Many areas of the country have been experiencing their first spells of bad weather with ongoing heavy rain in some parts.
Morning inspections are essential to ensure the pitch is fit for play. Assessing the condition of the pitch should be carried out by an experienced grounds person who has an understanding of the damage that can occur when playing on an unfit surface with regard to player safety and pitch protection.
Playing on saturated pitches will certainly result in surface damage. Saturated soils lose their stability and strength. Play from scrummages and line outs are the main causes of damage during wet weather periods. The severity of the damage will be dependant upon the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm of the surface to drain quickly.
To help keep the top 100mm free draining, a surface aeration programme is necessary. This can be achieved by regular spiking with solid/slit tines to a depth of 150mm or more when conditions allow. There are other specialist machines available that can help to improve surface drainage, for example the Blec Ground breaker, Imants Rotoknife and the Vertidrain range of machines.
However, it is important to remember soil and surface conditions have to be right for these operations to take place. You may end up causing more damage by trying to get machinery on it in wet conditions.
Training areas usually get a lot of concentrated wear, especially floodlit areas. If you can, try and spread the wear by rotating the use of these areas of the pitch, allowing some recovery.
December is usually the time of the year when we start seeing a deterioration in our playing surfaces. Soil and air temperatures are declining, average daily temperatures are around 10 degrees C, a temperature that does not stimulate any real significant grass growth. Recovery after damage is going to be slow or non-existent.
It may be worth considering rotating pitches, many clubs have more than one pitch at their home facility. Often, the club may be able to give a pitch a rest from play, especially during inclement weather.
The condition of the pitch may also affect the quality of your line marking. Muddy and uneven surfaces are often more difficult to mark. Trying to mark a muddy pitch with a transfer wheel line marker often results in a poor line, as there is little grass surface for the wheel to transfer material onto. You may need to change to another method of line marking, either spray jet or dry powder.
December 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 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 winter months.
Brushing/sweeping:- To remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS Quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.
Disease:- Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Early morning dew on playing surfaces often increases the chance of disease attack. Regular brushing off the dew will help prevent an attack of turf disease.
Drainage:- Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working.
Fertiliser programme:- If grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured). 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.
Floodlights:- An annual inspection should be carried out on your floodlights by an independent qualified electrician who can inspect the wiring and ensure the lights are safe for use. Bulbs need replacing on a regular basis, bulbs tend to lose there efficiency over time, resulting in lower illumination outputs. Check the lux values of your lighting system. Sports governing bodies stipulate a lux value depending on the level of play.
Goal posts:- Inspect goal posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. Padding should be used around the base of the posts during matches.
Harrowing/ raking:- When conditions allow. Helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Irrigation equipment:- In most cases there will be no need to irrigate the pitches through the winter months. Use this time to inspect, service or repair irrigation equipment. It may be necessary to switch off your irrigation water supply to prevent any frost damage.
Litter/debris:- Inspect and remove debris from playing surface litter or any wind blown tree debris, litter, twigs and leaves.
Machinery (Repairs and maintenance):- Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.
Marking out:- 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. Ensure the machine is clean and ready for use.
Mowing:- 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 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.
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.