The harsh winter weather should now be behind us, unless we live north of the border. The first signs of spring are definitely upon us with some great floral displays of snowdrops and crocuses being seen in most parts of the country. Soil and air temperatures are now rising into double figures, which should bring some encouragement for the grass to grow and begin its recovery.

Coupled with March drying winds, you will be surprised how quickly pitches begin to dry out and warm up.

The poor weather this winter has certainly taken its toll on many pitches, with many clubs not only having games called off but having lost precious grass cover after play. This loss of fixtures will also have a detrimental effect when clubs have to play rearranged matches later on in the season.

It is imperative to ensure your pitches are fit for play and provide a level playing surface; many pitches especially clay based pitches have been severely damaged during recent games, resulting in deep foot depressions that need to be levelled out. The SISIS quadraplay or set of chain harrows will help restore levels quickly.

Levels may need to be restored in areas where scrums have occurred, by light topdressing, seeding and raking over. Infill any holes that have occurred in the pitch surface with a sand/soil and seed mix. Lightly roll after repair work, preferably with a pedestrian mower.

Renovations should be in the forefront of your mind. Bear in mind any problems that you may have encountered during the season (wet-spots or poor drainage). Try to solve these problems during or before renovations start. You should, by now, have quotations for your renovation work and a provisional starting date with the contractor, or booked the machinery with your local ground care hire shop.

Carry out some aeration work to increase aerobic activity and get some much needed oxygen around the grass plant's root system. Regular spiking and, if possible, the introduction of sand dressings will definitely improve soil/water movement in the top 100mm of your pitches.

Keep up with the dragbrushing/matting or harrowing when conditions permit, for dew and wormcast dispersion and to help stand the grass up prior to any maintenance work. Repair divots as soon as possible after games or training, with particular attention to the scrum and line out areas.

If your budget allows, do some overseeding, particularly on the bare areas. This will be very beneficial in promoting grass coverage for the coming spring and will give the new grasses longer to develop.

It is important to ensure your mowing equipment has been serviced and sharpened. There is nothing worse than cutting your grass with blunt mowing blades.

Key Tasks for March
Mowing, brushing and harrowing

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 25mm-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. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.

Brushing/sweeping: Frequency - daily. To remove dew and 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 Mowing, brushing and harrowing

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Soil Tests and Fertilising

March 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

Fertiliser programme: Apply a fertiliser dressing, if required, on the basis of the results of a soil analysis.

Useful Information for Soil Tests and Fertilising

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Pre and Post match regimes
Shrewsbury marking out

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 March, 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.

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.

Useful Information for Pre and Post match regimes

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Pest and disease
Red thread spores (2)

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.

Red thread is a common disease found on rye grass swards, and can be prolific at this time of the year especially when the sward has been under stress and not fed for for a while. Usually red thread will disappear, once the grass is fed and begins to grow.

Useful Information for Pest and disease

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Other Tasks for the Month
  • Goalposts: Inspect goalposts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. Also ensure post pads are secure during matches.

  • Drainage: 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.