September sees the start of the Rugby Union playing season. Club pitches that have had the correct end of season renovations (aeration, topdressing, overseeding and feeding last May) followed up with appropriate levels of pitch maintenance, particularly with reference to grass cutting, should now be in a good condition for play.
In fact, this year's wet summer weather has been ideal, providing plenty of moisture for germination and establishment of the grass plant.
However, there are many club pitches that fall short of being in the best condition for the start of their playing season. Too many tend to let the grass grow far too long (more than 100mm) and cut their grass infrequently. Ideally, the grass should be cut on a weekly basis and kept at a height of between 35-100mm. It is important to maintain a dense/thick sward to provide a cushion and to protect players from possible injury.
While there is plenty of moisture in the soil a timely dose of autumn feed would help the grass recover after the onset of the first games being played. Most groundstaff will be applying autumn N P K fertilisers, perhaps something like a 12/0/9 or 3/12/12 (application rates: 14-28 bags(25kg) per Ha 35g-70g/m2) to maintain grass colour and vigour. 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.
With the season just starting presentation skills will be at the forefront of most groundstaffs' minds, setting the maintenance standards for the coming season. Presentation and cleanliness is an important part of the job, ensuring the playing pitch is level, safe and appealing for play.
It is important to ensure your line markings conform to current RFU laws and conditions, these can be found in the RFU handbooks that are usually issued to club secretaries.
Take time over the initial marking of your pitches. Use string lines to keep lines straight and true. Do not rush the marking. You could perhaps use a weaker mix on the initial mark, enabling you to rub out any mistakes easily.
Clubs that maintain their grass pitches at a height of between 100-150 mm should look to use a pedestrian rotary mower to cut the lines out first before marking.
Some club are still using creosote or similar type products to burn the lines in. This is not permitted; only approved marking products should be used. As for adding weed killers to line marking fluid again this is not recommended. You will end up with bare soil lines, which are difficult to overmark.
Aeration / When conditions allow:- Hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, at varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan and provide adequate air space for roots to colonise. Depth of aeration between 100-225mm
Brushing/Sweeping/ 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:- Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Fairy rings and Red Thread can often be widespread during September. Regular brushing to remove dew will help reduce disease attack, coupled with keeping the grass plant fed with appropriate required nutrients.
Divoting/ After matches and training:- Repairing and replacing divots after matches is an important part of the maintenance programme to restore playing surfaces.
Posts/ Weekly:- Inspect posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure.
Harrowing/ raking/ When conditions allow:- Helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open. Ideally, carry out after matches.
Irrigation/ As required:- September can often be a dry month, so irrigation will be a priority, especially when surfaces begin to dry out. It is important to irrigate uniformly, ensuring the right amount of water is applied. Ensure 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.
Marking out/ As required:- Use approved marking compounds/materials and ensure all line markings comply with RFU rules and regulations.
Machinery (repairs and maintenance)/ Daily:- Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.
Mowing/ As required:- Remember to check the height of cut; at this time of year the pitch can be cut between 35-100mm. Continue to mow on a regular basis, ideally weekly while grass is still growing.
Pre and Post match inspections and renovations/ As required:- Replace divots. Repair worn areas, topdress to restore levels (localised). Inspect pitch surface and line markings. Check post safety and fit post protection covers for matches.
Seed bare and worn areas/ When conditions allow:- Seeding of sparse or bare areas can be carried out. Use germination sheets to aid this process 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 material may not give you the required germination rates.
Weeds/ As required:- It's now getting late into the season for applying selective herbicides; soil and air temperatures are not ideal for effective responses from these herbicide products. Hand weeding will be the most effective method of weed control during the winter months.