas will also soon begin to crack and open up, Old pitch marking lines are good examples of this. The bare soil has no root structure to hold it together, hence once the soils begin to dry out they crack open.

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July sees the start of pre-season preparations of pitches and training areas as players return for training and conditioning.

Focus will now be on mowing and preparing the surfaces for play. Grass heights will vary depending on type of mowers used, however, most will be looking to maintain a height of cut between 50-75mm. Particular attention should be made to irrigation regimes ensuring that all areas are watered uniformly to promote healthy growth.

Common problems with regard to mowing are either insufficient cutting frequencies carried out or trying to take too much off in one go. The grass should be mowed a minimum of once a week or, ideally, twice a week during the growing season (May-September). This will ensure that sward is stimulated and promotes an increase in tillering.

In most cases the clippings are allowed to fly, thus returning plant debris into the sward which helps re feed the plant. However, these clippings can also be detrimental if too many are allowed to accumulate on the surface. They will suffocate the plant preventing photosynthesis taking place, which in turn prevents plant growth.

Most of the tasks detailed can be undertaken within a limited budget. Local conditions and circumstances will need to be taken into account.

July tasks for Rugby Union

Task

Frequency

Reason

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.

Drainage

Weekly

Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working.

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 grounds staff will be applying a summer N P K fertiliser, perhaps something like a 12/0/9 to maintain grass colour and vigour. A slow release fertiliser could be applied to see you through July and August. The choice of materials and how well they work will dependant on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and air temperature being the catalyst for growth.

Goal posts

Weekly

Inspect goal posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure.

Grooming/ verticutting

As required

Grooming and verticutting are operations that remove unwanted side growth and reduce the amount of debris in the sward. These operations are carried out on a regular basis often weekly or fortnightly. These operations are completed in conjunction with your mowing regimes.

Harrowing/ raking

When conditions allow

Helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.

Irrigation equipment

As required

Irrigation will be a priority, especially if maintaining newly sown seed or turf areas. It is important that these areas do not dry out and die.

Inspect installations for leaks. There may be a need to irrigate during any renovation programmes, as air temperatures and day light hours are getting longer, increasing the likelihood of the ground drying out. It's important to ensure that the water gets down deep into the root-zone 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. Further information about Irrigation of sports surfaces can be see on link. Irrigation

Litter/debris

Daily/Weekly

Inspect and remove debris from playing surface litter or any wind blown tree debris, litter, twigs and leaves.

Machinery (Repairs and maintenance)

Daily/Weekly

Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.

Marking out

As Required

New pitch lines and training grids will require marking out. Check with the sports governing body (RFU) for any amendments to the laws and markings of the pitch. Care should be taken when initially marking out new lines, ensuring that they are true, straight and measured correctly, using the 345 method to achieve accurate angles.

There are a number of marking machines available for marking out lines, wheel to wheel, spray jet, dry liners and aerosol markers. The choice will be dependent on cost, efficiency and the type of line you want.

Ensure the machine is clean and ready for use,

Mowing

As required

To maintain sward height 50-75mm. Frequency of mowing will increase to maintain sward height as soil and air temperatures begin to rise initiating grass growth.

Seed bare & worn areas

When conditions allow

Seeding of sparse or bare areas can be carried out, the rise in temperatures will help germination. Use germination sheets to aid this process but remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless.

Ensure you use new seed as old material may not give you the required germination rates.

Soil tests

Ideally once or twice a year, or as required.

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 it's particle make up, enabling you to match up with appropriate top dressing materials and ensuring you are able to maintain a consistent hydraulic conductivity (drainage rate) of your soil profile.

  • Soil pH, it is important to keep the soil at a pH of 5.5-6.5, 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.