Work required on rugby pitches will be dictated by the type (code) of rugby you are playing. Rugby League pitches are still in use for games, therefore the programme of work will be geared up for presenting pitches for games and repairing afterwards.
As for rugby union clubs, they have, or should have completed their end of season renovations, so the work will be geared around promoting new grass growth and maintaining a uniform height of cut.
Continue to cut and feed the grass on a regular basis; too often I see clubs stop cutting their pitches once the playing season is over, allowing it to grow uncontrollably.
It is important that clubs look after their machinery and equipment and should ensure they are kept in good order and fit for purpose. There's nothing worse than having a mower that’s difficult to start and, worse still, does not cut the grass properly.
Keeping it mown at a manageable height 30-75 mm encourages it to tiller and thicken up. A dose of fertiliser will help promote growth; ensure there is plenty of moisture in the soil profile to activate the fertiliser and allow it to enter the root system.
For clubs without adequate watering facilities, a dry warm spell of weather is likely to cause problems in terms of keeping their pitches watered sufficiently to keep any newly sown grass alive.
Some clubs may not have these resources, relying on the weather, therefore their grass swards will be under stress, grass growth will slow down and die back. You may need to raise the height of cut, especially if you are cutting between 25-35mm; leaving a little extra grass on will help the grass plant in times of drought.
Many rugby union clubs resume training in July, so it is important to get the pitches ready and prepared for the return of the players; there may be a need to set out and mark training grids and practice areas.
Take time to string out your lines, and ensure they are accurate and straight; a well presented and marked out pitch will go a long way to inspire the team to perform well.
Key Tasks for July
The quality of cut will be dependant on the type and size of mower you use. Cylinder type mowers generally give you a better finish, however to achieve this you will be required to cut the grass on a weekly, if not twice weekly regime, maintaining a height of cut between 25-50mm.
Frequency of cut will also dictate whether you should be looking at purchasing a cylinder mower with small or large diameter cylinders. Eight inch diameter cylinders are common for mowing on a cycle up to 10 days, whereas ten-inch diameter cylinders are better for those cutting cycles of 10 days and beyond.
And how many blades should be on a cylinder? Well, the more blades you have the finer the cut.
In recent years, we have seen an improvement in rotary cutting machines, which tend to be more robust and simpler to use, and generally cope better with large amounts of grass to cut. Whichever machine you use, the key is to ensure you cut the grass on regular basis.
July sees the start of pre-season preparations of pitches and training areas for rugby union, as players return for training and conditioning.
Focus will now be on mowing and preparing the surfaces for play. Grass heights will vary depending on type of mowers used, however, most will be looking to maintain a height of cut between 30-75mm. Common problems with regard to mowing, are either insufficient cutting frequencies or trying to take too much off in one go.
The grass should be mown a minimum of once a week or, ideally, twice a week during the growing season (May-September). This will ensure that the sward is stimulated and promotes an increase in tillering.
In most cases, the clippings are allowed to fly thus returning plant debris into the sward, which helps re-feed the plant. Too many of these clippings, however, can also be detrimental and will suffocate the plant. Keep an eye on the thatch levels to gauge what to do.
Grooming and verti-cutting are operations that remove unwanted side growth and reduce the amount of debris in the sward. These operations are carried out on a regular basis, often weekly or fortnightly. These operations are completed in conjunction with your mowing regimes.
Most groundstaff will be applying a summer N P K fertiliser, perhaps something with higher nitrogen that will help maintain grass colour and vigour. A slow release fertiliser could be applied to see you through July and August. The choice of materials and how well they work will depend on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and air temperature being the catalyst for growth.
Irrigation will be a priority, especially if maintaining newly sown seed or turf areas. It is important that these areas do not dry out and die. Inspect installations for leaks. There may be a need to irrigate during any renovation programmes, as air temperatures and daylight hours are getting longer, increasing the likelihood of the ground drying out.
It is important to ensure that the water gets down into the rootzone 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.
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 its particle make up, enabling you to match up with appropriate topdressing materials and ensuring you are able to maintain a consistent hydraulic conductivity (drainage rate) of your soil profile.
* Soil pH: a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 is 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.
Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis service that enable you to get specific results for the soils you manage. Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants. There is an optimum for each plant nutrient and, when coupled with other properties such as soil structure and particle sizes, determine how vigorous your plants are. Different nutrients undertake different tasks within the plant.
Ideally, it is good practice to undertake at least an annual soil test to analyse the nutrient status of your soil. This will help ensure you only apply what is required and not waste money and time applying products you do not need.
However, the choice of materials and how well it works can be dependant on many factors, including soil type and the weather, with moisture and warmer air temperatures being the catalyst for growth.
With the onset of hotter weather, there may be a need to keep an eye out for disease; temperature changes can bring on disease attacks, particularly when the turf is undernourished. Red thread can often be a threat to sports turf when the sward is in a stressed state. An application of fertiliser will help the plant to become more resistant to disease attack.
As for broadleaf weed control, a timley application of a selective herbicide will help control any weeds; however, you may have to delay your application if you have newly germinated seed, it would then be best to apply mid to late August. Use an approved selective herbicide.
Keep your machinery well serviced, sharp and clean, take time to inspect cutting blades and ensure they are sharp, set at the correct HOC (Height of cut).
Line marking materials should have been orded in time for the new season, there are plenty of marking compounds on the market, along with a wide range of markers; keep your markers clean and use string lines to help keep your lines straight.
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.
Our next course is taking place:
Tuesday 25 August Finnimore Pavilion, Alton, Hampshire
Cost £140.00 + VAT - More information
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.
Inspect goal posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure.
Harrowing/raking, when conditions allow, helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Inspect and remove debris from playing surface litter or any wind blown tree debris, twigs and leaves.
Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.
Inspect and get floodlights checked out.