The Met Office got November’s long term forecast horribly wrong and, apart from two or three days of cold and frost, temperatures were well above the average. In fact, storms were the order of the day, with Abigail and Barney (they now have names!) being the most damaging – chainsaws and drainage issue would have been high on the agenda for many groundsmen.
When looking at forecasts beyond five days, the chaotic nature of the atmosphere starts to come into play - small events currently over the Atlantic can have potentially significant impacts on our weather in the UK in several days' time.
The Met Office forecast a generally unsettled weather pattern throughout December, with showers or longer periods of rain affecting many parts. Occasional sleet or snow is possible over high ground, and to lower levels at times, mainly in the north. The wettest and windiest weather is likely to occur across northern and north-western areas. Southern and south-eastern parts should be see more prolonged dry spells, however some rain or showers are still likely at times.
It will be windy at times with gales or severe gales possible, especially around coasts and hills in the north and west. Large day to day variations in temperature are likely with overnight frost during the quieter spells.
Key Tasks for December
Many areas of the country were reporting strong grass growth late into November. Whilst there will be obvious regional differences, soil temperatures remain higher than average for this time of year, so you can still present your pitch with bands, stripes and a consistent surface. Maintain a height of cut between 30-90mm.
Continue with post match divoting and brushing and undertake aeration if conditions allow. Stay off the pitch with heavy equipment if your ground is holding water – a hand fork might be your best friend!
Pitches that are not cut on a regular basis will often exceed 125mm - far too long. The plant becomes weak, straggly and often flattened after play or training.
Most professional and semi-professional clubs cut between 30-40mm.
Continue with post match divoting and brushing and undertake aeration if conditions allow.
If snow does make an appearance, training will either head indoors or on the main pitch. If the latter, ensure that regimes, such as shuffle drills and small sided games are rotated on the pitch to avoid excessive wear.
- Continue cutting to encourage good sward density, ensuring that you do not over cut as this would thin out the sward due to the slowdown in growth
- Ensure that any equipment used is keenly set to cut
- Regular brushing will keep the air circulating around the base of the plant
- Deep spike to alleviate compaction as and when required
- Continue spiking when the conditions are right (this should only be carried out if the soil is suitably moist) to compliment your deep spiking
- Keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting
- Hand fork high wear areas, if difficult to get onto the pitch with machinery
- Use any downtime to overhaul/service machinery
- If it’s frosty, keep off the pitch until the frost has lifted or it becomes absolutely necessary. This will avoid damage to the grass plant/leaf
Try to keep the top 100mm free draining; this can be achieved by regular spiking with solid or slit tines to a depth of 150mm or more.
- Keep your linemarker clean
- Keep string lines taut
- Ensure that right angles are correctly formed. Use the 3:4:5 triangle method. The bigger the triangle at the start, the more accurate the pitch will be.
Earthworms may be a problem, so regular dragbrushing will be necessary. Brushing can be daily when conditions are right. Regular aeration to keep the surface open will aid drying. A drier surface may help towards reducing the effects of the earthworm activity near the surface. Diseases have been widely reported, particularly Fusarium. These outbreaks have been mainly due to the heavy dews and changing climatic air temperatures we have recently experienced.
The three disease factors: susceptible grass/host, pathogen, and environment, provide the evidence for disease diagnosis. Symptoms are the expression of the susceptible grass to the disease and can take on a variety of forms.
Symptoms may appear on the leaves as small, circular, tan-coloured lesions surrounded by brown or purple borders (leaf spotting); as yellow, red, or tan blotches over most or all of the leaf blade (blighting); stunting; wilting; or as a brown or black rot on the crowns and roots. The appearance of these symptoms will also vary depending on the type of disease, the severity of the attack and the developing stage of the disease.
The typical types of diseases you may come across are:
- Red Thread
- Dollar Spot
Please note: More information on these and many others can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php
- Keep your machinery in tip top condition
- Grease where you find a grease nipple, oil where you see a metallic moving part, check the oil, check the water
- Clean it when you've finished
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.
Details of our forthcoming autumn courses can be found on our website Groundsman Training
Our next courses:
Monday 14 December, Birmingham City FC, Birmingham
Tuesday 19 January December Dagenham & Redbridge FC
Tuesday 16 February, Stamford, Lincolnshire
£140.00 + VAT
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.
Pre and post match routines
Before the match
- Check that the pitch is fit and safe for play
- Check post protectors and flags
- Check for debris (glass, stones etc.)
- Clear away leaves – a thankless task, but one that needs doing
- Ensure the surface is firm and not saturated, correctly marked out and flagged, and that the posts are safe and secure
- Replace divots, even if it’s just the worst affected areas - it will make a difference!
- Dragmat/brush/harrow to restore playing surfaces and remove worm casts
- Clean up the playing surface with a rotary mower
- Dragmat, harrow and groom rake surface, as required, to maintain levels, remove early morning dew, control disease and generally get air in and around the plant
- Spike/verticut as often as possible
Remember – that the sun is at its lowest in December and daylight hours are at their shortest, so any shade problems you have will be exacerbated. These areas tend to take longer to warm up and dry out which, in turn, may affect maintenance operations and playability.
- Check posts are secure
- Check team dugouts are stable and anchored securely. Make sure that they are tidy and free from litter
- Repair and maintain fence lines
- Sweep up/vacuum fallen leaves
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