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.
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
February can be a month of two halves, as the early part sees out winter and the end heralds the oncoming spring. Warmer periods of air flow coinciding with an increasingly higher and brighter sun can illicit periods of growth, particularly if night time temperatures don’t fall too far. Conversely, cold air flow, short damp days and persistent rainfall can place stress on the grass plants whilst also actively assisting fungal pathogens.
Operational windows are equally affected by the weather, and often the periods which place pressure on surfaces are the ones which also restrict a turf manager’s ability to undertake preventative or curative maintenance.
Management of soils is a prime function of managing turf grass. No more important factor is the successful management of water. Too little and the soil food web, of which grass plants play a part, breaks down. At this time of the year, the problem tends to be too much water, leading to saturation which again breaks the balance of the soil food web as microorganisms essentially drown.
In this instance, keeping abreast of weather forecasts so that you are prepared to strike when ground or wind conditions are favourable for maintenance means you can act quickly.
In regards to soil water management, vertical deep tine aeration undertaken in the autumn will still be facilitating passage of water through the soil and hopefully into drainage systems. Maintaining a passage for water away from the surface is vital in allowing deeper fissures and tine holes to draw water. As a result, taking any opportunity to aerate with pencil, slit, star or sarel tines is an important priority.
The use of wetting agents in conjunction with good old fashioned aeration should also be considered at this time of the year. A penetrant type will break water tension allowing it to flow from the surface more efficiently. Conversely a high quality block co-polymer, sometimes referred to as a residual, will help to regulate the balance of water in the soil, by holding onto or releasing water through the profile. The ideal ratio being 50% solid, 25% water, 25% air.
Similar to fertilisers programmes, it is advisable to implement a wetting agent programme which formulates your surfactant applications thought the year. The high quality block co-polymer chemistry works as a preventative in the soil, actively balancing the soil water matrix as it builds up over time. Single applications will not be successful in overcoming evidence of hydrophobic soils as evidence by dry patch. Like many things, once you see the symptoms, it is indicating you should have acted much earlier to prevent them appearing. Block co-polymers take 3-4 months to build up in a soil to a point where the chemistry is working optimally. For this reason, in the UK applications, should start no later than March with frequencies as recommended by the manufacturer to avoid a drop-off in soil concentration, and thus positive effects.
Somewhat erroneously, wetting agents have had a bad reputation in certain quarters in respects to negative effects upon soil biology. Such perception should be reserved for curative wetting agents which, by necessity of their action, are designed to strip away the organic acids coated around soil particles. Being designed to work preventatively, block co-polymer wetting agents are not formulated in ways which have these effects. Research has even shown that they can have a beneficial effect on soil biology leading to increased fertiliser efficiency, improved fungicide effect, better drought tolerance when used with trinexapac-ethly, and reduced incidence of anthracnose disease.
The aim of high quality preventative block co-polymer wetting agents is to facilitate even distribution of water throughout the soil profile. Where this is not taking place, a lack of uniformity can facilitate ‘finger flow’, which is to say isolated preferential paths for water to move throughout the profile. During months such as February, this will not cause a problem on the surface as the baseline for soil moisture is so high. Once the summer months come around however, the spaces between these preferential paths will be the first to dry out and show up as dry patch.
Penetrant wetting agents can be used to break surface tension and aid the flow of water from the surface and through the soil; whether that be aeration holes or a freshly applied hydrophobic top dressing. Testing your top dressing for hydrophobicity by dripping droplets of water onto a sample is a prudent exercise. Anything more than 5 seconds to soak in signifies some level of hydrophobicity.
Nutrition requirement may pick up as the month progresses. Where the forecast is for cold and harsh or warm and damp, foliar applications of calcium and silicon will help the plant to stand up to the resultant biotic and abiotic stresses. Chelated iron should always be the option when attempting to elicit a green up, however the end of February or early March is the best time to apply iron sulphate. Aside from the green up, it will help to knock back moss which may have encroached over the winter and the sulphur will help to facilitate early season plant metabolic function.
Warm, damp, still days are perfect conditions for microdochium nivale activity. When temperatures are cold then make the most of those last applications of iprodione before the withdrawal from sales on 5th March 2018 and withdrawal from use of stocks on 5th June 2018
As soils warm, chafer grubs and leather jackets will begin to rise and pecking of surfaces may well begin. There are no treatments for the grubs at this time of the year, but monitoring and recording problematic areas in anticipation of nematode treatments in the summer is a key part of any integrated management plan.
Finally, take the guess work out of fertiliser programmes by investing a few pounds in a broad spectrum soil analysis. Remember, no one nutrient is more important than the other; it is only the quantity of each which the plant requires for health which varies. Obtaining a report now gives you a guideline and insight, both of which allow you to address deficiencies and balance out ratios through the oncoming season such that your turf surfaces are at their best.
- 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.
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.
We are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Carol Smith for information.
Other training courses available include:
Pesticides (PA courses)
Pedestrian operated mowers
- 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