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.
Pitch usage at the start of any season is usually hectic, with lots of activity going on with team coaching and matches. Try and get club coaches to use different areas of the pitch for coaching drills, to help reduce wear. Also encourage visiting teams to use different parts of the sports field for warm ups on match days.
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.
Key Tasks for September
With the season just starting, presentation skills will be at the forefront of most groundstaff's 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 75-150mm 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.
Despite the weather forecast for the month, September can often be a dryish, so irrigation may be necessary. 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.
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; Mowing heights for rugby can range between 35mm -150mm depending on what type of mowing machinery you have at your disposal and can afford.
Most modern type rotary deck mowers are capable of cutting down to 35mm and cylinder triple mowers even lower; however, your height of cut is often dictated by mower choice and the knowledge and experience of the groundsman and how often he is able to cut the grass.
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.
It is important that, once the game has finished, remedial work is carried out to repair divots and stand the grass back up.
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.
September is a month when moist warm conditions may influence an outbreak of 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 an autumn fertiliser will help the plant to become more resistant to disease attack.
It now getting late into the season for selective systemic weed control, September may be the last opportunity for you to control weeds with a broad leaf selective herbicide. A dose of selective herbicide will help control any broad leaf weeds such as daisies, dandelions, clover, plantains and buttercups that may be populating your pitch. It may be cheaper and more economic to call in a specialist spray contractor who is licensed to appply selective herbicides.
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.
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 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.