Recent poor weather has certainly affected the quality and playability of many pitches up and down the country; it is a difficult period for groundstaff, trying to keep grass cover on their pitches when the surface remains wet or saturated. Grass cover soon gets kicked out during play especially when these conditions prevail.
The following rain statistics from the British Weather Services give an indication of the amount of rain we have been having in the UK.
February was the wettest month nationally since 2002. It was exceptionally wet in the South and West Britain.
- England and Wales average 107 mm (161% of long term average).
- Scotland average 89 mm (135% of long term average).
- N. Ireland average 73 mm (127% of long term average).
- Highest monthly totals across SW England, maximum totals 250 mm to 350 mm.
This weekend's heavy rain (3/4 March 2007) produced totals between 25 mm to 40 mm, these mainly across parts of Wales, SW England and Midlands.
Even the best drained pitches would struggle to cope with this amount of rain.
Many club training areas are now a sea of mud, with no stability and very little grass cover remaining. There will be little chance of any recovery until we get a period of dry weather, rest from training and some renovation. Grass recovery will not begin until we get some favourable consistent soil temperatures rising above 10 degrees centigrade.
You may need to carry out some localised forking of the pitch to remove any areas of standing water before games.
Keep up with the drag brushing/matting or harrowing, when conditions permit, for dew and wormcast dispersion and to help stand the grass up prior to any maintenance work. Repair divots as soon as possible after games or training, with particular attention to the scrum and line out areas.
As the weather warms up (hopefully), and if your budget allows, do some over-seeding particularly on the bare areas. This will be very beneficial in promoting grass coverage for the coming spring and will give the new grasses longer to develop.
Levels may need to be restored in areas where scrums have occurred, by light top dressing, seeding and raking over. Infill any holes that have occurred in the pitch surface with a sand/soil and seed mix. Lightly roll after repair work, preferably with a pedestrian mower.
Renovations should be in the forefront of your mind. Bear in mind any problems that you may have encountered during the season ("wet-spots" or poor drainage). Try to solve these problems during or before renovations start. You should, by now, have quotations for your renovation work and a provisional starting date with the contractor, or booked the machinery with your local ground care hire shop.
Regular spiking and, if possible, the introduction of sand dressings will definitely improve soil water movement in the top 100mm of your pitches.
March tasks for Rugby
Aeration / When conditions allow :-
Using needle tines or slits at this time of year will keep the water moving through the profile and allow air to get to the roots. On sand-based pitches spiking will help to keep the playing surface "soft", this will also enable you to tine more frequently with minimum disturbance to the grass and playing surface.
Brushing/sweeping / Daily/weekly :-
Keep up with the drag brushing/matting or harrowing when conditions permit, for dew and worm cast dispersion, this operation will also help stand the grass up prior to any maintenance work.
Disease /Daily/weekly :-
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. Removal of the dew will help prevent an attack of turf disease.
Divoting / After games :-
An important part of the maintenance programme, particularly at this time of the year. Get on the pitch as soon as possible after games. Use a hand fork to lift depressed turf and gently pressing with the foot is the best way to return divots. On larger areas the use of harrows will help return levels. Levels may need to be restored on the scrum and line-out areas by light top dressing and raking over. Lightly roll after repair work, preferably with a pedestrian mower.
Drainage / Weekly/as required :-
Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. Damaged and blocked outfalls will cause surface water problems.
Sand bands can easily become capped by surface soil materials, thus reducing their draining potential. Top dressing with sand materials helps to keep the bands open and permeable. Use approved sports sands and topdressings. This dressing not only keeps the bands and drainage systems viable but restores surface levels.
Fertiliser programme / as appropriate: -
Apply a fertiliser dressing, if required, on the basis of the results of a soil analysis.
Grooming/ verticutting / As required: -
Grooming and verticutting are operations that remove unwanted side grass growth and reduce the amount of debris in the sward. These operations are usually carried out when grass growth begins.
Harrowing/ raking / When conditions allow :-
Harrowing helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Irrigation equipment / As required :-
Very little required. If you do have to irrigate then it is important to irrigate uniformly, ensuring the right amount of water is applied.
Goal posts / Weekly :-
Inspect goal posts and sockets before and after games to check they are safe and secure.
Litter/debris / Daily/Weekly :-
Inspect and remove debris from the playing surface litter or any wind blown tree debris, litter, twigs and leaves.
Machinery (Repairs and maintenance) / Daily/Weekly :-
Check equipment and machinery ensuring heights of cuts etc. are correct. If you have not had them in for a winter service yet, then hurry up and do so!
Also this is a good time to look and consider buying suitable new or second hand Machinery.
Marking out / As Required :-
Use approved marking compounds/materials.
Always check your lines, it often pays to string out your lines when marking. Using a string line helps keeps the lines straight and accurate.
Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy, 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.
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 :-
Maintain winter sward height at 50-75mm. The frequency of mowing will increase to maintain sward height as soil and air temperatures begin to rise initiating grass growth.
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 mowers may smear and damage the surface especially when turning. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.
Soil tests / Ideally once or twice a year, or as required.
Good time to do your soil testing in readiness for the new growing season. Money can be wasted on inappropriate feeding.
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.