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To be fair, most parts of the country have had a reasonable winter, with temperatures remaining above freezing for much of the time. These spells of mild weather have, in some cases, stimulated some much needed growth and, best of all, have prevented many games from being cancelled.

However, there will be plenty of rugby pitches, particularly at the lower levels of the league structure and some school pitches, that have become very worn due to constant play during the winter months.

February is usually one of the most difficult months of the year for maintaining grass pitches, particularly those that have no surface water drainage systems installed.

Most soil-based pitches will, and can, often remain saturated for long periods of time during the winter. It is during these times that surface damage can occur. Often, there is a lot of pressure on facility managers to get matches on whatever the weather; no one likes postponed or cancelled games.

Training pitches are even more prone to damage, often having to accommodate many age groups and two or more training sessions per week. To reduce wear, rotate where the teams train. With the pitches remaining wet it is often quite difficult to get machinery on to aid recovery, sometimes you can cause more damage by trying to do something.

Soil structures are easily damaged when wet. The decision to play a fixture should be down to the groundsman/manager who knows the facility and understands the consequences of playing one game too many, particularly now when grass growth is slow or dormant due to the low soil and air temperatures.

Early in the Month 1st - 15th February

Spend time divoting the pitch after matches repairing any surface damage.

When ground conditions allow, try and get some air back into the soil profile; this will help improve gaseous exchanges and help water drain from the surface.

Dragmatting, brushing and harrowing rugby pitches after matches are a good way of helping to restore the playing surface.

Rotary mowing the pitch will also help clear up any surface debris and, if fitted with a roller, help with presentation of the pitch .

Later in the Month 16th February - onwards

As soon as soil temperatures reach five and above degrees centigrade, a dose of spring fertiliser will help promote growth and improve sward colour.

Brushing and harrowing on a regular basis will also help restore surface levels and help stand the grass up. Also, whilst there is plenty of moisture in the soil profile, it is a good time to start introducing some new grass seed into the sward, primarily localised seeding to repair worn areas .

To help you choose the best seed cultivars for your pitch, obtain a copy of this years Turfgrass Seed 2012 Buyers Guide. It provides a wealth of information about the best seed cultivars on the market giving details about shoot density, vigour and resistance to diseases.

Key Tasks for February
Aeration
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Frequency - 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 winter aeration provides air space for the roots to expand into and allow the plant to breathe.

There are a wide range of professional aerators for use on winter turf pitches available, such as walk-behind aerators, ride-on aerators, trailed aerators or tractor mounted aerators. The most popular, due to their speed and performance, tend to be the 300mm deep tine aerators such as the vertidrain/Weidenmann Terra spikers.

A monthly programme of aeration with this type of machine is also beneficial in keeping the pitch in good condition. Other types of aeration techniques to be considered are hollow coring and linear aeration (Imants Rotoknife) which can be used on a more infrequent basis.

Topdressing the pitch with sand after carrying out an aeration programme will also help restore levels; ensure sand is worked down the holes to help increase the ability of water to drain from the surface.

Useful Information for Aeration

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Brushing
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Brushing/sweeping: Frequency - daily. To remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.

Useful Information for Brushing

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Pre and Post match activities
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Pitch surface: the grounds are becoming much wetter, increasing the likelihood of surface damage during games. Repairs and replacing divots after matches is an important part of the maintenance programme to restore playing surfaces. The use of a hand fork to lift depressed turf and gentle pressing with the foot is the best way to return/replace divots. However, on larger areas the use of harrows will help return levels.

Goalposts: Inspect goalposts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. Also ensure post pads are secure during matches.

Marking out: frequency - as required. Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy and very wet in February, 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. Care should be taken when initially marking out new lines, ensuring that they are true, straight and measured correctly, using the 3,4,5 method to achieve accurate angles.

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 dependant on cost, efficiency and the type of line you want. Ensure the machine is clean and ready for use. Always wash down the machine after use; if you are not likely to use the machine for a few days it would be advisable to empty it, particularly with spray jet markers; keep connections clean, spray with WD 40 to help keep it protected.

Useful Information for Pre and Post match activities

Articles Products
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Pests and Disease
Red Thread

Keep an 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. Regular brushing off the dew will help prevent an attack of turf disease.

Generally, no fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some groundstaff do apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant.

However, once temperatures begin to rise an application of a spring fertiliser product will help initiate some primary growth and improve sward colour, something like a 12:3: 9 plus mg / Fe or 12:0:8 plus Mg.

Useful Information for Pests and Disease

Articles Products
Red Thread Disease Fungicides & Turf Disease
Mowing and Harrowing
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Mowing/cleaning up playing surface: Using a pedestrain box mower (cylinder or rotary ) will help clean and prepare the surface for matches.

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 mower may smear and damage the surface, especially when turning. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.

Harrowing/raking: Frequency - when conditions allow. Use prior to and after matches; harrowing helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.

Useful Information for Mowing and Harrowing

Articles Products
Facts about mowing
Sports Stadia Grass Seed
Other Tasks for the Month
  • Drainage:- Weekly Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. It is important to ensure that pitches that have primary/secondary sand bands/sand groove drainage systems are kept operational. During wet conditions these bypass systems often get capped over by surface soil thus reducing their efficiency. Regular spiking and annual sand dressing of the pitch will keep these drainage channels open and working.

  • Machinery :- (Repairs and maintenance): Daily or after use Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery. Do not forget there are other ways of getting equipment for a particular job, such as hiring or borrowing from another local sports club /golf club.

  • Funding :- Set up a fund for Grounds maintenance: Too many clubs do not commit enough money to keeping their grounds in good order , in most cases the grounds budget is a low priority. We need to change this, even if you are blessed with having volunteer groundsmen, there is a cost for materials and servicing of equipment.

  • TRAINING:-start getting ready for your end of season renovations. Consider getting yourself or one of your team on one of our Lantra Awards accredited 1-day Winter Sports Turf Maintenance Training Course. More details www.groundsmantraining.co.uk