The recent spell of poor weather, particularly the sheer amount of rain received in some areas (some 200mm plus in July alone,) has affected many clubs in one way or another.
Heavy clay soil-based pitches, especially ones with no installed drainage systems, have become so wet (saturated) that it has prevented the groundsmen from undertaking any work (mowing ,aerating, brushing) without fear of damaging the playing surface. Also, the freer draining sandy soils are leaching nutrients very quickly that they are under nourished and showing poor colour and growth.
Also, the fluctuating temperatures and wet conditions are proving the ideal catalyst for disease outbreaks. We are seeing a lot of red thread maturing on the playing surfaces. Usually applying a feed will help eradicate red thread, however it may also need a dose of fungicide in severe cases.
Generally, August sees the start of pre season matches. The focus will be on mowing and preparing the turf surfaces for play. Grass heights will vary depending on the type of mowers used, however most will be looking to maintain a height of cut between 25mm and 75mm.
However, my biggest worry is I keep seeing rugby clubs who are not doing enough to their pitches during the closed season. This is mainly in respect of weed control, fertilising, aeration and, more importantly, regular mowing.
Regular mowing, at least weekly, is essential to improve the condition of the pitch. Too many clubs tend to leave the grass to grow far too long, often in excess of 100mm in length, before cutting. So, when it finally gets cut, you are left with a pitch resembling a farmer's field ready for bailing. This, in turn, causes more problems in that these arisings have a detrimental affect on grass growth and the aesthetics of the pitch.
Regular cutting and feeding will encourage the grasses to tiller and thicken at the base giving you a better quality sward for play.
Herbicides are only effective during the active growing period, so it is essential to undertake a weed control programme during the summer months while air and soil temperatures are high and weed growth is vigorous.
Particular attention should be made to irrigation regimes, for those who have access to water, ensuring that all areas are watered uniformly to promote healthy growth. Make sure that divotting takes place straight after play finishes, because divots will dry and die very quickly in the hot weather.
Pre season training will be well underway, with club coaches demanding marked out training areas for practices. Ensure you have enough marking materials and an efficient, quality line marker for carrying out these tasks.
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 marking machines available on the market, wheel to wheel, spray jet, dry liners and aerosol markers. The choice will be dependent on cost, area to be marked and the type of line you want.
The following four points are essential requirements to help achieve accurate line marking: Ensure you have serviced your machine and it is clean and ready for use.
* A reliable, accurate line marking machine
* Appropriate, approved marking fluid
* Careful planning and preparation (setting out lines)
* Time and care
New linear aerators now offer alternative methods of aeration from the traditional solid tine spiker to a hollow core spiker, which can install a continuous slit 10mm wide 200mm deep at 200mm centres. The machine has also been upgraded to infill with kiln dried sand.
Grooming and verticutting 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, and 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 verticutting.
Irrigation will be a priority, especially if maintaining newly sown or turfed areas. It is important that these areas do not dry out and die. Inspect installations for leaks. 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, thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.
Maintain sward height at 25mm-75mm; the top height will cushion heavy falls on any hard ground. Frequency of mowing will increase to maintain sward height as soil and air temperatures initiate grass growth.
The choice of mower will generally be dependent on budgets available, coupled with your particular requirements. Most stadium pitches tend to keep to ride on triples and pedestrian Dennis or Ransomes 30"-36" type mowers.
There is also a need to keep up with other forms of mowing to control the grass around obstructions and fencelines.
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.
Most grounds staff will be applying a summer N P K fertiliser, perhaps something like a 12:0:9 to maintain grass colour and vigour. A slow release fertiliser could be applied to see you through August and September. The choice of materials and how well they work will dependent on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and air temperature being the catalyst for growth.
To remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.
Pre match inspections:
To include pitch surface, line markings and posts. Keep heavy wear areas roped off to stop unwanted early use. In an ideal world the pitch should be completely out of bounds. Tidy up the edges of the pitch, strim around advertising signs and crowd barriers. Presentation on the pitch will be let down badly by unkempt edges.
Post match renovation:
To include replacing divots and repairing worn areas (scrummage/lineout areas). Aeration will relieve compaction and brushing will help keep the sward standing up right. Apply some topdressing materials to restore levels if required.