Expected weather for this month:

Likelihood of some snow and ice

To be fair, 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, have 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

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 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.

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

Aeration

AerationMain.jpgWhen conditions allow, hand or machine aerate 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.

Other types of aeration techniques to be considered are hollow coring and linear aeration (Imants Rotoknife) which can be used on a more infrequent basis.

Pre and post match regimes

The grounds are becoming much 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.

Inspect goalposts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. Also ensure post pads are secure during matches.

Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy and very wet in February, which may 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.

 

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.

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. 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).

 

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.

Lantra ApprovedOur next public course is taking place in Christchurch on Thursday 3rd April - more details can be found here.

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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