Widespread frosts are forecast for the first month of 2017, so groundsmen will have to be very protective about their pitches. We all know that working or playing on frozen surfaces can cause serious damage to the turf plant. It will be a case of the groundsman using all his local knowledge and expertise to decide what to do and when during what is the most testing month of the year.
The running theme throughout the month is toughen and protect.
With low light levels and low temperatures, January represents mid-winter and anything you can do to maintain plant health now will pay significant dividends in February and, in particular, the spring when optimal health during the first tantalising growth periods allows you to get in front of the metaphorical performance curve.
Key Tasks for January
As generally advised, it is always best to avoid working on frosty or frozen ground. However, in the real world, this is not always that easy with the pressure to get fixtures on. Local knowledge, expertise and individual circumstances will determine whether a pitch is playable or not.
Weather permitting, the following guidelines should be followed:
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
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.
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
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 plant will require a small quantity of nitrogen during any warmer periods; anyone who applied a slow release fertiliser in late October or November should still have some residual longevity to draw from. If conventional release fertilisers were used, then the 4-6 weeks longevity will be coming to an end. In this instance, it is vital to keep a close eye on turf for any signs of yellowing and lack of vitality. Applying a granular turf hardener, with an NPK analysis close to 4-0-4, will be suitable. Alternatively, a soluble fertiliser with some nitrate will also be useful in maintaining health.
Iron will continue to be an important micro nutrient to apply when looking to help guard against fungal disease pathogens by thickening plant cell walls. Calcium and phosphite are also important nutrients which can be applied as liquid sprays for this purpose.
With cold conditions forecast, then a similar principle can be applied with the same plant elements. In this instance, they work to help the plant tolerate the stresses and strains of frost and harsh desiccating winds. A granular slow release iron such as Maxwell Bullet Duragreen is a very sensible solution for providing a nice steady trickle of iron for up to three months.
Consider also applications of Magnesium along with iron, which as a key component of chlorophyll will help to maximise photosynthesis on long dark days.
Continue to monitor the weather for any extended periods of warmth and humidity. Steady periods of milder temperatures, coinciding with dampness and minimal winds, are the most dangerous periods when guarding against Microdochium patch in particular.
As always, removing dews daily and avoiding nutritional stress are vital cultural controls. A contact fungicide containing Iprodione can be applied as protection when disease is active but, with any fungicide, early identification and action are absolutely crucial in achieving the best results.
If snow is forecast, then applying Iprodione to surfaces in advance will guard against disease spreading under a nice damp insulated blanket.
A sensible strategy to employ between outbreaks of disease is to apply a fungicide containing Fludioxonil. This active ingredient will attack fungal disease spores as they lie in wait for suitable weather conations to mount an attack. Fludioxonil disrupts the regulation of osmosis (osmoregulation) and results in the disease pathogen cells rapidly absorbing water to such a point that their cell walls can no longer maintain rigidity and explode, therefore nullifying the threat.
If your spraying equipment has not been checked for calibration and nozzle quality, then it is an operation worth undertaking as 10-20% of fungicide efficacy is reliant on the quality of the spray operation. Another way to look at this is 10-20% of the cost of a fungicide, or any other sprayed product for that matter.
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 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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