May Rugby Diary

By Laurence Gale MSc

may2006-shrewsmatch.jpg

The Rugby Union season as now virtually finished with the exception of a few cup games and sevens tournaments that run on into May. Many pitches will have suffered as a consequence of the recent poor weather conditions we had in March and April. may2006-bare-soil.jpg

A lot of grass cover was lost, the fact that air and soil temperatures rarely rose above 12 degrees meant there was no significant re-growth in April, leaving many pitches looking quite bare and thin and requiring some over seeding to help restore grass populations.

However, as is often the case, the weather improves and we are now faced with warm, drying winds. This does not necessarily help renovations, particularly if you have no effective watering systems, and remain totally reliant on the weather.

The level of renovations and how they are achieved will vary greatly and will be dependant 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

To help decide on what materials to use or quantify what work is required you can get advice from a number of pitch advisors/consultants.

It would also be advisable to 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 top dressings.

In the main you should be looking to carry out the following end of season operations to ensure you can establish new healthy grass and restore playing levels of the pitch:

  • Aeration to de-compact the pitch

  • Repair worn areas

  • Top dressing

  • Overseeding

  • Fertilising

  • Watering if required

Aeration

rugbydiary-2005-aerator.jpg

Ideally it would be best to hire a vertidrain machine with 25mm diameter tines that can provide deep aeration down to 300mm depth. This will ensure you have relieved all the compaction and will also provide holes for the top dressing materials to fill.

Repair worn areas

All bare and sunken wear areas should be renovated, dressed up and overseeded. This will involve some cultivation work, making good surface levels by adding new compatible materials and overseeding with a sports field ryegrass seed mixture.

Top dressing

may-2006-dry-sand-dress.jpg

Generally, the choice of materials 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 that all worn areas are overseeded, at a rate of 35-40g/m2. Ideally, the remainder of the pitch should then be overseeded . Seed to be disc drilled into the profile to ensure a seed/soil contact is made for better germination.

Fertilising

To help the sward recover quickly and to 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 effectively get the grass moving during May. 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.

Costs

The commercial cost (from an approved sports turf contractor) for the above operations for one rugby pitch ranges between £3000-£4000 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 the top dressings. The material alone (sand) can cost anything up to £20 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 £2700.

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

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.

Any major resurfacing or drainage works are usually programmed to coincide with end of season renovations works.

The diary below details the general maintenance tasks still required for rugby pitches. Most of the tasks detailed can be undertaken within a limited budget. Local conditions and circumstances will need to be taken into account.

If any members are undertaking any specific work not detailed, please let us know by adding a comment in the section below the diary.

May tasks for Rugby
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.
Divoting Immediately after game To repair scars and surface damage.
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 groundstaff will be applying a spring/summer fertiliser, perhaps something like a 9/7/7 will effectively get the grass moving during May. Towards the end of the month, look to put on a slow release fertiliser to see you through June and July.
Harrowing / raking When conditions allow Helps restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Irrigation equipment Weekly 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.
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.
Mowing As required To maintain sward height 35-50mm. Frequency of mowing will increase to maintain sward height as soil and air temperatures begin to rise initiating grass growth.
Post match renovation After matches
  • Replace divots
  • Repair worn areas (scrummage / line out wear areas)
Pre match inspections As required
  • Inspecting pitch surface and line markings
  • Checking post safety
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.
Top dressing sand / rootzone materials As required Localised spreading of top dressings to repair divots and scars of turf surface.