Expected weather for this month:

Unsettled weather continuing through January; temperatures remaining well above average.

Many sports facilities in the north of England, north Wales, the Borders and Scotland will have been affected by flooding. If you are one of these unfortunate souls then flood advice can be found here - https://www.pitchcare.com/magazine/flood-advice.html

The met office are reporting that the unsettled conditions are set to continue throughout January, with strong or severe gales causing additional disruption on top of the expected heavy rainfall.

Temperatures will generally remain above average, with any snowfall likely to be confined to high ground in the north of the UK. Later in the month there are weak signals the wind will turn more north-westerly, allowing temperatures to return to near normal, but the chance of a prolonged cold spell remains low.

Key Tasks for January

Maintenance Regimes

The first thing to note is that, if your pitch is waterlogged, stay off it; you will do far more harm than good. Given the extreme weather, individual circumstances will determine whether a pitch is playable. If it is deemed fit, then ensure that heavy wear areas are well spiked. This may be best done with a hand fork rather than machinery.

The mild temperatures mean that the grass is still growing in many parts of the country. Whilst there will be obvious regional differences, soil temperatures also remain higher than average for this time of year, so you can still present your pitch with bands, stripes and a consistent surface. Maintain a height of cut between 30-90mm.

Continue with post match divoting and brushing and undertake aeration if conditions allow. Stay off the pitch with heavy equipment if your ground is holding water – a hand fork might be your best friend!

Pitches that are not cut on a regular basis will often exceed 125mm - far too long. The plant becomes weak, straggly and often flattened after play or training.

Most professional and semi-professional clubs cut between 30-40mm.

Continue with post match divoting and brushing and undertake aeration if conditions allow.

If training on the main pitch, ensure that regimes, such as shuffle drills and small sided games are rotated on the pitch to avoid excessive wear.

  • Continue cutting to encourage good sward density, ensuring that you do not over cut as this would thin out the sward due to the slowdown in growth
  • Ensure that any equipment used is keenly set to cut
  • Regular brushing will keep the air circulating around the base of the plant
  • Deep spike to alleviate compaction as and when required
  • Continue spiking when the conditions are right (this should only be carried out if the soil is suitably moist) to compliment your deep spiking
  • Keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting
  • Hand fork high wear areas, if difficult to get onto the pitch with machinery
  • Use any downtime to overhaul/service machinery
  • If it’s frosty, keep off the pitch until the frost has lifted or it becomes absolutely necessary. This will avoid damage to the grass plant/leaf

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.

Marking out

  • Keep your linemarker clean
  • Keep string lines taut
  • Ensure that right angles are correctly formed. Use the 3:4:5 triangle method. The bigger the triangle at the start, the more accurate the pitch will be.

Pre and post match routines

Before the match

  • Check that the pitch is fit and safe for play
  • Check post protectors and flags
  • Check for debris (glass, stones etc.)
  • Clear away leaves – a thankless task, but one that needs doing
  • Ensure the surface is firm and not saturated, correctly marked out and flagged, and that the posts are safe and secure

Post match

  • Replace divots, even if it’s just the worst affected areas - it will make a difference!
  • Dragmat/brush/harrow to restore playing surfaces and remove worm casts
  • Clean up the playing surface with a rotary mower

Additionally ...

  • Dragmat, harrow and groom rake surface, as required, to maintain levels, remove early morning dew, control disease and generally get air in and around the plant
  • Spike/verticut as often as possible

Remember – the more that club members, players and officials understand what you role involves, the better. You could use any spare time to provide a members newsletter/blog detailing what problems you are experiencing (training regimes, waterlogging etc.) and to seek additional help as required

The pitch will be sodden, if not saturated, with the grass roots desperate for some air. When it dries out sufficiently, try and do some aerating, some slitting or tining; the holes will close up nicely and you'll be surprised at how much difference it makes to the plant's recovery.

Temperatures are also unusually high, so a slow release low nitrogen feed will be in order to nourish a very hungry sward. Also, to harden the plan, an iron (ferrous sulphate) feed won't go amiss.

Diseases can still occur in January, especially during spells of mild weather. It is important to keep the sward brushed, particularly in the mornings. Knocking off the dew helps remove surface water from the sward, allowing it to dry out and preventing disease attacks. Switching canes and brushes can be used to remove these dew deposits.

Systemic curative and protective fungicides can be used to control diseases; there are a wide range of products on the market that have the active ingredients Chlorothalonil and Iprodione. These fungicides are usually applied in liquid form using water as a carrier. All personnel should be suitably qualified in the application of chemicals.

Worm activity can be quite prevalent during the winter months, especially during periods of mild weather. Keep an eye on the square and treat accordingly. Worm treatments can be carried out if needed, but please remember to ask yourself why worms are present. pH levels, organic matter and your cultural practices on the square need to be assessed. Carbendazim is now the only active ingredient available for controlling worms.

With pests such as rabbits, foxes and moles it a case of identifying the problem and controlling their activities; employing approved pest control services to eradicate them from site may be a solution.

The combination of early morning dews, warm and wet weather and diminishing daylight hours increases the risk of fungal disease outbreaks. The right conditions to trigger these disease attacks are weakened or susceptible plants, a disease-producing organism (pathogen usually fungi) and weather conditions which favour the formation of fruiting bodies and spores (moist, mild wet conditions).

The typical types of diseases you may come across this time of year are:

  • Fusarium Patch
  • Red Thread
  • Dollar Spot

Please note: More information on these and many others can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php

  • Keep your machinery in tip top condition
  • Grease where you find a grease nipple, oil where you see a metallic moving part, check the oil, check the water
  • Clean it when you've finished

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.

Details of our forthcoming autumn courses can be found on our website Groundsman Training

Our next courses:

Tuesday 19 January December, Dagenham & Redbridge FC

Tuesday 16 February, Stamford, Lincolnshire

£140.00 + VAT

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.