All the forecasts are for a cold December, which means frost and snow for snow for some areas. As always advised, keep off frost affected turf; walking on it will cause the brittle leaves to break, thereby causing severe damage and, in some cases, death of the plant. If in doubt, stay off.
However, we also need to bear in mind that recent winters have been variable and unpredictable; so keep an eye on the forecasts, advanced preparation for either mild and wet, or cold and dry periods will pay agronomic dividends
Key Tasks for December
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 snow does make an appearance, training will either head indoors or on the main pitch. If the latter, 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.
- 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.
December heralds the beginning of the meteorological winter and, consequently, inputs are at a minimum as cold soil temperatures slow metabolic activity of both microorganisms and plants to a crawl. As always, keeping an eye on weather forecasts is fundamental in being able to make decisions regarding inputs.
If cool humid conditions prevail, there may still be a risk of fungal diseases. Accordingly, timings of fungicide and plant stimulating nutrition, such as calcium, phosphite and silicon, can be made in suitable weather windows for spraying. It is worth noting that calcium and silicon, in particular, will aid the plant in resisting abiotic (environmental stress) in the form of frost, snow and harsh desiccating winds. Maximising the baseline level of soil and plant health going into harsh environmental conditions will greatly aid the quality of surfaces for longer.
Cold conditions require a move away from systemic fungicides, with iprodione generally being the active of choice for many.
Be aware that withdrawal of iprodione is pending and you will not have this tool in the locker the same time next year.
Where disease outbreaks have occurred, target dormant spores in the thatch with an application of fludioxonil; this should be done in-between disease outbreaks but not during. The reason for this is due to the fact that, during outbreaks, spores are not spores but rather active disease now going through its life cycle with the aim of creating more spores as its end goal. This tactic of applying fludioxonil will reduce the background population and minimise the severity of further outbreaks once weather conditions for disease proliferation occur.
Chlorothalonil is another contact active ingredient which can be employed at this time of year. Hopefully, a well thought out disease management plan is being employed where timings of non-pesticidal plant nutrition is factored around appropriate fungicide treatments, which pay attention to the correct rotation of the relevant fungicide groups of the active ingredients being chosen.
Avoiding back to back applications of the same groups is a core responsibility for adhering to best practice and managing pathogen resistance. The FRAC website has more details and Syngenta provide some good practical information of how their products can best fit into this important consideration.
Dew may still be heavy at times, contributing to the problem of leaf canopy humidity which, in turn, leads to the spread of fungal pathogens. Removal of dews is a core fundamental cultural control for turf managers in all situations and should remain so. However, dews can be reduced by the application of a dew dispersal agent which will act to stop them forming in the first instance. This adds another element into an integrated approach to disease management, particularly on any persistently damp days when dews re-form post brushing. The key here is to minimise the period of continual leaf blade wetness as much as possible.
An important point of note when using dew dispersants; for best efficacy and longevity, they MUST be applied to a dry leaf.
Another tactic in the integrated locker is penetrant wetting agents. We are all familiar with using wetting agents to help prevent against dry patch in the summer, where they either facilitate the ingress of rain and irrigation into the profile or spread and hold it once it is in there. The flip side of this is using penetrant wetting agents in the autumn and winter to facilitate the efficient passage of water away from the surface and through the profile towards drainage systems. This has two advantages; firstly, by moving water faster through heavier soils or thatchy surfaces prone to waterlogging, you help to maintain an appropriate air/water ratio in the soil. This helps to stop the microorganisms you have spent all summer promoting from drowning. The other factor is that beneficial mycorrhizae and saprotrophic (composting) fungi really don’t like to be waterlogged. If you keep getting thatch build up on waterlogged areas which you know are not overfed, it is probably because the soil system cycle designed to degrade the organic matter is breaking down each and every autumn and winter once it becomes waterlogged.
A further benefit from using a penetrant wetting agent is that the better water penetration from the surface also helps to reduce canopy humidity, and thus the risk of fungal disease.
Aeration is a key activity to maintain throughout the winter, in whatever way possible. Be careful not to drive over waterlogged or wet ground, or also disturb surfaces with holes which will not heal in good time. Little and often with star, slit and sarrel tines, whenever possible, is probably best, especially if you have already been able to aerate deeper in the autumn. Again, the aim is to maintain a health air/water ratio for the benefit of soil life and plants.
Please note: More information on diseases can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php
James Grundy – Senior Technical Manager
- 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
You are now able to obtain the basic knowledge of how to maintain a rugby pitch ONLINE:
Our LANTRA accredited Winter Sports Pitch Maintenance Course (Rugby & Football) is now available in an online format.
Like our one day course, it is 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. As an online version, it means you can learn at your own pace and at home. The Course Manual is included as part of the online course.
Forthcoming one day courses:
Winter Sports Pitch Maintenance
Wednesday 14th February 2018 at Stamford AFC PE9 1US
Wednesday 14 March 2018 at Stockport County AFC SK3 9DD
Wednesday 18 April 2018 at East Harling NR16 2NB
Tuesday 19 June 2018 at East Harling NR16 2NB
Monday 9th April 2018 at Telford TF6 5DY
Delegates attending the one day course or using the online version, 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.
If preferred, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.
Other training courses available include:
Pesticides (PA courses)
Pedestrian operated mowers