Work required on rugby pitches will be dictated by the type (code) of rugby you are playing. Rugby League pitches are still in use for matches, therefore the programme of work will be geared up to presenting pitches for games and repairing after games.
As for rugby union clubs, they have, or should have, completed their end of season renovations, so the work will be geared around promoting new grass growth and maintaining a uniform height of cut.
It has been a great year for renovations in terms of not having to worry about irrigating your newly sown pitches. In fact, we have probably had too much rain in some areas, leaving pitches saturated and not being able to get on them to mow the grass. Continue to cut and feed the grass on a regular basis; ideally you should be cutting one/ twice a week to establish a good sward. Too often I see clubs stop cutting their pitches once the playing season is over, allowing it to grow uncontrollably. Keeping it mown at a manageable height encourages it to tiller and thicken up.
A dose of fertiliser will help promote growth. Ensure there is plenty of moisture in the soil profile to activate the fertiliser and allow it to enter the root system.
After what has been the wettest summer on record, many of us will be hoping that July finally brings some much needed sunshine. However, once soil and air temperatures begin to rise there may be a need to irrigate your pitches. Many rugby clubs do not have adequate irrigation systems to water their pitches during spells of dry weather and are solely reliant on rain, therefore their grass swards will be under stress, grass growth will slow down, with some rye grasses going to seed.
You may need to raise the height of cut, especially if you are cutting between 25-35mm; leaving a little extra grass on will help the grass plant in times of drought.
Many rugby union clubs resume training in July, so it is important to get the pitches ready and prepared for the return of the players; there may be a need to set out and mark training grids and practice areas.
Check you have enough marking materials and ensure your line marker is fit for purpose.
The quality of cut will be dependant on the type and size of mower you use. Cylinder type mowers generally give you a better finish, however to achieve this you will be required to cut the grass on a weekly, if not twice weekly regime, maintaining a height of cut between 17-50mm.
Frequency of cut will also dictate whether you should be looking at purchasing a cylinder mower with small or large diameter cylinders. Eight inch diameter cylinders are common for mowing on a cycle up to 10 days, whereas ten inch diameter cylinders are better for those cutting cycles of 10 days and beyond.
And how many blades should be on a cylinder? Well, the more blades you have the finer the cut.
However, in recent years we have seen an improvement in rotary cutting machines, which tend to be more robust and simpler to use. And generally cope better with large amounts of grass to cut. Cutting heights (13mm -150mm). Whichever machine you use, the key is to ensure you cut the grass on regular basis.
July sees the start of pre-season preparations of pitches and training areas for rugby union, as players return for training and conditioning.
Focus will now be on mowing and preparing the surfaces for play. Grass heights will vary depending on the type of mower used, however, most will be looking to maintain a height of cut between 30-75mm. Common problems with regard to mowing are either insufficient cutting frequencies or trying to take too much off in one go.
The grass should be mown a minimum of once a week or, ideally, twice a week during the growing season (May-September). This will ensure that the sward is stimulated and promotes an increase in tillering.
In most cases, the clippings are allowed to fly, thus returning plant debris into the sward, which helps feed the plant. However, too many of these clippings can also be detrimental, they will suffocate the plant. Keep an eye on the thatch levels to gauge what to do.
Grooming and verticutting are operations that remove unwanted side growth and reduce the amount of debris in the sward. These operations are carried out on a regular basis, often weekly or fortnightly. These operations are completed in conjunction with your mowing regimes.
Useful Information for Mowing and Verticutting
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Irrigation will be a priority, especially if maintaining newly sown seed or turf areas. It is important that these areas do not dry out and die. Inspect installations for leaks. There may be a need to irrigate during any renovation programmes, as air temperatures and daylight hours are getting longer, increasing the likelihood of the ground drying out.
It is important to ensure that the water gets down deep into the rootzone to encourage deep rooting. Allowing areas to dry out can lead to problems of dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil, and thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.
Useful Information for Irrigation
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If grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured), fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results.
Most groundstaff will be applying a summer N P K fertiliser, perhaps something like a 12:0:9 or 9:7:7 to maintain grass colour and vigour. A slow release fertiliser could be applied to see you through July and August. The choice of materials and how well they work will depend on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and air temperature being the catalyst for growth.
Do not apply fertiliser during drought periods, unless you have the means to water in.
Hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan.
Brush or sweep the surfaces 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 Aeration and Brushing
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Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.
The heavy rain in recent weeks will have flushed out some nutrients , leaving the grass plant prone to an attack of red thread , there seems to be a lot of this disease about at the moment, it is usually a sign that the sward needs a feed.
Useful Information for Pest and Disease
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Inspect goal posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure.
Harrowing/ raking, when conditions allow, helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Inspect and remove debris from playing surface - litter or any wind blown tree debris, twigs and leaves.
Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.
New pitch lines and training grids will require marking out. Check with the sports governing body (RFU/ RFL) for any amendments to the laws and markings of the pitch. 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.