Work required on rugby pitches will be dictated by the type (code) of rugby you are playing. Rugby League pitches are still in use for games, therefore the programme of work will be geared up for presenting pitches for games and repairing after games.
As for rugby union clubs, they have, or should have completed their end of season renovations, so the work will be geared around promoting new grass growth and maintaining a uniform height of cut.
Continue to cut and feed the grass on a regular basis; too often I see clubs stop cutting their pitches once the playing season is over, allowing it to grow uncontrollably.
Keeping it mown at a manageable height 30-75 mm encourages it to tiller and thicken up. A dose of fertiliser will help promote growth; ensure there is plenty of moisture in the soil profile to activate the fertiliser and allow it to enter the root system.
For clubs without adequate watering facilities, a dry warm spell of sunny weather is likely to cause problems in terms of keeping their pitches watered sufficiently to keep any newly sown grass alive.
Some clubs may not have these resources, relying on the weather, therefore their grass swards will be under stress, grass growth will slow down and die back. You may need to raise the height of cut, especially if you are cutting between 25-35mm; leaving a little extra grass on will help the grass plant in times of drought.
Many rugby union clubs resume training in July, so it is important to get the pitches ready and prepared for the return of the players; there may be a need to set out and mark training grids and practice areas.
Key Tasks for July
The quality of cut will be dependant on the type and size of mower you use. Cylinder type mowers generally give you a better finish, however to achieve this you will be required to cut the grass on a weekly, if not twice weekly regime, maintaining a height of cut between 25-50mm.
Frequency of cut will also dictate whether you should be looking at purchasing a cylinder mower with small or large diameter cylinders. Eight inch diameter cylinders are common for mowing on a cycle up to 10 days, whereas ten-inch diameter cylinders are better for those cutting cycles of 10 days and beyond.
And how many blades should be on a cylinder? Well, the more blades you have the finer the cut.
In recent years, we have seen an improvement in rotary cutting machines, which tend to be more robust and simpler to use, and generally cope better with large amounts of grass to cut. Whichever machine you use, the key is to ensure you cut the grass on regular basis.
July sees the start of pre-season preparations of pitches and training areas for rugby union as players return for training and conditioning.
Focus will now be on mowing and preparing the surfaces for play. Grass heights will vary depending on type of mowers used, however, most will be looking to maintain a height of cut between 30-75mm. Common problems with regard to mowing, are either insufficient cutting frequencies or trying to take too much off in one go.
The grass should be mowed a minimum of once a week or, ideally, twice a week during the growing season (May-September). This will ensure that the sward is stimulated and promotes an increase in tillering.
In most cases, the clippings are allowed to fly thus returning plant debris into the sward, which helps re-feed the plant. Too many of these clippings, however, can also be detrimental and will suffocate the plant. Keep an eye on the thatch levels to gauge what to do.
Grooming and verti-cutting are operations that remove unwanted side growth and reduce the amount of debris in the sward. These operations are carried out on a regular basis, often weekly or fortnightly. These operations are completed in conjunction with your mowing regimes.
Irrigation will be a priority, especially if maintaining newly sown seed or turf areas. It is important that these areas do not dry out and die. Inspect installations for leaks. There may be a need to irrigate during any renovation programmes, as air and soil temperatures are getting longer, increasing the likelihood of the ground drying out.
It is important to ensure that the water gets down deep into the rootzone to encourage deep rooting. Allowing areas to dry out can lead to problems of dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil and thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.
If grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured), fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results.
In recent years, we have seen a change in feeding habits in professional sport with more groundsmen resorting to a more detailed feeding programme, using a concoction of fertiliser products and soil conditioners to maintain plant health. This has generally been achieved applying a range of different products in the form of granular and liquid forms.
We are now seeing granular products being used as base/slow release feeds and being topped up with a range of liquid feeds that include bio stimulants and micro nutrients. To help improve the performance of these feeds, a number of soil additive products and wetting agents are now being used.
For a majority of clubs/facilities, they will be reliant on a trusted base fertiliser, a 12:0:9, 7:0:7 or similar compound fertiliser blend, or apply a slow release fertiliser to see you through to August. The choice of material and how well it works will be dependant on factors such as soil type and weather, with moisture and soil temperature being the catalyst for growth.
Do not apply fertiliser during drought periods, unless you have the means to water in.
Please clink on the following link to read an interesting article on understanding NPK fertilisers by James Brierley
Hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, at varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan.
Brush or sweep the surfaces to remove dew and surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.
Pre and Post Match Activities
The presentation of the pitch is important. If it looks tidy and well presented, with bands and stripes, it often inspires the players to perform and, more importantly, gives them a safe, consistent surface.
Soil based pitches, generally the heavy clay and clay loam ones, will be susceptible to surface damage during wet weather, especially when the top 100mm becomes saturated.
Soils, when saturated, lose their stability and strength. Damage from 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 on the soil type and the ability of the top 100mm to drain quickly.
It is important to repair any damage to pitches after play, replace large divots. The use of a brush/harrow or, if you have one, a SISIS Quadraplay Unit will help restore the playing surface after play. The added benefit of the Quadraplay unit is that it can do four operations in one pass (brush, rake spike and roll) leaving a well presented pitch.
Line marking:- Check with the sports governing body (RFU) for any amendments to the laws and markings of the pitch. 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. A selection of line marking paints and markers are available in the Pitchcare Store.
If the grass is maintained at a height above 50mm, it may better to mow the lines with a pedestrian rotary mower. This helps define the lines and prepare the surface for marking.
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 dependent on cost, efficiency and the type of line you want. Use string lines to help keep lines straight.
Keeping your marking equipment in good order and clean will help you produce better quality lines; dirty and unkempt markers tend to malfunction, drip and leak.
Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Testing 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.
Ideally, it is good practice to undertake at least an annual soil test to analyse the nutrient status of your soil. This will help ensure you only apply what is required and not waste money and time applying products you do not need.
The choice of materials and how well it works, however, can be dependant on many factors, including soil type and the weather, with moisture and warmer air temperatures being the catalyst for growth.
With the onset of warmer weather, there may be a need to keep an eye out for disease; temperature changes can bring on disease attacks, particularly when the turf is undernourished. Red thread can often be a threat to sports turf when the sward is in a stressed state. An application of a spring/summer fertiliser will help the plant to become more resistant to disease attack.
Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.
Red thread may be prevalent during the summer months, it is usually a sign that the sward needs a feed.
Keep your machinery well serviced, sharp and clean, take time to inspect cutting blades and ensure they are sharp, set at the correct HOC (Height of cut).
Line marking materials should have been orded in time for the new season, there are plenty of marking compounds on the market, along with a wide range of markers, keep your markers clean and use string lines to help keep your lines straight.
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.
In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.
- Inspect goal posts and sockets to check they are safe and secure.
- Harrowing/raking, when conditions allow, helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open.
- Inspect and remove debris from playing surface litter or any wind blown tree debris, twigs and leaves.
- Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.
- Inspect and get floodlights checked out.