January will certainly be a testing time for most groundsmen, the recent wet weather will have saturated many pitches leaving them prone to damage and wear. The heavier the soil the longer it will take for the pitch to dry out; sandy soils are more free draining than heavy loam or clay soils and, therefore, will dry out more quickly.
Having an effective pitch drainage scheme will also help. Most modern constructed pitches tend to have primary and secondary drainage systems installed. These systems aid the removal of surface water quickly and tend to keep the pitches playable in periods of wet weather.
The majority of pitches at this time of the year, particularly ones that have little or no drainage, will be susceptible to surface damage after matches. Wet and saturated soils are more prone to damage than free draining drier soil profiles. Once wet, the soils can become de-stabilised, reducing the strength of the soil. Playing on wet and saturated pitches leads to the grass plant being easily kicked out or torn from the playing surface.
Playing on saturated pitches will undoubtedly bring disastrous results. It is often better to postpone the fixture rather than ruin the playing surface for the rest of the season. Scrummage and line out play are the main causes of damage on rugby pitches during wet weather periods. The severity of the damage will be dependant upon the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm to drain quickly.
It is important that once the game has finished some remedial work is carried out to repair the divots and stand the grass back up. Care should be taken not to further damage the pitch by trying to get machinery on when the pitch remains wet and saturated. Usually the first job after matches is to reinstate any damage, putting divots back and repairing damaged turf, this is usually done by hand using a handfork.
A rubber rake can also be used to help stand the grass back up in localised wet muddy areas; if left buried the grass will soon die. Once this has been completed the use of harrows/brushes can be used to stand up the sward. This is often followed by rolling back the surface using a mower or, better still, a SISIS Quadra-play unit or similar type of equipment.
January is a good time, whilst it is quiet, to plan and get yourself organised. What are your targets for this year? What do you want to achieve? Have you organised your spring renovation works? Have you ordered materials and machinery for the forthcoming season?
Aeration: Frequency - when conditions allow
Hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan. As last month, if there is opportunity to aerate, then do it. Regular winter aeration provides air space for the roots to expand into and allow the plant to breathe.
Brushing/sweeping: Frequency - daily
To remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.
Disease: Frequency - daily
Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Early morning dew on playing surfaces often promotes the chance of disease attack. Regular brushing off the dew will help prevent an attack of turf disease.
Divoting: Frequency - after games
Playing surfaces are becoming wetter, increasing the likelihood of surface damage during games. Repairs and replacing divots after matches is an important part of the maintenance programme to restore playing surfaces. The use of a hand fork to lift depressed turf and gentle pressing with the foot is the best way to return/replace divots. However, on larger areas the use of harrows will help return levels.
Drainage: Frequency - weekly
Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. It is important to ensure that pitches that have primary/secondary sand bands/sand groove drainage systems are kept operational. During wet conditions these bypass systems often get capped over by surface soil thus reducing their efficiency. Regular spiking and annual sand dressing of the pitch will keep these drainage channels open and working.
Fertiliser programme: If grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured)
Generally, no fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some groundstaff do apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant.
Grooming/ verticutting: Frequency - as required
Grooming and verticutting are operations that remove unwanted side growth and reduce the amount of debris in the sward. These operations 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.
Goal posts: Inspect weekly
Inspect goal posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. also ensure post pads are secure during matches.
Harrowing/raking: Frequency - when conditions allow
Use prior to and after matches; harrowing helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Litter/debris: Frequency - daily
Inspect and remove debris from playing surface litter or any wind blown tree debris.
Machinery (Repairs and maintenance): Frequency - daily or after use
Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery. Do not forget there are other ways of getting equipment for a particularly job, such as hiring or borrowing from another local sports club /golf club.
Marking out: Frequency - as required
Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy and very wet in January, which may sometimes affect the performance of wheel to wheel transfer line marking machines. To overcome this problem, other marking systems are available. Pressure jet and dry line markers are able to produce lines on uneven and muddy surfaces.
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 machines available for marking out lines, wheel to wheel, spray jet, dry liners and aerosol markers. The choice will be dependant on cost, efficiency and the type of line you want. Ensure the machine is clean and ready for use. Always wash down the machine after use; If you are not likely to use the machine for a few days it would be advisable to empty it. Particularly with spray jet markers, keep connections clean; spray with WD 40 to help keep it protected.
Mowing: Frequency - as required
Maintain sward height at 25mm-75mm. The top height will cushion heavy falls on hard ground. Ensure your mowing blades are kept sharp and well adjusted. Cutting grass in very wet conditions can often be detrimental to the playing surface. The mower may smear and damage the surface, especially when turning. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.
Soil tests: Frequency - ideally once or twice a year, or as required.
Soil sampling is an important part of Groundsmanship. 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.