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.
The weather forecast for December is for fluctuations. Periods of unseasonably mild weather interspersed with cold snaps. Nothing too prolonged is predicted over the course of the month, particularly with respects to cold spells which are more likely to occur throughout January and February once the storage heater effect of the North Sea’s residual summer heat has receded, such that it can no longer have a warming affect upon cold easterly air streams moving across the British Isles.
It is likely to be a roller coaster month of peaks in growing potential for both grass plant and fungal pathogen alike, followed by dips of activity, first in the plant and then in the fungal pathogen as temperatures fall.
Looking at the pros and cons of each scenario they can broadly be summed up thus:
Pros: If soil temperatures rise above 10 degrees Celsius, then good growth will promote recovery on disease scars and worn areas, as well as push along seeded areas following renovation events during early autumn.
Cons: Warmer conditions which promote growth can encourage fungal diseases, especially when they occur alongside high relative humidity and low air movement.
Pros: Once temperatures drop to zero or below, fungal diseases will also draw to a halt.
Cons: Grass growth stops once soil temperatures hit low single figures, thus reducing recovery and establishment growth. In addition, cold conditions place an abiotic stress demand on the plant leaf tissues.
Sitting somewhere between warmer and colder are what can be defined as cooler periods where temperatures sit between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius. It is these periods when the grass plants metabolic systems are beginning to grind to a halt, but the fungal pathogens systems are still driving onward so that surfaces are at high risk of becoming infected with diseases such as Microdochium nivale.
Following the withdrawal from use of iprodione in June of this year, and consequently the formulations Chipco Green and Interface, this disease season marks the first year turf mangers are faced without a fungicide which will target visibly active Microdochium nivale and stop it in its tracks. Instead, the active substances available need to be applied to surfaces before the disease is active, none more so than the active substance Fludioxonil.
Fludioxonil is an antisporulant which acts upon dormant spores on the plant surface and in the rootzone. Fludioxonil interferes with the water pressure in fungal spores causing them to burst and die before prevailing environmental conditions are suitable for promoting their germination. Due to the fact that it does this outside of the plant's physical structure, Fludioxonil does not have a systemic action which requires plant metabolic function to become effective. Rather, Fludioxonil operates outside the plant when it comes into direct contact with dormant fungal spores.
Understanding the basic principle of a relatively straightforward mechanism by which an active substance operates upon a fungal pathogen (Fludioxonil makes dormant spores burst) allows for greater consideration of effective application timing. For example; given this knowledge, it is clear that an application of Fludioxonil once spores have germinated and then infected a plant, thereby causing visible signs of damage, is somewhat akin to bolting the proverbial door once the horse has bolted.
On the flip side, an application of Fludioxonil prior to an outbreak of fungal disease – as the result of reference to historical records and checking of upcoming weather patterns and forecasts which indicate disease is highly likely to occur – would serve to remove dormant spores eagerly lying in wait for conditions to favour them.
Additionally, combining the antisporulant action of Fludioxonil alongside the plant cell wall-strengthening action of foliar calcium would further help to fight off disease by providing the plant itself with the resources it requires to bolster its defences.
Finally; combining these actions with good old-fashioned principles of aeration, to allow the soil to respire, and dew removal to inhibit the fungal pathogens ability to grow and infect across the leaf surface, and you have before you the core fundamentals of an Integrated Pest Management Plan for combating fungal diseases on sports turf in December.
One quick word on soil water management, where surfaces are prone to water logging; then consider the use of a penetrant wetting agent to drive moisture away from the surface; not only will this reduce surface humidity, helping to mitigate pathogen attack, it will also allow the soil to maintain effective respiration which reduces stress on the plant and helps to maintain populations of beneficial microorganisms.
Finally, be sure to investigate areas which were dry in the summer; do not presume moisture will have yet penetrated at depth, and consider that if not sufficiently rehydrated over the winter, soils will start drier in the spring. Should another dry summer come to pass, the onset of water stress will become apparent sooner, again a penetrant wetting agent will help to alleviate this problem.
When looking back at weather records over the past forty-five years, summer 2018 may be considered something of a freak occurrence; however, inspection of weather records over the past five to ten years indicates such extremes are becoming more and more common. The lesson then is not to presume spring and summer 2019 will not be similar to 2018, it may very well turn out that way.
As always prior consideration and then adequate preparation for a range of potential extreme scenarios is paramount to maximising sustained quality of turf surfaces throughout any given year.
- 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.
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.
The LANTRA accredited Winter Sports Pitch Maintenance Course (Rugby & Football) is 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.
In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Carol Smith for information.
Other courses available include:
Safe Use of Pesticides (PA courses)
Pedestrian operated mowers