Many parts of the country are still waiting for some much needed rainfall to stimulate growth, and re-wet the soil profile to depth. Soil and air temperatures are still favourable with temperatures still in double figures, thus encouraging some re -growth. This time last year many parts of the country were covered in snow.

It is important to go into the winter months with a good sward cover. Soil conditions should now be more favourable for deeper aeration work, as moist conditions allow easier penetration of tines without causing damage to soil structure or too much disturbance to the surface profile. Try and aerate your pitches to improve soil porosity.

However, the weather can change very quickly, and we could soon find ourselves caught out with frosts and snow cover affecting the playing surfaces, both on natural grass and the new 3/4G artificial installations.

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.

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.

Early in the Month 1st - 15th December

The recent mild November weather has influenced the potential for disease attacks with many clubs suffering from outbreaks of Red thread, mainly due to the plant being under stress and not being fed.

Some areas will experience saturated pitches as they thaw and the snow melts.

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.

Later in the Month 16th December - onwards

The condition of the pitch may also affect the quality of your line marking. Muddy and uneven surfaces are 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.

Key Tasks for December
Aeration
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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 remainder of the winter months.

Useful Information for Aeration

Articles Products
Silverdale Memorial Park, Rugby World Cup (RWC) Training Venue Rugby Posts
Mowing & Marking Out
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Mowing:- Maintain sward height at 30mm-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.

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.

Useful Information for Mowing & Marking Out

Articles Products
Primo Maxx cuts the cost of line marking Sports Equipment
Disease
Red thread

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.

Useful Information for Disease

Articles Products
Facts about red thread Fungicides
Fertilising
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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.

Useful Information for Fertilising

Articles Products
Plant Nutrition - food for thought Granular Autumn/Winter Fertilisers
Soil Tests
Arundel SoilSample

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.

Useful Information for Soil Tests

Articles Products
Analysis - getting the most out of it Soil Samplers
Other Tasks for the Month
  • 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.

  • Goalposts:- Inspect goalposts 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.