We have not had the best of starts, due to the weather, in terms of preparing rugby pitches for the start of the playing season. We have two very different scenarios to date - Ian Smith at St Albans School was forced to cancel some matches due to the pitches being too hard, while other groundsmen have had to deal with flooding and saturated pitches.
The Met office have declared the start of September as being one of the wettest months on records, some places have seen a month's rainfall in two days.
With the season well underway, most groundstaff will now have a better understanding of how their pitch is performing.
Presentation and good management of your pitches is essential to maintain playability. The presentation of the pitch is important. If it looks tidy and well presented, with bands and stripes, it often inspires the players to perform and, more importantly, gives them a safe, consistent surface.
Soil based pitches, generally the heavy clay and clay loam ones, will be susceptible to surface damage during wet weather, especially when the top 100mm becomes saturated. Soils, when saturated, lose their stability and strength. Damage from 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 on the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm to drain quickly.
Essential tasks to be undertaken in October are centred around preparing pitches for play and repairing; this will involve mowing, marking, divoting, brushing and carrying out some aeration practices.
Grass heights will vary depending on type of mowers used, however, most will be looking to maintain a height of cut between 25-75mm. Particular attention should be made when mowing and marking out.
Training areas will be prone to damage from specific training regimes, fast feet, scrum and line out drills; try and rotate the areas where these drills take place.
Keep machinery clean and serviced.
Keep an eye out for any disease outbreaks and treat accordingly.
Floodlights should be checked and serviced, make sure they are fit for purpose and safe. Portable lights are now becoming a popular choice as they can be moved around.
Many junior club pitches tend to have too much grass on their pitches. I regularly see rugby pitches that are not cut on a regular basis and the grass length often exceeds 125mm - far too long, thus it becomes weak, straggly and often flattened after play or training.
Most senior clubs now maintain their pitches between 30-40mm, giving them a faster surface to play on.
Ensure your mowers have sharp, well-adjusted blades and that there are no oil leaks.
Check with the sports governing body (RFU) 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. A selection of line marking paints and markers are available in the Pitchcare shop.
If the grass is maintained at a height above 50mm, it may better to mow the lines with a pedestrian rotary mower. This helps define the lines and prepare the surface for marking.
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 dependent on cost, efficiency and the type of line you want. Use string lines to help keep lines straight.
Keeping your marking equipment in good order and clean will help you produce better quality lines; dirty and unkept markers tend to malfunction, drip and leak.
Useful Information for Line marking
|When a rugby pitch reaches saturation point ...||Football & Rugby|
Regular brushing/sweeping will help keep the sward in good condition, particularly when done in the early mornings to remove the dew from the surface, thus reducing the ideal climatic conditions for disease to take hold.
Nutrients can be washed out of the soil profiles, particularly sandy soils. Maintaining a healthy sward is essential, so it is important to monitor the nutrient status of your soils.
Fertiliser treatment and turf tonics 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.
Generally, autumn fertilisers will now have been applied but, because of the continuing mild weather, there is still time. The next opportunity to fertilise will come next spring when the soil and air temperatures rise.
Ideally, you should be considering a NPK fertliser product that is low in nitrogen.
Useful Information for Brushing and Feeding
|Plant Nutrition - food for thought||Granular Turf Fertilisers|
Hand or machine aeration aids surface drainage, at 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 autumn aeration provides air space for the roots to expand into and allows the plant to breathe.
Achieving an improved root system will stand you in good stead for the coming winter months.
Harrowing/raking, especially after games, will help restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Some facilities have irrigation equipment, pop up systems/self travelling sprinklers. Always keep an eye out for leaks and broken parts; unwanted leaks can lead to costly problems, and surface playability can be compromised. Water is a valuable resource and should be treated as such.
Worn, sparse or bare areas can still be seeded in October. Use germination sheets to aid this process, but remove them 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.
Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.