This is always the most difficult time of the year for groundsmen; it is quite a challenge to keep pitches playable, especially with freezing weather around. The February forecast appears to be little different, with changeable, unsettled spells interspersed with colder interludes. The most unsettled and windy weather is likely to occur in the north and northwest whilst the south and southeast should see somewhat drier conditions overall, though even here, some rain and strong winds are likely.
If you need any assistance, try the Pitchcare Forum, where you will find advice, information and support from other groundsmen.
Key Tasks for February
If your pitch is frozen, stay off it; you will do far more harm than good. If we get some milder weather in between the cold spells, then ensure that any heavy wear areas are well spiked. This may be best done with a hand fork rather than machinery.
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
As daytime temperatures potentially begin to warm, it is important to nurse the plant through the end of winter with a gentle amount of NPK fertiliser, either as little and often foliar applications or with a conventional release mineral fertiliser. The aim should be to keep the plant healthy, not to force growth, as excess nutrition will either go to waste when cold or force the plant on too much when warmer, in turn making soft young growth susceptible to damage from the harsh winds and temperatures during cold snaps and fungal attack in warm, damp, still periods.
Sulphur is an important nutrient when it comes to assisting plant metabolic function early in the season. So, planning now to apply a feed in March, which contains a high percentage of this vital element, should be considered.
Towards the end of the month, the sun may begin to feel noticeably warm in sheltered areas, but turf managers should be mindful that it is soil temperatures which drive growth with night time temperatures the biggest contributing factor to average soil temperatures throughout the day.
warm day and warm night = warming soil temperatures
warm day and cold night = stable soil temperatures
It is important to try and continue the protection of winter sports pitches from play when surfaces are wet. A notable reduction in plant surface density at this point will dramatically reduce the sward's ability to kick on in the spring, resulting in prolonged periods of reduced playing quality at the end of the season and corresponding increases in resources required for end of season renovations.
February represents a good time to undertake PWS testing on your surfaces. A cost effective broad spectrum soil analysis is available from the Pitchcare shop, with the subsequent report giving you a tangible point of reference as to what the soil requires when it comes to planning your spring and summer fertiliser applications.
Implementing an integrated turf management approach to managing disease is the responsible way to approach this issue, reducing periods of extended leaf blade wetness to a minimum by either removing dews by brushing or switching. Dew dispersal products offer a solution for this situation on club facilities where daily removal by hand is more difficult.
Keeping an eye on weather forecasts, and applying fungicides in good time when weather conditions are predicted to be the most conducive for disease development, is the best way to minimise damage. Once obvious damage is evident, applications are entering into a curative phase. The most effective and responsible approach is to aim for a preventative or early curative regime whereby diseases, and in particular microdochium patch, are treated prior to, or at the earliest signs of infection.
Aeration, as always, continues to be of utmost importance and should be undertaken whenever conditions allow good recovery and the risk of damaging wet soils is at a minimum.
If moisture and warmth coincide towards the end of the month, then it is an opportunity to seed any remaining small bare patches which might have lingered over winter, although germination will be slow especially if colder weather then intervenes.
Worm activity can be quite prevalent during the winter months, especially during periods of mild weather. 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 - for the time being; it is still available for purchase up to the end of May 2017, and the end of August 2017 as the final date for its use, storage or disposal - Carbendazim Products
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.
Brushing or switching of the playing surface keeps the green clean and removes any dew or surface water. Keeping the surface dry will aid resistance to disease.
The typical types of diseases you may come across are:
- Fusarium Patch
- Red Thread
- Fairy Rings
Use appropriate fungicides to control any further outbreaks, however, with the grass soon beginning to grow, it won't take long for these scars to grow out. Always ensure that the disease is correctly identified prior to applying any plant protection product.
More information on these and many others can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php
All personnel should be suitably qualified in the application of chemicals, having gained PA1/ PA6 certificates for hand held spraying or PA2 certificate for tractor or vehicle spraying - see the Grounds Training website for information on courses.
- 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 new website Grounds 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.
- Check posts are secure
- Check team dugouts are stable and anchored securely. Make sure that they are tidy and free from litter
- Repair and maintain fence lines
- Sweep up/vacuum fallen leaves
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