Many areas of the country have been experiencing their first spells of bad weather, with ongoing heavy rain in some parts. Morning inspections are essential to ensure the pitch is fit for play. Assessing the condition of the pitch should be carried out by an experienced grounds person who has an understanding of the damage that can occur when playing on an unfit surface with regard to player safety and pitch protection.

Playing on saturated pitches will certainly result in surface damage. Saturated soils lose their stability and strength. Play from scrummages and line outs are the main causes of damage during wet weather periods. The severity of the damage will be dependant upon the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm of the surface to drain quickly.

To help keep the top 100mm free draining, a surface aeration programme is necessary. This can be achieved by regular spiking with solid/slit tines to a depth of 150mm or more when conditions allow. There are other specialist machines available that can help to improve surface drainage, for example the Blec Ground breaker, Imants Rotoknife and the Vertidrain range of machines.

However, it is important to remember soil and surface conditions have to be right for these operations to take place. You may end up causing more damage by trying to get machinery on it in wet conditions.

Training areas usually get a lot of concentrated wear, especially floodlit areas. If you can, try and spread the wear by rotating the use of these areas of the pitch, allowing some recovery.

Key Tasks for December
Pre and post match activities

Pre match:- Pitch inspection to see if the pitch is fit and safe for play; check for debris (glass, stones etc), the surface is firm and not saturated or flooded, check it has been marked out correctly and flagged and the posts are safe,secure and fitted with post protectors.

Post match:- remove flags and post protectors; ideally, spend some time repairing any divots, large scars and, if able, run a brush/ harrow over the pitch to restore levels and stand the grass back up.

December is usually the time of the year when we start seeing a deterioration in our playing surfaces. Soil and air temperatures are declining, average daily temperatures are around 10 degrees C, a temperature that does not stimulate any real significant grass growth. Recovery after damage is going to be slow or non-existent.

It may be worth considering rotating pitches, many clubs have more than one pitch at their home facility. Often, the club may be able to give a pitch a rest from play, especially during inclement weather.

The condition of the pitch may also affect the quality of your line marking. Muddy and uneven surfaces are often more difficult to mark. Trying to mark a muddy pitch with a transfer wheel line marker often results in a poor line, as there is little grass surface for the wheel to transfer material onto. You may need to change to another method of line marking, either spray jet or dry powder.

Useful Information for Pre and post match activities

Articles Products
Why should we carry out aeration? Football & Rugby
Aeration and Brushing

Aeration, 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 aeration provides air space for the roots to expand into and the plant to breathe. Achieving an improved root system will stand you in good stead for the winter months.

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

Drainage:- Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working.

Harrowing/ raking:- When conditions allow. Helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.

Useful Information for Aeration and Brushing

Articles Products
Improving Your Rugby Union Facilities Rugby Post Protectors & Sockets
Mowing and Fertilising

Mowing:- Maintain sward height at 30mm-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 mowers may smear and damage the surface, especially when turning.

The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.

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

Useful Information for Mowing and Fertilising

Articles Products
Facts about mowing Football Pitch / Rugby Pitch Grass Seed

Floodlights:- An annual inspection should be carried out on your floodlights by an independent qualified electrician who can inspect the wiring and ensure the lights are safe for use. Bulbs need replacing on a regular basis, bulbs tend to lose there efficiency over time, resulting in lower illumination outputs. Check the lux values of your lighting system. Sports governing bodies stipulate a lux value depending on the level of play.

In recent years, we have seen the development of portable (generated) floodlighting rigs that can be hired or bought, which enable you to move lighting rigs around your ground to help prevent overuse of playing surfaces.

Useful Information for Floodlights

Articles Products
Leeds Rhinos on the charge Rugby
BathRugby Darren&Martin2

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.

Useful Information for Machinery

Articles Products
The Rotary Club Machinery
Other Tasks for the Month
  • Inspect goalposts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. Padding should be used around the base of the posts during matches.

  • 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, litter, twigs and leaves.

  • Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.