There is nothing better for a player than to run out on a good pitch that offers a good thick sward to perform on, providing a level even surface that can take a stud and provide a cushion affect when making tackles.

Presentation is also important, particularly ensuring the pitch lines are accurate and straight. Take time to deliver a well presented pitch, it will make all the difference and hopefully inspire your team to perform well.

September can often be a notoriously dry month, so be prepared to irrigate your pitches to replace any water lost by evapotranspiration and to prevent them becoming too hard to play on.

Continue to cut the grass on a regular basis, the frequency of cuts will be dependent on growth, ideally we should be mowing on a weekly regime. Maintain the recommended height of cut, anything between 25-100mm. A lot of clubs are now using tractor mounted rotary deck mowers which are more robust with rollers that help produce a striping effect.

Marking out should be done on a regular basis to ensure lines remain intact, a weekly or fortnightly regime should suffice.

Brushing the pitch is also beneficial, it helps stand the grass plant up and helps knock off early morning dews, which will also reduce the incidence of disease in the sward.

Monitor how the pitch is performing in terms of playability, keep on top of any worn areas by carrying out repairs and over seeding whilst temperatures remain favourable for seed germination.

Encourage teams to use different parts of the sports field for warm ups and training, this helps reduce wear.

Key Tasks for September
Line Marking
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With the season just starting, presentation skills will be at the forefront of most groundstaffs' minds, setting the maintenance standards for the coming season. Presentation and cleanliness is an important part of the job, ensuring the pitch is level, safe and appealing for play.

It is important to ensure your line markings conform to current RFU laws and conditions, these can be found in the RFU handbooks that are usually issued to club secretaries.

Take time over the initial marking of your pitches. Use string lines to keep lines straight and true. Do not rush the marking. You could perhaps use a weaker mix on the initial mark, enabling you to rub out any mistakes easily.

Clubs that maintain their grass pitches at a height of between 100-150mm should look to use a pedestrian rotary mower to cut the lines out first before marking.

Some club are still using creosote or similar type products to burn the lines in. This is not permitted; only approved marking products should be used. As for adding weed killers to line marking fluid, again this is not recommended. You will end up with bare soil lines, which are difficult to overmark. Use approved marking compounds/materials,there is a wide range of marking paints; ensure you use the best product for your facility and needs, buying the cheapest paint is not always the best option.

Useful Information for Line Marking

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Mowing / Brushing / Divoting
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Mowing: As required:- Remember to check the height of cut; at this time of year the pitch can be cut between 25-100mm. Continue to mow on a regular basis, ideally weekly while grass is still growing.

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

Divoting: After matches and training:- Repairing and replacing divots after matches is an important part of the maintenance programme to restore playing surfaces.

Useful Information for Mowing / Brushing / Divoting

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Aeration
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Aeration should be carried out on a regular basis when weather and soil conditions allow. You may contribute to surface deterioration if you aerate during bad weather when the surface is saturated and likely to smear. Timing is the key to successful aeration.

There are a wide range of professional aerators for use on winter turf pitches, available as walk-behind, ride-on, trailed or tractor mounted.

Depending on the condition of the soil, you should be aerating on a monthly basis, trying to aerate to a depth between 100-200mm.

Once a year you should aim to aerate to a greater depth (200-300mm) using a larger, more powerful aerator. This will help dramatically, especially if you can topdress the pitch immediately afterwards with sand, enabling this material to go down into the aeration holes.

One of the most popular pitch management tools is the SISIS Quadraplay. The combination implement frames make up a single pass maintenance system which incorporates a mounted frame. The mounted frame accepts a variety of different implements for use on both turf and hard porous surfaces. Implements such as grooming rakes, spikers, slitters, rollers and brushes can be added to the frame, making this an exceptionally versatile piece of equipment. It can be used for fine and outfield turf to perform a range of tasks so effectively that you can aerate, brush, spring tine and roll in one pass.

Using these frames before and after matches helps keep the pitch in good condition and, above all, the spiker ensures the pitch is regularly aerated.

Useful Information for Aeration

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Drainage
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Firstly, we need to understand what problems are facing groundsmen when pitches become flooded and remain saturated for long periods of time.

Once a pitch becomes saturated, that is to say all the pore (air) spaces in the soil profile remain filled with water, then we are in a situation of the pitch being in a poor state and will be prone to damage.

It is important to understand what soil type you have on your pitch, as the ability of the pitch to drain freely and how long it takes for floodwater or surface water to disperse from your pitch will be dictated by the type of soil you have.

All grass swards are grown on soil/sand profiles that provide the appropriate environment structure for plant growth. This growing medium, commonly known as soil, is made up of proportions of soil solids (mineral and organic material) and soil pores (water and air). Maintaining the correct balance of these components is critical for sustaining healthy plant growth. The spaces between the particles of solid material are just as important to the nature of soil as the solids. It is in these pore spaces that air and water circulate, and help provide the plant with the necessary nutrients it requires to respire and grow.

These pore spaces can vary in size and are generally classified into two sizes - macro pores (larger than 0.08mm) and micro pores (less than 0.08mm). Macro pores generally allow movement of air and the drainage of water, and are large enough to accommodate plant roots and micro-organisms found in the soil. The ability to retain a good balance of macro pores in soil structure is essential for maintaining grass plant health. It is when these macro pores are either reduced in size by compaction or filled with water (saturated) that we see deterioration in pitch playability and resistance to wear.

However, the main contributing factor that reduces and damages pore spaces in soil is compaction, caused by compression forces, normally associated with play and use of machinery, particularly during wet weather periods. Over time, these compression forces reduce the pore spaces so that air, water and nutrient flow through the soil profile is restricted, and leads to many problems associated with compaction.

There are two distinct types of problems on winter games surfaces, one is compaction by treading (30-60mm depth) and the other by smearing and kneading (30mm depth) when playing in the rain and on bare soil surfaces.

The heavier the soil, the longer it will take for the pitch to dry out; sandy soils are more free draining than heavy loam or clay soils and, therefore, will dry out more quickly.

Having an effective pitch drainage scheme will help. Most modern pitches tend to have primary and secondary drainage systems installed. These systems aid the removal of surface water quickly and tend to keep the pitches playable in periods of wet weather. However, the effectiveness of any drainage system can be compromised over time when the drain runs become capped over; it is important to retain a link between the drains and the playing surface. This will be achieved by regular aeration work and the application of topdressing.

Ideally, clubs should be putting on at least 40-60 tonnes of sand per pitch each year. This not only keeps the playing surface free draining, but also helps to restore levels.

Playing on saturated pitches will bring disastrous results. It is often better to postpone a 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, remedial work is carried out to repair divots and stand the grass back up. Care should be taken not to further damage the pitch by trying to get machinery on when it is wet and saturated.

A rubber rake can 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.

Undertaking a regular aeration programme will go a long way to ensuring your pitch is able to cope during wet conditions.

Useful Information for Drainage

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Disease & Irrigation
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Disease: Daily:- Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Fairy rings and Red Thread can often be widespread during September. Regular brushing to remove dew will help reduce disease attack, coupled with keeping the grass plant fed with appropriate required nutrients.

Irrigation: As required:- September can often be a dry month, so irrigation will be a priority, especially when surfaces begin to dry out. It is important to irrigate uniformly, ensuring the right amount of water is applied. Ensure the water gets deep into the root-zone to encourage deep rooting. Allowing areas to dry out can lead to dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil, thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.

Useful Information for Disease & Irrigation

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Other Tasks for the Month
  • Machinery (repairs and maintenance): Daily:- Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.

  • Pre and Post match inspections and renovations: As required:- Replace divots. Repair worn areas, topdress to restore levels (localised). Inspect pitch surface and line markings. Check post safety and fit post protection covers for matches.

  • Seed bare and worn areas: When conditions allow:- Seeding of sparse or bare areas can be carried out. Use germination sheets to aid this process, but remove the sheets regularly to check for disease. 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.

  • Weeds: As required:- It's now getting late into the season for applying selective herbicides; soil and air temperatures are not ideal for effective responses from these herbicide products. Hand weeding will be the most effective method of weed control during the winter months.