November can often be a challenging month, contending with an ever changing weather front; the recent mild wet weather has increased the incidence of disease, with leaf spot and red thread showing on many pitches. Easterly winds can also bring cooler air temperatures, frost, snow and heavy periods of rain.
The demands on the pitches remain the same, whilst the day length for doing the work is shorter with the clocks going back. Plan and organise your work to ensure pitches are ready for training and matches, keep an eye on potential wear areas, often resulting from intense training drills. Get the club coaches to rotate and use different areas of the pitch for training and warm-up drills.
Many rugby clubs now organise bonfire events to raise much needed funds, a good event can raise a significant amount of money, (£3-£5,000) or more depending on the number attending. There is always a cost in terms of potential damage to pitches and grass areas around the club house however, foot and car traffic can cause a lot of damage at this time of the year. So plan the event to reduce damage to your pitches.
Playing surfaces are more prone to damage in the winter months when ground conditions tend to remain in a wet state, with additional frosty weather also affecting maintenance regimes. Playing on frosted and flooded pitches will only cause damage to the playing surface. Allow for the frosts to clear and allow time for the saturated pitches to drain before use, or indeed before using equipment on the pitch.
You will soon lose grass cover if you play on wet playing surfaces. Grass growth is slowing down due to the low soil and air temperature which means grass struggles to grow when temperatures drop down below 5 Degrees C, and recovery after damage is limited.
Keep up your weekly routines of pre and post match maintenance - mowing, marking out, divot replacement and brushing. Presentation of the pitch is important. Use string lines to help keep straight lines and mowing bands.
It will be a good practice, if you have the time, to brush/knock off any heavy early morning dews that form on the playing surfaces; this will help reduce the incidence of disease.
Keep a check on pitch equipment, flags, post protectors and ensure they are fit for purpose. Remember to keep a good supply of marking materials and keep the marker clean after use.
Key Tasks for November
RFU guidelines stipulate that the accepted heights of cut during the winter months should be maintained at between 30mm to 90mm. Many junior club pitches tend to have too much grass on their pitches.
I often see rugby pitches that are not cut on a regular basis and the grass length often exceeds 125mm - far too long, thus it becomes weak, straggly and often flattened after play or training.
Most senior clubs now maintain their pitches between 30-40mm, giving them a faster surface to play on. Ensure your mowers have sharp, well-adjusted blades and that there are no oil leaks.
In recent years, we have seen the popularity of rotary mowers increase, with manufacturers offering a wide range of mower choices with roller rotary decks delivering a fine cut and presentation.
Grooming and verticutting are operations that remove unwanted side growth and reduce the amount of debris in the sward, and can be undertaken as required. These operations are completed in conjunction with your mowing regimes. Brushing the pitch in the opposite direction prior to cut will produce a cleaner finish and a healthier sward when used in partnership with verticutting.
Generally, few fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some groundstaff may apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant during the winter months.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Check posts and pads before and after games, ensure the posts conform to RFU Guidelines, make sure they are safe and secure.
Always do a pitch inspection prior to matches, checking the pitch for any holes, glass and other debris that may result in someone injuring themselves.
Check, maintain and service machinery on a regular basis.
Training areas : try and rotate areas where the teams train, this will help reduce wear and loss of grass cover.
Check and ensure goal posts are safe and secure and that you have the appropriate post protector pads fitted for matches / training matches.
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 shop.
If the grass is maintained at a height above 50mm, it may be 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.
To help keep the top 100mm free draining, a programme of surface aeration is necessary. This is achieved by regular spiking with solid/slit tines to a depth of 150mm or more when conditions allow.
There are other specialist machines that can help with improving surface drainage, for example the Blec Groundbreaker and the versatile vertidrain machines that are now available. In recent years, we have seen the introduction of linear aerators, machines that cut a slot through the soil profile, usually at 200mm centres.
Regular autumn aeration provides air space for the roots to expand into and the plant to breathe. Achieving an improved root system will stand you in good stead for the coming winter months.
Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working.
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 recent rainfall, we are now seeing an increase in worm activity due to the moist soil conditions and the abundance of organic matter in the sward.
Earthworms can survive in a wide range of conditions, but most earthworm activity is dependent on the quality of food available. Worms like plenty of Organic Matter (OM), therefore greens with a high thatch problem tend to encourage worm activity.
Soil pH also affects where earthworms are found. In strongly acid or alkaline soils, earthworms are rarely seen (pH less than 4.5 or greater than 8). The soil texture will also affect the number of earthworms found; they prefer clay soils and are less frequently found in sandy soils.
Worm activity inevitability leads to worm casts appearing on the playing surface. These worm casts can be very problematic; casts tend to smear the surface, which in turn can affect surface water drainage capacity as well as providing a seed bed for weed germination.
Leaf clearance will also be a priority. Wet leaves left on playing surfaces will eventually cause problems; they will affect line marking and, if left on the surface for too long, will cause the turf to become yellow and even begin to die. The use of blowers and sweepers will help keep surfaces clean.
Diseases can still be prevalent in November due to the cool, wet ground conditions, and particularly with heavy dews on the playing surfaces. It is important that groundstaff remove these dews to prevent disease attack. Many stadium clubs are experiencing outbreaks of leaf spot and red thread. A dose of approved chemical fungicide will help control and prevent the spread of these diseases.
Red thread is often seen during the summer / autumn months but may persist into the winter months if conditions remain mild, temperature range (15-24°C).
Identification of the disease is relative easy with the turf grass having, irregular tan coloured shaped patches of damaged or necrotic grass varying in size 20-350mm with a pink/red colour cast caused by the fine red filaments/needles (10mm long) of the mycelium of the pathogen. Severe attacks will damage/kill grass.
Red fescues: slender and strong creeping red fescues (Festuca spp.), Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) are the main susceptible species affected by red thread other grasses which can be affected are bentgrasses (Agrostis spp.) and (Poa sp.) The above grasses are used in most sport turf situations including Golf, Bowls, Cricket, and winter game pitches.
Fungus spores can remain viable for up to 2 years, survive temperature as low -20°C or high 32°C, This fungus is capable of growth at pH 3.5 -7.5 this means that the disease can occur on almost any amenity turf rootzone.
Red Thread spores (sclerotia) and (arthroconidia) are spread by wind, water, and by traffic and it is during these periods of mild cool wet weather with temperatures 0-25°C and heavy dews that an outbreak of disease takes place. Attacks appear during summer/autumn months but can persist into winter if weather remains mild. These spores germinate into mycelia, infecting new plant tissue then reproduce to form fruiting bodies red threads (sclerotia).
Turf grass is susceptible to disease attack when damaged or under stress from low fertility, slow growth (insufficient Nitrogen), drought and compaction. Keeping the sward healthy and using resistant turf grass species will reduce the incidence and severity of disease attacks. Apply a balanced fertiliser programme with emphasis on nitrogen input. Ensuring not to over fertilise in autumn as this may lead to other pathogens attacking the sward.
Maintaining an open sward, by aeration and scarification which will in turn reduce thatch. Maintain mowing machinery, removing morning dew by brushing are all good cultural practices in keeping Red Thread at bay. And as a last resort an application of an approved fungicide can be used on Red Thread. Approved manufacture products available for application are contact and systemic pesticides with the following active ingredients Iprodione, Thiophanate-methyl, Thiabendazole and Carbendazim.
With the correct Integrated Pest Management programme (IPM) in place, Red thread will not be a major disease problem on turf. Grass generally recovers well from this disease after treatment.
A wetting agent is sometimes used with the fungicide to help it penetrate deep enough into the soil profile. With the sun now lower in the sky, shade problems in stadium environments tend to be increased. The sun tends to cast longer shadows that often remain on the ground for long periods. Shaded areas tend to take longer to warm up and dry out, which in turn may affect maintenance operations and playability.
Brush or sweep daily to remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.
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 ordered 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.
Our next winter pitch maintenance course is being held at Hurn Bridge, Christchurch on Wednesday 12th Novemeber - more details.
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.
Equipment Checks: weekly, check goals for loose bolts and tighten as necessary.
Check post protectors and flags
Litter pic / clean up and check for any debris,glass and dog mess on pitches