September sees the start of the Rugby Union playing season. Club pitches that have had the correct end of season renovations (aeration, topdressing, overseeding and feeding last May) followed up with appropriate levels of pitch maintenance, particularly with reference to grass cutting, should now be in a good condition for play.

However, having said all that, the recent changing weather patterns may have affected grass growth. In June and July, we had quite a hot and dry spell; for clubs without watering facilities, it would have slowed grass growth down substantially, whilst in August it all changed again with a short period of wet warm weather that stimulated some much needed vigourous growth.

This timely rain has also helped soften up the ground conditions ready for the new playing season. Rugby pitches should be looking at their best, in terms of being cut and well presented

Continue to cut the grass on a regular basis, the frequency of cuts will be dependant on growth; ideally, we should be mowing on a weekly regime. September is also a good time to be putting on an autumn/winter feed to help maintain a healthy sward.

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 knocks off early morning dews which, in return, will 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 overseeding 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

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 playing 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 and ensure all line markings comply with RFU rules and regulations.

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Aeration and Disease
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Hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, at varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan and provide adequate air space for roots to colonise. Depth of aeration between 100-225mm

Keep and 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.

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Irrigation, Pre & Post match inspections
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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 rootzone 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.

Pre and Post match inspections and renovations include replacing divots, repair worn areas, topdress to restore levels (localised), check pitch surface and line markings, and check post safety, fitting post protection covers for matches.

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.

Useful Information for Irrigation, Pre & Post match inspections

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Mowing, brushing and fertiliser applications

Whilst there is plenty of moisture in the soil, a timely dose of autumn feed would help the grass recover after the onset of the first games being played. Most groundstaff will be applying autumn N P K fertilisers, perhaps something like a 12/0/9 or 3/12/12 (application rates: 14-28 bags(25kg) per Ha 35g-70g/m2) to maintain grass colour and vigour. The choice of materials and how well they work will depend on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and air temperature being the catalyst for growth.

Remember to check the mower height of cut; at this time of year the pitch can be cut between 35-75mm. Continue to mow on a regular basis, ideally weekly while grass is still growing.

Brush to remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.

Useful Information for Mowing, brushing and fertiliser applications

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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.

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Other Tasks for the Month
  • Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.

  • Check goal posts and padding , ensure they are safe and secure.

  • Floodlights , inspect and ensure they are working.