The recent spell of poor weather is having a detrimental affect on rugby pitches up and down the country. Many, particularly the ones that receive very little maintenance, especially in the form of good aeration work, are either flooded or waterlogged. The sheer volume of water lying on top of the pitches is amazing, even my own club had up to 50mm water lying on most parts of the pitch for several days.
The compacted layers prevent or slow the movement of water through the soil profile. The rate of infiltration of water will be wholey dependent on the level of compaction and the type of soil you have. Sandy soils will drain more quickly than a heavier loam or clay soil.
A programme of aeration using various methods, either solid tine, hollow tine or linear aeration techniques will reduce compaction. There are number of new air driven aerators that will help relive compaction quickly.
If pitches remain flooded or saturated for long periods the grass will inevitably go into decline, basically the grass plants begins to drown and die.
The wet weather has also prevented many clubs from cutting their grass which, if left too long, becomes weak and straggly.
Generally, August sees the start of pre season matches. The focus will be on mowing and preparing the turf surfaces for play. Grass heights will vary depending on the type of mowers used, however most will be looking to maintain a height of cut between 25mm and 75mm. Particular attention should be made to irrigation regimes, those who have them, ensuring that all areas are watered uniformly to promote healthy growth. Make sure that divotting takes place straight after play finishes, because divots will dry and die very quickly in the hot weather.
Pre season training will be well under way, with club coaches demanding marked out training areas for practices. Ensure you have enough marking materials and an efficient, quality line marker for carrying out these tasks.
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 3,4,5 method to achieve accurate angles.
There are a number of marking machines available on the market, wheel to wheel, spray jet, dry liners and aerosol markers. The choice will be dependent on cost, area to be marked and the type of line you want.
The following four points are essential requirements to help achieve accurate line marking:
New linear aerators now offer alternative methods of aeration from the traditional solid tine spiker or hollow core spiker, which install a continuous slit 10mm wide 200mm deep at 200mm centres. The machine has also been upgraded to infill with kiln dried sand.
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, and are completed in conjunction with your mowing regimes. Brushing the pitch in the opposite direction prior to cut will produce a cleaner finish and a healthier sward when used in partnership with verti-cutting.
Irrigation will be a priority, especially if maintaining newly sown seed or turfed areas. It is important that these areas do not dry out and die. Inspect installations for leaks. It is important to ensure that the water gets down 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, thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.
Maintain sward height at 25mm-75mm; the top height will cushion heavy falls on any hard ground. Frequency of mowing will increase to maintain sward height as soil and air temperatures initiate grass growth.
The choice of mower will generally be dependent on budgets available, coupled with your particular requirements. Most stadium pitches tend to keep to ride on triples and pedestrian Dennis or Ransomes 30"-36" type mowers.
There is also a need to keep up with other forms of mowing to control the grass around obstructions and fencelines.
Fertiliser treatment and turf tonics 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 August and September. The choice of materials and how well they work will dependent on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and air temperature being the catalyst for growth.
To remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.
Pre match inspections:
To include pitch surface, line markings and posts. Keep heavy wear areas roped off to stop unwanted early use. In an ideal world the pitch should be completely out of bounds. Tidy up the edges of the pitch, strim around advertising signs and crowd barriers. Presentation on the pitch will be let down badly by unkempt edges.
Post match renovation:
To include replacing divots and repairing worn areas (scrummage/lineout areas). Aeration will relieve compaction and brushing will help keep the sward standing up right. Apply some top dressing materials to restore levels if required.