Pitch renovations will be at the forefront of groundsmen's minds. Most clubs will complete their playing season this month and you should have already organised the delivery of relevant services/materials in time for these vital operations.
It is important to get the work completed as soon as you can for a couple of reasons:
- to get grass growing into the bare areas before weeds take advantage of ideal seeding sites
- to give your seedlings as long as possible to establish and become strong
Expected weather for May
After lower than average temperatures through late April, the weather for May continues to look rather uncertain, although the most likely scenario is for areas of low pressure to move in from the Atlantic, generally to the northwest of the UK. This means that the most unsettled and windiest weather is likely in the north and northwest with showers, or longer spells of rain, interspersed by shorter, drier and sunnier periods. The south and southeast, however, should see longer, drier, sunnier periods with shorter spells of rain or showers. After a cold start, temperatures should become nearer average through this period, so snow and overnight frost will become increasingly unlikely and confined only to the hills of the far north.
Key Tasks for May
Operations required for a basic spring renovation:
If the list above is taken as a sequence of events, then you won't go far wrong with your renovation, though you may need to give some further attention to goalmouths and the centre circle.
Scarifying: clean out the surface, removing the remnants of old divots and to get rid of the build up of dead organic matter accumulated over the winter months.
Reduce the height of cut before scarifying. This will not only help your grass to establish better, but will help your machinery to carry out the work without struggling.
A tractor drawn rake, followed by a box mower is probably the most traditional method and within the means of most clubs and schools.
A collecting flail mower, with scarifying tines fitted, will allow the job to be completed in one operation. This method can be advantageous as the tines leave a grooved surface ideal for ensuring grass seed is buried just beneath the soil surface and in contact with the soil.
Whichever method you use, you will be aiming to achieve a surface that is short and clean with a finished mown height of 13mm to 20mm that will give your grass seedlings time to grow and establish without competing too much from the existing grasses.
For those with available finance, Koroing is extremely efficient at removing the top organic layer of the pitch. However, you will effectively be starting again with a newly sown surface so your seeding rates will need to be higher.
Spiking: relieving compaction is important, and spiking as deeply as possible - to a depth of 250-300mm is advisable. There are a number of different machines that can achieve this depth. Remember to check the depth of existing under soil drainage or soil heating before carrying out deep spiking.
Pay particular attention to heavy wear areas, including spectator areas.
Fertilising: A good pre-seeding fertiliser - typically one low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus and potash - will provide the young seedling with the essential nutrients to root quickly and to resist disease. This should be worked into the surface, brushed or dragmatted in. Water in if rain is not expected.
Seeding: Use a good quality rye grass seed mixture. New seed is important as old seed is unlikely to germinate as quickly or as lushly as new seed.
An early start fertiliser should be applied at this stage, which will help provide good grass recovery and the establishment of young grass seedlings, something like a 9:7:7 would be ideal, but should be in line with your soil analysis.
Oversow at the rate of 20 to 35g/m2. Keep some seed in reserve to oversow any thin areas later on. The important thing is to get good seed to soil contact to ensure good germination.
Monitor the progress/success of your renovations and oversow any thin areas to ensure that you have the best opportunity for the grass to be strong with good coverage for the start of the next season.
A slow release fertiliser can be applied later in the month to take the grass through June and July.
Topdressing: Choose a topdressing compatible with your current rootzone. This may typically be a medium to fine sand and of a quantity of 60 to 80 tonnes per pitch.
If you are using a general topdressing of 70/30, note that this could have a high clay content, despite the high percentage of sand, which could give you some problems later. It would be wise to ensure you know what is being supplied.
If you cannot afford to topdress, consider hollow coring, recycling them by breaking them up and dragmatting them back into the surface. If the construction of your pitch is a sand slit system, then topdressing regularly with compatible sand will be required to ensure that the slits do not become capped over.
Topdressing performs two important functions; it covers the grass seed to provide good soil to seed contact and will ensure good germination of an expensive resource i.e. seed. Secondly, it helps to restore surface levels.
Low areas in the pitch can be concentrated on. Minor dips and hollows that collect water, noted during the winter, can be further spiked. A slightly heavier topdressing for these areas will help to raise levels, though be careful to ensure the topdressing is worked into the holes and into the base of the sward. The topdressing should not be thick and left covering the top of the grass, as this will only lead to a weakened sward. Repeat the operation if necessary and check with a straight edge.
High wear areas: Wear can range from minimal, with some pitches sustaining little loss of grass in the goalmouths, to a strip running the whole length of the pitch completely devoid of grass cover.
Some areas may even have lost grass cover and soil, where the soil has migrated out of the area. In these areas, it is important they receive more concentrated effort to relieve compaction and to bring the surface levels back, by importing and incorporating new material compatible to your native soil.
In some instances, you may consider turfing, though this is expensive. You will need to give the turf time to establish in order to stop it getting kicked out.
During the Close Season
Recent news items have, once again, highlighted the need to ensure that all goalposts meet health and safety standards. Now is a good time to thoroughly check them over. Don’t just take them down and store them away. Make sure they will be fit for purpose for the new season.
Other areas should also be checked over, such as fences and dugouts and, of course, now is a good time to consider having machinery serviced. If storing machinery away for any length of time, empty the petrol tank first!
Once the renovations have been completed and the new grass has germinated, ongoing maintenance must be followed up to help promote a dense sward. Regular mowing is essential.
Many rugby clubs, once the season has finished, stop mowing, which results in the grass growing long (200-300mm) and becoming weak. Regular cutting between 35-50mm, at least on a weekly basis, is essential to encourage the sward to thicken.
Continue with ongoing regimes such as brushing, harrowing and aeration. Keep an eye out for disease and treat accordingly.
Leather jackets and chafers are fairly prevalent at the moment. Merit can still be applied if people have it in stock, but it can be tricky to get a good kill when the grubs are at this stage of development.
As soils warm up, there may be some symptoms of plant parasitic nematode activity. There are two categories of nematode which will infect grass plants; Ectoparasitic which migrate along the outside of roots and feed accordingly on root cells and Endoparasitic nematodes which enter the root tissue and feed on the plants in these areas.
Be vigilant for the following symptoms:
• Yellowing and thinning of the turf
• Reduced turf vigour
• Premature wilt
• Turfgrass that is slow to recover from stress
• Turfgrass that does not respond to fertilisation
Biomass Sugar will assist in returning balance to the soil and reducing plant stress associated from parasitic nematode attack.
Microdochium patch may also pop up as temperatures increase, particularly if the warmth occurs in conjunction with humidity and moisture on the leaf for prolonged periods. Systemic fungicides can be considered but only as a last option. IF grass is growing well and then the disease may well just bubble under the surface and the grass will outgrow it.
Please note: More information on these and many others can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php
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
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.
And finally ... Campey Turf Care, in association with an number of leading industry suppliers, including Pitchcare, will be completing a nationwide Pitch Renovation Tour in May.
We recommend that you try and get yourself along to one if there is a venue near you - https://www.pitchcare.com/magazine/pitchcare-to-join-campey-turf-care-and-other-leading-companies-in-uk-and-ireland-grassroots-pitch-renovation-tour-in-early-spring-2016.html
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