Expected weather for this month:

Cold and wet with some snow and ice forecast

To date, apart from the last couple of weeks in January, most parts of the country have had a reasonable winter, with temperatures remaining above freezing for much of the time. These spells of mild weather have, in some cases, stimulated some much needed growth, and, best of all, has prevented many games from being cancelled due to frost. However, the mild weather also brought along with it many periods of heavy rain which, in turn, has saturated many soil based sports pitches, rendering some of them unplayable.

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.

Most soil-based pitches will, and can, often remain saturated for long periods of time during the winter. It is during these times that surface damage can occur. Often, there is a lot of pressure on facility managers to get matches on whatever the weather; no one likes postponed or cancelled games. Soil structures are easily damaged when wet. The decision to play a fixture should be down to the groundsman/manager who knows the facility and understands the consequences of playing one game too many, particularly now when grass growth is slow or dormant due to the low soil and air temperatures.

Training pitches are even more prone to damage, often having to accommodate many age groups and two or more training sessions per week. To reduce wear, rotate where the teams train. With the pitches remaining wet, it is often quite difficult to get machinery on to aid recovery; sometimes you can cause more damage by trying to do something.

Spend time divoting the pitch after matches, repairing any surface damage.

When ground conditions allow, try and get some air back into the soil profile; this will help improve gaseous exchanges and help water drain from the surface.

Key Tasks for February


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.

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.

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.

Some areas are already having to deal 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.

The best advice when your pitches are saturated and have standing water on them is to leave well alone and not play or train on them. If you do, you are likely to cause more damage and lose a lot of grass cover. Stay off them untill the surface water has gone and you are able to get on them without making a mess.

Spend time divoting the pitch after matches, repairing any surface damage.

When ground conditions allow, try and get some air back into the soil profile; this will help improve gaseous exchanges and help water drain from the surface.

Dragmatting, brushing and harrowing rugby pitches after matches are a good way of helping to restore the playing surface.

Rotary mowing the pitch will also help clear up any surface debris and, if fitted with a roller, help with presentation of the pitch .

Brushing and harrowing on a regular basis will also help restore surface levels and help stand the grass up.

Using a pedestrian 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.

You can browse the Pitchcare used machinery site here.

Harrowing/raking can be undertaken when conditions allow. Use prior to and after matches; harrowing helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.

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.

Pre and post match operations

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.

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.

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, however regular brushing off the dew will help prevent an attack of turf disease.

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.

Remember to get your machinery serviced and sharpened. As for material supplies, check stock levels and re-order as necessary, take the opportunity to research new materials, compare costs and seek better deals on products and services.

While on the subject of materials, February is a good time to plan and organise your end of season renovations, seek quotations for any work required and cost up material needs (seed, fertilisers topdressings).

Browse the Used Machinery section on Pitchcare. 

Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Winter Sports Pitches. It is a one day course designed to provide a basic knowledge of rugby and football pitch maintenance. The course enables the Groundsman to grasp the basic needs of a winter sports surface throughout a 12 month period.

Delegates attending the Winter Sports Pitch Maintenance course and using the accompanying manual will be able to develop their own skills, working knowledge and expertise, by understanding the method of instruction and the maintenance principles it sets out.

Included in the Course Manual, there are working diaries showing the range of tasks needed to be accomplished each month. The Course Manual is available for purchase separately.

Our next course is taking place at:

Derby RFC - Thursday 12th March - Haslams Lane, Darley Abbey, Derby DE22 1EB

More details are available on our Groundsman Training website

In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.

Check drainage ditches, keep clean and ensure they are working.

Inspect and check floodlighting/ training lights, change bulbs.

Inspect goal posts and post protectors for any damage.

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