rugby-pitch-rugby.jpgThe recent spell of warm moist weather is still stimulating grass growth. You should be mowing your pitches to dictate the appearance, health and vigour of the grass sward. RFU guidelines stipulate that the accepted heights of cut during the winter months should be maintained at between 30mm to 90mm.

Many junior club pitches tend to have too much grass on their pitches. I regularly see rugby pitches that are not cut on a regular basis and the grass length often exceeds 125mm, far too long, thus it becomes weak, straggly and often flattened after play or training.

Most senior clubs now maintain their pitches between 30-40mm giving them a faster surface to play on.

Ensure your mowers have sharp well-adjusted blades and that there are no oil leaks.

The presentation of the pitch is important. If it looks tidy and well presented with bands and stripes it often inspires the players to perform and, more importantly, gives them a safe consistent surface.

Soil based pitches, generally the heavy clay and clay loam pitches, will be susceptible to surface damage during wet weather, especially when the top 100 mm becomes saturated.

Soils, when saturated, lose their stability and strength. Damage from 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 on the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm to drain quickly.

To help keep the top 100mm free draining a programme of surface aeration is necessary. This is achieved by regular spiking with solid/slit tines to a depth of 150 mm or more when conditions allow.rugbydiary-2005-aerator.jpg

There are other specialist machines that can help with improving surface drainage, for example the Blec Ground breaker and the versatile vertidrain machines that are now available. In recent years we have seen the introduction of linear aerators , machines that cut a slot through the soil profile usually at 200 mm centres.

Diseases can still be prevalent in November, due to the cool wet ground conditions, and particularly with heavy dews on the playing surfaces. It is important that groundstaff remove these dews to prevent disease attack. Many stadium clubs are experiencing outbreaks of leaf spot and red thread. A dose of approved chemical fungicide will help control and prevent the spread of these diseases.

A wetting agent is sometimes used with the fungicide to help ensure it penetrates deep enough down into the soil profile. With the sun now lower in the sky, shade problems in stadium environments tend to be increased. The sun tends to cast longer shadows that often remain on the ground for long periods. Shaded areas tend to take longer to warm up and dry out, which in turn may affect maintenance operations and playability.

Earthworm activity usually increases in November. Earthworms can survive in a wide range of conditions, but most earthworm activity is dependent on the quality of food available. Worms like plenty of Organic Matter (OM), therefore greens with a high thatch problem tend to encourage worm activity. Soil pH also affects where earthworms are found. In strongly acid or alkaline soils earthworms are rarely seen (pH less than 4.5 or greater than 8). The soil texture will also affect the number of earthworms found; they prefer clay soils and are less frequently found in sandy soils.

Etesia Hydro 124D leaf collection.JPGWorm activity inevitability leads to worm casts appearing on the playing surface. These worm casts can be very problematic, casts tend to smear the surface, which in turn can affect surface water drainage capacity as well as providing a seed bed for weed germination.

Leaf clearance will also be a priority. Wet leaves left on playing surfaces will eventually cause problems, they will affect line marking and if left on the surface for too long will cause the turf to become yellow and even begin to die. The use of blowers and sweepers will help keep surfaces clean.

November tasks for Rugby Union

Aeration / 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 autumn aeration provides air space for the roots to expand into and the plant to breathe. Achieving an improved root system will stand you in good stead for the coming winter months.

Brushing/sweeping / 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/ Inspect 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.

Drainage / Weekly / Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working.

Fertiliser programme / If grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured)
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.

Generally, no fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some groundstaff may apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant during the winter months.

Goal posts / Weekly / Inspect goal posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure.

Grooming/ verticutting / 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.

Harrowing/raking / When conditions allow / Helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.

Irrigation equipment / As required / The need for irrigation has been greatly reduced. Lower temperatures and early morning dews have increased the humidity of the air above the turf surface, thus reducing evaportranspiration rates (ET).

If you do have to irrigate then it is important to irrigate uniformly, ensuring the right amount of water is applied. Ensure that the water gets deep into the root-zone to encourage deep rooting. Allowing areas to dry out can lead to dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil, thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.

Litter/debris / Daily / Inspect and remove debris from playing surface litter or any wind blown tree debris, litter, twigs and leaves.

Machinery (Repairs and maintenance) / Daily/ Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery. nov-diary-marking-out-2.jpg

Marking out / As Required / 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 machines available for marking out lines, wheel to wheel, spray jet, dry liners and aerosol markers. The choice will be dependent on cost, efficiency and the type of line you want.

Mowing / 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.

Seed bare & worn areas / When conditions allow / Seeding of sparse or bare areas can still be carried out. Rye grasses will still germinate in November without the aid of germination sheets. Use germination sheets to aid the process of germination but remove the sheets regularly to check for disease. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless.

Ensure you use new seed as old seed 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 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.