rugbydiary-2005-aerator.jpgIt would seem many parts of the country are experiencing another dry spring, one similar to last year, which has been exacerbated by a spell of sunning weather raising soil and air temperatures into double figures during March. This exceptional warm March has stimulated some early seasonal growth. Some clubs are even experiencing drought conditions - parts of the country have only had 3-4mm of rainfall compared to their normal average of 30 plus mm for the month.

However, the recent hosepipe ban imposed by several water companies, which comes into force on the 5th of April, may have a detrimental effect on many rugby football facilities if they cannot water their pitches. You may need to consult with your Local Water Authority to check what these restrictions mean to your club.

Also early April weather forecasts are now predicting a drop in air temperatures, with some snow expected in northern parts of the country, so it's likely we will see a slowdown in grass growth until favourable weather returns.

Hopefully, providing you manage to get your renovations timed to perfection, you may still be able to take advantage of some traditional April weather of warmer, sunny days interspersed with some of nature's watering in the form of rain.

With reference to your winter pitch renovation programme, the earlier you can get on to them the better. Early establishment will help you to create a good strong healthy sward and root system that will bring your grass through the summer, providing you have the ability to water as required during periods of excessive or prolonged dry weather.

We're now in the last full month of rugby games, many pitches up and down the country will be waiting for a well-earned rest and recuperation once the season finishes in May.

Pitches may be showing signs of heavy wear, particularly from scrummages and line out play. These areas invariably lose grass cover, but this season the problems have been made worse by the severe winter we have experienced in many parts of the country.

Some Groundsmen will, if time and resources are available, overseed these areas during April while there is sufficient natural moisture in the ground for seed germination. However, many are not able to do this until the season has finished.

Early in the Month 1st - 15th April

April is a good month for carrying out any aeration works, especially while there is sufficient soil moisture to allow deep penetration of the tines. The ground will soon begin to dry out, reducing the opportunity for deep aeration without surface disturbance. There are a number of different methods for aerating rugby pitches. The vertidrain and earthquake machines are popular; deep aeration is a key maintenance operation to reduce soil compaction.

Increased soil and air temperatures will begin to stimulate some grass growth which, in turn, will increase the need to mow on a more frequent basis.

Ensure you have ordered materials for your end of season renovations - topdressings, seed and fertilisers, along with securing any contract labour force or hire of machinery to undertake the programmed works.

Stadia Groundsmen will be mowing 2-3 times a week to maintain desired sward height (28 to 50mm). Rugby swards need to be mowed at least on a weekly basis to ensure they maintain sward density.

Later in the Month 16th April - onwards

April is also a good month for applying spring and summer fertiliser products. 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.

Most groundstaff will be applying a spring/summer N P K fertiliser, perhaps something like a 9:7:7, see Pitchcare Shop for range of fertiliser products which will effectively get the grass moving during April, then towards the end of April/early May applying a slow release fertiliser to see you through June/July.

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.

Key Tasks for April
Brushing and Fertilising
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Brushing or sweeping the pitch daily helps to remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce aesthetically pleasing stripes.

With the onset of warmer 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 a spring fertiliser will help the plant to become more resistant to disease attack.

Fertiliser programme/As appropriate: - Apply a fertiliser dressing, if required, on the basis of the results of a soil analysis.

Useful Information for Brushing and Fertilising

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Pre and post match maintenance
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Pre-match maintenance will involve inspecting the pitch for debris, mowing and marking out. There may also be the opportunity to aerate the pitch to keep it free draining. Care should be taken when marking out. It pays to select the right type of marker and paint for the job. To ensure the lines are straight it is best to string out the lines prior to marking. With the advance in technology more and more spray jet markers are now being used, they are better suited for the ground conditions experienced by most local authority and club pitches in the UK.

Marking out: as required:- Use approved marking compounds/materials. Always check your lines, it often pays to string out your lines when marking. Using a string line helps keeps the lines straight and accurate.

Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy, which may sometimes affect the performance of wheel to wheel transfer line marking machines. To overcome this problem, other marking systems are available. Pressure jet and dry line markers are able to produce lines on uneven and muddy surfaces. The choice will be dependent on cost, efficiency and the type of line you want. Ensure the machine is clean and ready for use.

Post match maintenance will involve replacing any damaged grass and divots, brushing, harrowing or light rolling to restore levels. The SISIS Truplay is an ideal piece of kit for reinstating pitches after use.

Divoting: after games:- An important part of the maintenance programme, particularly at this time of the year. Get on the pitch as soon as possible after games. Use a hand fork to lift depressed turf and gently pressing with the foot is the best way to return divots. On larger areas the use of harrows will help return levels. Levels may need to be restored on the scrum and line-out areas by light topdressing and raking over. Lightly roll after repair work, preferably with a pedestrian mower.

With warmer temperatures likely, it will be beneficial to start seeding bare and worn areas early with the aim to re-establish some new grass cover whilst there is sufficient soil moisture for germination.

Seeding of sparse or bare areas can be carried out; the rise in spring temperatures will help germination. Use germination sheets to aid this process but remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. 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.

Useful Information for Pre and post match maintenance

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Aeration and Mowing
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Using needle tines or slits at this time of year will keep the water moving through the profile and allow air to get to the roots. On sand-based pitches, spiking will help to keep the playing surface "soft", this will also enable you to tine more frequently with minimum disturbance to the grass and playing surface.

Maintain winter sward height at 50-75mm. The frequency of mowing will increase to maintain sward height as soil and air temperatures begin to rise initiating grass growth. 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.

Useful Information for Aeration and Mowing

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Pest and Disease
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Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Early morning dew on playing surfaces often promotes the chance of disease attack. Removal of the dew will help prevent an attack of turf disease.

Useful Information for Pest and Disease

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Renovation
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If not already done, April is still an ideal time to obtain a soil analysis of the pitch. Measure for soil Ph, nutrient levels and organic matter content, which are seen as good indicators of the condition of the soil. Once you have this information, you will be in a better position to plan your season's feeding and maintenance programmes.

With the season now drawing to a close, it will be essential to check the availability of labour, materials and resources required for your end of season renovations. Do not leave it too late to order your materials and services.

The condition of your pitch will dictate what work will be required, most pitches will have lost between 50-75% grass cover during the playing season coupled with the fact that the soil profile will have become compacted. To rectify these problems, it is essential that a programme of deep aeration (100-300mm deep) is carried out, followed by fertilising, overseeding and topdressing which will help restore levels, feed and re-introduce some new grasses into the playing surface.

Useful Information for Renovation

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Other Tasks for the Month
  • Grooming/ verticutting/As required: - Grooming and verticutting are operations that remove unwanted side grass growth and reduce the amount of debris in the sward. These operations are usually carried out when grass growth begins.

  • Harrowing/ raking/When conditions allow:- Harrowing helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.

  • Irrigation equipment/As required:- Very little required. If you do have to irrigate then it is important to irrigate uniformly, ensuring the right amount of water is applied.

  • Goalposts/Weekly:- Inspect goal posts and sockets before and after games to check they are safe and secure.

  • Litter/debris/Daily:- Inspect and remove debris from the playing surface - litter or any wind blown tree debris, litter, twigs and leaves.