Happy new year to you all. I hope you can continue to improve the quality of your playing surfaces in the coming year. The only way to ensure you are improving is to record and monitor relevant information about your facility and maintenance regimes undertaken.

Always keep records of the work you have carried out and the materials/products you have applied. Also, take the opportunity to take soil samples to monitor soil nutrient status and level of soil pH. When taking core samples, you can also keep an eye on thatch content and soil moisture content.

To help you remember and record the facts, use a digital camera.

January is always a difficult time for groundsmen, having to prepare and repair rugby pitches during the coldest and wettest time of the year.

After a year of constant rainfall it is no wonder most if not all pitches are suffering from the affects of this poor weather; most soil based pitches have remained in a near to saturated state for most of the winter months. There has not been enough drying time to allow these pitches to dry out, hence they are currently more prone to surface damage during play or training while in this current state.

Also, this constant wet weather has washed out a lot of nutrients from the soil profile, thus leaving the grass looking unhealthy and needing a feed. Tonics, such as seaweed based products can be applied in accordance with your annual programme to help your grass get over the stress of the cold weather, but apply only when the conditions are correct and your grass will get the most benefit from it. Always read the label and consult the manufacturer if unsure.

Brush regularly to keep the grass upright and air circulating around the base of the plant.

January and February are good months to formulate and set your plans for your end of season renovations and your maintenance strategy for ensuring that next year your turf surface is better than ever.

It is also a good time, whilst it is quiet, to plan and get yourself organised. What are your targets for this year? What do you want to achieve? Have you organised your spring renovation works? Have you ordered materials and machinery for the forthcoming season?

Key Tasks for January
Soil samples
soil profile

January /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 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.

Useful Information for Soil samples

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Saturated Pitches

The majority of pitches at this time of the year, particularly ones that have little or no drainage, will be susceptible to surface damage after matches. Wet and saturated soils are more prone to damage than free draining drier soil profiles. Once wet, the soils can become de-stabilised, reducing their strength. Playing on wet and saturated pitches leads to the grass plant being easily kicked out or torn from the playing surface.

Playing on saturated pitches will undoubtedly bring disastrous results. It is often better to postpone the 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 some remedial work is carried out to repair the 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 remains wet and saturated. Usually, the first job after matches is to reinstate any damage, putting divots back and repairing damaged turf, this is usually done by hand using a fork.

A rubber rake can also 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 further use of harrows/brushes can help 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.

Useful Information for Saturated Pitches

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Aeration, Brushing and Harrowing

Aeration: 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.

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

Harrowing/raking: Frequency - when conditions allow. Use prior to and after matches; harrowing helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.

Useful Information for Aeration, Brushing and Harrowing

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Pre and post match maintenance regimes

Mowing/cleaning up playing surface: Using a pedestrain box mower (cylinder or rotary ) will help clean and prepare the surface for matches.

Maintain sward height at 50mm-75mm. 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. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.

Divoting: Frequency - after games. Playing surfaces are becoming wetter, increasing the likelihood of surface damage during games.

Repairs and replacing divots after matches is an important part of the maintenance programme to restore playing surfaces. The use of a hand fork to lift depressed turf and gentle pressing with the foot is the best way to return/replace divots. However, on larger areas the use of harrows will help return levels.

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.

Useful Information for Pre and post match maintenance regimes

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Marking out
Shrewsbury marking out

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

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Other Tasks for the Month
  • Keep and 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.

  • Drainage: Frequency - weekly. Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. It is important to ensure that pitches with 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 (repairs and maintenance): Frequency - daily or after use. Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery. Do not forget there are other ways of getting equipment for a particularl job, such as hiring or borrowing from another local sports club/golf club.