dry rugby pitch The Rugby Union season has 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 dry weather. April 2007 has been the driest and warmest since records began some 348 years ago. Many parts of the country have not had any significant rain for three weeks.

The combination of sunny spells, lack of rain and drying winds have increased the rate soils are drying out. Many grounds are bone hard and cracking. Many clubs do not have adequate watering facilities to cope with these conditions.

Trying to carry out end of season renovations whilst pitches are in this condition will be difficult, if not pointless, as any seed sown will not germinate. Even if you do have enough moisture in the ground to allow germination, the newly sown grasses will struggle to establish if the dry conditions continue. cracking soil
Unless there are adequate watering facilities, i.e. decent water supply, automatic watering or self travelling sprinklers then the club will be reliant on mother nature bringing in some much needed rain. There are a wide range of static and self travelling sprinklers on the market, a club can get a self traveling sprinkler and 50metres of hose for £200 upwards depending on make and size of hose.

Click this link to the Pitchcare shop to access a range of sprinklers and other irrigation equipment.

The biggest factor that dictates the level and extent of end of season renovations is usually money. In most cases, clubs up and down the country fail to undertake the necessary renovations to their pitches. Year on year they fail to undertake the basic requirements - decompaction, overseeding, fertilising, weedkilling and top dressing.

The net result is poorer quality pitches, often leading to pitches that become unplayable, sometimes dangerous and often non appealing when trying to attract new players.

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 decompact the pitch
  • Repair worn areas
  • Top dressing
  • Overseeding
  • Fertilising
  • Watering if required
rugby sch 6Aeration

After a season of play the soil profile will have become compacted. It is important to relieve this compaction and allow air back into the soil profile. Grass plants require air for growth. The use of solid tine or knife bladed spikers/vertdrain machines are essential tools to aid aeration of the soil profile.

Ideally, it would be best to hire a vertidrain machine with 25mm diameter tines that can provide deep aeration 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 mixture.

Top dressing

Top dressing is carried out to help restore levels, improve soil structure, improve surface drainage and aid seed germination. Ideally, the whole pitch should be top dressed with about 60-100 tonnes of material.

Generally, the choice of material is either an approved medium sand (particle size ranging from 0.125mm-1mm) or a 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.


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, and disc drilled into the profile to ensure a seed/soil contact is made for better germination.


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 something like a 9/7/7, which 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.


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.


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.

May tasks for Rugby

/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.

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, something like a 9/7/7.

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.

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.