Expected weather for this month:

Cold and wet with some snow forecast

Happy new year to you all. I hope you can continue to improve the quality of your playing surfaces in the coming year. The only way to ensure you are improving is to record and monitor relevant information about your facility and maintenance regimes undertaken. 

Always keep records of the work you have carried out and the materials/products you have applied. Also, take the opportunity to take soil samples to monitor soil nutrient status and level of soil ph. When taking core samples you can also keep an eye on thatch content and soil moisture content. 

January /February is a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis, enabling you to get them back in time to start your new year's maintenance

To help you remember and record the facts use a digital camera.

January is a good time, whilst it is quiet, to plan and get yourself organised. What are your targets for this year? What do you want to achieve? Have you organised your spring renovation works? Have you ordered materials and machinery for the forthcoming season?

Ideally, if you have not had one done before, you should have a full (PSD) Particle Size Distribution soil analysis done to tell you the actual make up of your soil profile. 

Soil is made up of percentages of clay, silt and sand. The PSD Analysis will identify the ratio of these and confirm soil type, thus giving you a better understanding of what soil you are dealing with. Also, you can establish the amount of organic matter (OM) content as well as soil nutrient status and soil Ph. With this information, you will be able to identify the needs of your soil.

As for budgeting for your end of season works, seek quotes from reputable contractors for the work you want to undertake. I hear of too many clubs saying they have not got the money to invest in their pitches. The way to get round this is to look at ways of finding additional funding schemes that could pay for this work, a typical end of season renovation for a single rugby pitch will cost between 4-6k depending on the work required. I have always advocated that clubs should have a grounds kitty whereby a percentage of the annual club fees is invested back into the pitches. 

If a club charged a single pound a week from every club member to be allocated for pitch maintenance, for most middle size clubs that could equate to £200 per week / £800 per month, £10,400 per year based on a membership of 200. Spending this amount of money each year will certainly improve the playing quality of your pitches.

Key Tasks for January

The majority of pitches at this time of the year, particularly ones that have little or no drainage, will be susceptible to surface damage after matches. Wet and saturated soils are more prone to damage than free draining drier soil profiles. Once wet, the soils can become de-stabilised, reducing the strength of the soil. Playing on wet and saturated pitches leads to the grass plant being easily kicked out or torn from the playing surface. 

Playing on saturated pitches will undoubtedly bring disastrous results. It is often better to postpone the fixture rather than ruin the playing surface for the rest of the season. Scrummage and line out play are the main causes of damage on rugby pitches during wet weather periods. The severity of the damage will be dependent upon the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm to drain quickly.

It is important that, once the game has finished, some remedial work is carried out to repair the divots and stand the grass back up. Care should be taken not to further damage the pitch by trying to get machinery on when the pitch remains wet and saturated. Usually the first job after matches is to reinstate any damage, putting divots back and repairing damaged turf, this is usually done by hand using a fork. 

A rubber rake can also be used to help stand the grass back up in localised wet muddy areas; if left buried, the grass will soon die. Once this has been completed, the use of harrows/brushes can be used to stand up the sward. This is often followed by rolling back the surface using a mower or, better still, a SISIS Quadraplay unit or similar type of equipment.

Aeration: 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.

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.

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

Pre and post match maintenance regimes:

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 50mm-75mm. 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. 

Divoting: Frequency - after games. Playing surfaces are becoming 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. 

Marking out: Frequency - as required. Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy and very wet in January, 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.

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.

Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Testing Service that enable you to get specific results for the soils you manage. Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants. There is an optimum for each plant nutrient and, when coupled with other properties such as soil structure and particle sizes, determine how vigorous your plants are. Different nutrients undertake different tasks within the plant.

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.

The choice of materials and how well it works, however, can be dependant on many factors, including soil type and the weather, with moisture and warmer air temperatures being the catalyst for growth.

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.

Diseases can still be prevalent in January due to the cool, wet ground conditions, and particularly with heavy dews on the playing surfaces. It is important that groundstaff remove these dews to prevent disease attack. Many stadium clubs are experiencing outbreaks of leaf spot and red thread. A dose of approved chemical fungicide will help control and prevent the spread of these diseases.

Red thread is often seen during the summer/autumn months but may persist into the winter if conditions remain mild, temperature range (15-24°C).

Identification of the disease is relative easy with the turf grass having, irregular tan coloured shaped patches of damaged or necrotic grass varying in size 20-350mm with a pink/red colour cast caused by the fine red filaments/needles (10mm long) of the mycelium of the pathogen. Severe attacks will damage/kill grass.

Red fescues: slender and strong creeping red fescues (Festuca spp.), Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) are the main susceptible species affected by red thread other grasses which can be affected are bentgrasses (Agrostis spp.) and (Poa sp.) The above grasses are used in most sport turf situations including Golf, Bowls, Cricket, and winter game pitches.

Fungus spores can remain viable for up to 2 years, survive temperature as low -20°C or high 32°C, This fungus is capable of growth at pH 3.5 -7.5 this means that the disease can occur on almost any amenity turf rootzone.

Red Thread spores (sclerotia) and (arthroconidia) are spread by wind, water, and by traffic and it is during these periods of mild cool wet weather with temperatures 0-25°C and heavy dews that an outbreak of disease takes place. Attacks appear during summer/autumn months but can persist into winter if weather remains mild. These spores germinate into mycelia, infecting new plant tissue then reproduce to form fruiting bodies red threads (sclerotia).

Turf grass is susceptible to disease attack when damaged or under stress from low fertility, slow growth (insufficient Nitrogen), drought and compaction. Keeping the sward healthy and using resistant turf grass species will reduce the incidence and severity of disease attacks. Apply a balanced fertiliser programme with emphasis on nitrogen input. Ensuring not to over fertilise in autumn as this may lead to other pathogens attacking the sward.

Maintaining an open sward, by aeration and scarification which will in turn reduce thatch. Maintain mowing machinery, removing morning dew by brushing are all good cultural practices in keeping Red Thread at bay. And as a last resort an application of an approved fungicide can be used on Red Thread. Approved manufacture products available for application are contact and systemic pesticides with the following active ingredients Iprodione, Thiophanate-methyl, Thiabendazole andCarbendazim.

Machinery (repairs and maintenance): Frequency - 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 particularl job, such as hiring or borrowing from another local sports club/golf club.

January/Febuary are good times to send any machinery away for servicing/ sharpening. If you haven't already turned some thought to your machinery service programme, start formulating a plan of what service requirements are needed for which machine, and a time when you will be sending your mowers out for sharpening etc., so they are not all sent out at once.

Look at the overall condition and check for any extra requirements needed to keep it compliant with current health and safety legislation. Check also for things that may cause a problem in the future, such as fatigue fractures on handlebars or on grass box carriers etc.

Keep your machinery in tip top condition. Grease where you find a grease nipple, oil where you see a metallic moving part, check the oil, check the water. If in doubt, consult the manufacturer's manual. Clean it when you've finished. All this may seem mundane, but will keep your mower going when you need it, and save you money in costly down time.

Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Winter Sports Pitches. It is a one day course designed to provide a basic knowledge of rugby and football pitch maintenance. The course enables the Groundsman to grasp the basic needs of a winter sports surface throughout a 12 month period.

Delegates attending the Winter Sports Pitch Maintenance course and using the accompanying manual will be able to develop their own skills, working knowledge and expertise, by understanding the method of instruction and the maintenance principles it sets out.

More details of the course can be found on the Groundsman Training website.

Included in the Course Manual, there are working diaries showing the range of tasks needed to be accomplished each month. The Course Manual is available for purchase separately.

In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.

Drainage: Frequency - weekly. Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. It is important to ensure that pitches with 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.

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