After another month of poor weather, most parts of the country are again on flood alert. With so much groundwater about and soil being near to saturation point, it only takes a few millimetres of rain to cause problems.
Soils this year have not had chance to drain and remain dry for any length of time, the ongoing spells of wet weather throughout the year have kept soils in a saturated condition, leaving them prone to damage after use.
The most challenging time for any rugby club groundsman, or club volunteer that is charged with looking after the club's pitches, is during the winter months.
Most junior clubs are reliant on how well their pitches drain. Clubs who are blessed with free draining soils (sandy soils ) or have a primary and secondary drainage system have a better chance of coping with the weather. Also, clubs that regularly undertake essential aeration work as part of their maintenance programme and control pitch usage will also be in a better position.
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 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.
Pre match:- Pitch inspection to see if the pitch is fit and safe for play; check for debris (glass, stones etc), the surface is firm and not saturated or flooded, check it has been marked out correctly and flagged and the posts are safe,secure and fitted with post protectors.
Post match:- remove flags and post protectors; ideally, spend some time repairing any divots, large scars and, if able, run a brush/ harrow over the pitch to restore levels and stand the grass back up.
Useful Information for Pre and Post Match activities
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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.
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 Mowing and Fertilising
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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.
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.
Useful Information for Aeration
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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.
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.