I am sure many clubs and players were delighted by England's wonderful win over the mighty All Blacks during the autumn series of Internationals. The match was a great advert for promoting the best in rugby, played with plenty of commitment, courage and skill on a fantastic Twickenham pitch.

Many rugby fans will now be looking forward to this year's Six Nations tournament. It will be interesting to see how the pitches stand up to the rigours of the sport, especially having just come through one of the wettest December and Januarys on record, coupled with the recent heavy snow storms.

For most juniors clubs it has been quite a struggle to keep fixtures on, with many games being cancelled due to waterlogged pitches and snow.

Once the snow goes, many pitches will be lying very wet and remaining unplayable until we get a dry spell of weather, allowing the water to drain out of the pitches. Clubs who have primary and secondary drainage systems will be in a better position, with their pitches able to drain more quickly.

The most challenging time for any rugby club groundsman, or club volunteer, is during the winter months of December, January and February when the elements are usually at their worst.

Drainage is key. Clubs who are blessed with free draining soils (sandy soils) or have a primary and secondary drainage system have a better chance of coping with the weather. Aeration should be part of the regular maintenance programme.

Soil conditions should now be more favourable for deeper aeration work, as moist conditions allow easier penetration of tines without causing damage to soil structure or too much disturbance to the surface profile.

The weather conditions at this time of year can change very quickly, and we could soon find ourselves dealing with frosts and snow cover affecting the playing surfaces, both on natural grass and any artificial installations.

Morning inspections are essential to check 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.

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. Also, try and ensure you control where the teams warm up; many clubs now undertake at least a thirty minute warm up, involving fast feet drills and team runs; try and get them to do these off pitch or get them to move about the pitch to prevent excessive wear in one area.

Nobody wants to cancel a match; however, playing a match in the wrong conditions will prove costly, in terms of turning the pitch into a mud bath and losing grass cover. Once grass cover is lost, it will not recover until spring.

February is usually one of the most difficult months of the year for maintaining grass pitches, particularly those that have no surface water drainage systems installed.

Key Tasks for February
Mowing and fertiliser
BathRugby MowingPitch

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 mower may smear and damage the surface, especially when turning.

Fertilising:- generally, no fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant can be applied during the winter months.

Useful Information for Mowing and fertiliser

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Peace and tranquility at Bath Rugby Club Rugby Posts
Aeration and Brushing
RunningRugby1

Aeration:- as often as possible, when conditions allow. Try to keep the top 100mm free draining; this can be achieved by regular spiking with solid or slit tines to a depth of 150mm or more.

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.

There is a wide range of professional aerators for use on winter turf pitches available, such as walk-behind aerators, ride-on aerators, trailed aerators or tractor mounted aerators. The most popular, due to their speed and performance, tend to be the 300mm deep tine aerators such as the vertidrain/Weidenmann Terra spikers.

A monthly programme of aeration with this type of machine is also beneficial in keeping the pitch in good condition. Other types of aeration techniques to be considered are hollow coring and linear aeration (Imants Rotoknife) which can be used on a less regular basis.

Topdressing the pitch with sand after carrying out an aeration programme will also help restore levels; ensure sand is worked down the holes to help increase the ability of water to drain from the surface.

Brushing and harrowing on a regular basis will also help restore surface levels and help stand the grass up. Also, whilst there is plenty of moisture in the soil profile, it is a good time to start introducing some new grass seed into the sward, primarily localised seeding to repair worn areas .

Useful Information for Aeration and Brushing

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Pre and Post match regimes
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Pre-match:- inspection to see if the pitch is fit and safe for play, i.e. check for debris (glass, stones etc.), make sure the surface is firm and not saturated, correctly marked out and flagged, and that the posts are safe, secure and fitted with protectors.

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

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

Goalposts:- Inspect goalposts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. Padding should be used around the base of the posts during matches.

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

Useful Information for Pre and Post match regimes

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Pest and Disease
Red thread spores (2)

Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Early morning dew on playing surfaces often promotes the chance of disease attack. Regular brushing off the dew will help prevent an attack of turf disease.

Red thread can be a common disease seen on rugby pitches and quite often easily controlled by giving the grass a feed. 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.

However, once temperatures begin to rise, an application of a spring fertiliser product will help initiate some primary growth and improve sward colour, something like a 12:3: 9 plus mg / Fe or 12:0:8 plus Mg.

Useful Information for Pest and Disease

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Red Thread Disease Professional Fungicides
Soil Testing
soil graphic 010

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

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.

Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis 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.

Click on the following link:- Soil Testing

Useful Information for Soil Testing

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A question of balance for your soil Soil Testing
Other Tasks for the Month
  • Drainage:- Weekly Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. It is important to ensure that pitches that have 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.

  • Machinery:- Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery. Do not forget there are other ways of getting equipment for a particular job, such as hiring or borrowing from another local sports club /golf club.

  • Funding :- Set up a fund for Grounds maintenance: Too many clubs do not commit enough money to keeping their grounds in good order; in most cases the grounds budget is a low priority. We need to change this, even if you are blessed with having volunteer groundsmen, there is a cost for materials and servicing of equipment.

  • Training:-start getting ready for your end of season renovations. Consider getting yourself or one of your team on one of our Lantra Awards accredited 1-day Winter Sports Turf Maintenance Training Course. More details www.groundsmantraining.co.uk