Expected weather for this month:

A continuation of February's unsettled weather is forecast, with western areas getting more of the rain.

Key Tasks for March

General Maintenance

Nightmare conditions at the moment with most local pitches waterlogged or extremely muddy. A priority at this time of year is some aeration work to increase aerobic activity and get some much needed oxygen around the grass plants' root system, providing you can get the equipment on the pitch. Regular spiking and, if possible, the introduction of sand dressings will definitely improve soil/water movement in the top 100mm of your pitches. So, if there is an opportunity to aerate, then do it.

Surface levels may need to be restored in areas where scrums have occurred, by light topdressing, seeding and raking over. Infill any holes that have occurred in the pitch surface with a sand/soil and seed mix. Lightly roll after repair work, preferably with a pedestrian mower.

Keep up with the dragbrushing/matting or harrowing when conditions permit, for dew and wormcast dispersion and to help stand the grass up prior to any maintenance work. Repair divots as soon as possible after games or training, with particular attention to the scrum and line out areas.

Using a pedestrain box mower (cylinder or rotary ) will help clean and prepare the surface for matches. If you do have any grass, maintain sward height at 25mm-75mm. The top height will cushion heavy falls on hard ground. Ensure your mowing blades are kept sharp and well adjusted. Cutting grass in very wet conditions can often be detrimental to the playing surface. The mower may smear and damage the surface, especially when turning. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.

Repairing and replacing divots after matches is an important part of the maintenance programme to restore playing surfaces. The use of a hand fork to lift depressed turf, and gentle pressing with the foot, is the best way to return/replace divots, however, on larger areas the use of harrows will help return levels.

Marking out is done as required. Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy and very wet, which may sometimes affect the performance of wheel to wheel transfer line marking machines. To overcome this problem, other marking systems are available. Pressure jet and dry line markers are able to produce lines on uneven and muddy surfaces. Care should be taken when initially marking out new lines, ensuring that they are true, straight and measured correctly, using the 3,4,5 method to achieve accurate angles. Always wash down the machine after use; if you are not likely to use the machine for a few days, it would be advisable to empty it. Particularly with spray jet markers, keep connections clean; spray with WD 40 to help keep it protected.

Pre and post match routines

Before the match

  • Check that the pitch is fit and safe for play
  • 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

Post match

  • 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

Additionally ...

  • Plan ahead for end of season renovations; particularly important if you have been affected by flooding
  • You could also consider booking in your machinery for its annual service/repair, ensuring you get the time slot that suits you
  • 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.

Weekly checks:

  • Check goals for loose bolts and tighten as necessary
  • 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

Renovations

Renovations should be in the forefront of your mind. Bear in mind any problems that you may have encountered during the season ("wet-spots" or poor drainage). Try to solve these problems during or before renovations start. You should, by now, have quotations for your renovation work and a provisional starting date with the contractor, or booked the machinery with your local ground care hire shop.

The type of end of season renovation will be dictated by the condition of your pitches, however, the extent and what you can achieve will be driven by cost and the will of the club to invest in their pitches.

A typical end of season renovation will be centred around aeration (decompaction), scarification to remove thatch, open up the sward, topdress to restore levels and overseed to introduce some new grasses. 

Before starting any remedial work, it is vital to know how much you will need to spend on renovation, as cost can easily escalate if you fail to research prices against the standard of surface you wish to produce. From a commercial point, the cost of renovating a football pitch can range from £4k -£40k The higher costs often relate to more intensified specialist work being required such as fraise mowing and the cost of top dressing materials being used.  

The application of the topdressing as the material alone can cost anything from £35 per tonne, this work alone is the most costly part of pitch renovation and, based on an application of 100 tonnes, can easily run out at three to four thousand pounds for a 6,000m2 pitch. With various options to choose from, you may decide on a high end budget if finances allow, but, at grass roots level where every penny counts, it is more likely that a low expenditure option is chosen, with much of the work done in house with borrowed or hired equipment. 

It is this cost that deters most clubs from spending money on top dressings for their pitches, which is why there are so many poor sports pitches across the country. Top dressing is an important and integral part of maintaining good football and rugby pitches by restoring levels and improving surface drainage.

Whilst we have established that maintaining a rugby pitch is an all year round activity, we do have to start somewhere, so where better than at the end of a very long playing season, usually at the end of April.  

The condition of your pitch will dictate what work will be required; most pitches will have lost between 50-75% grass cover during the playing season coupled with the fact that the soil profile will have become compacted. To rectify these problems, it is essential that a programme of deep aeration (100-300mm deep) is carried out, followed by fertilising, overseeding and topdressing which will help restore levels, feed and re-introduce some new grasses into the playing surface.

However you achieve it, you will need to clean out the surface and get rid of the dead organic matter that will have built up, particularly on the wings of the pitch, and the remnants of old divots etc. A tractor drawn rake followed by a box mower is probably the most traditional method and most likely within the means of most clubs and schools. You may also have use of a pick up flail mower, in which case you may find that scarifying tines can be fitted and the job will be completed in one operation. 

This method can be advantageous as the scarifying tines may leave a grooved surface, ideal for ensuring oversown grass seed is buried just beneath the surface and in contact with the soil.
An operation that is becoming popular to those that can afford it (mostly Premiership clubs fall into this bracket), fraise mowing is extremely efficient at removing the top organic layer of the pitch, however, you will effectively be starting again with a newly sown surface, so your seeding rates will need to be higher. 

Raising/restoring surface levels and getting rid of those compacted areas in front of the goal is everyone's obvious, but don't forget the linesman's run-up; sometimes forgotten, but easily incorporated into your programme and, whilst you're about it, the area beside the pitch that everyone stands to watch the game will need attention. 

Spiking to relieve compaction and getting air back into the soil is important. If you have a spiker that will allow some heave, such as a vertidrain or Weidenmann etc., you may find this beneficial, otherwise you may do well to hire one in or employ the services of a local sports ground contractor.

Get a good quality grass seed for your renovation, and also fresh seed is important as old seed will not germinate as greatly or as well as new. Ensure that you achieve good seed to soil contact slightly below the surface, as seed lying on the surface will not germinate as well as seed that has been worked into the surface.

There are a number of ways to achieve this, by means of tractor mounted or pedestrian dimple/sarrel roller based seeders or disc seeders. Other ways to achieve this would be through surface spiking the area, brushing and then topdressing.

Topdressing - get it ordered and ready. Choose wisely for compatibility with your current rootzone. If you employ the services of an agronomist, then he will advise you of the best topdressing for your situation. If you cannot afford to topdress, you may consider hollow coring, recycling them by breaking them up and dragmatting them back into the surface.

Raising/restoring surface levels and getting rid of those compacted areas in front of the goal is everyone's obvious, but don't forget the linesman's run-up; sometimes forgotten, but easily incorporated into your programme and, whilst you're about it, the area beside the pitch that everyone stands to watch the game will need attention.

A good pre-seeding fertiliser, low in nitrogen and high in phosphate and potash (P:K), to provide the young seedling with the essential nutrients that will be deficient in a soil washed through by winter rains.

Turf treatments - some turf treatments work well for some and there are a number of them to choose from, such as organic based micronutrients, seaweed treatments, clay flocculants, amino acids and plant growth regulators such as Primo Maxx. It can sometimes be difficult to assess the benefits of such treatments, but most managers will notice if it has been effective or not. If you are unsure, then ask you supplier for a trial amount and test it for yourself. I'm sure they would be pleased to accommodate you.

A planned programme of work involves mostly renovation, which is the repair and restoration of the playing surface back to its original state, condition or, improved upon in order to be used again.

Timing is the key to success as many operations will fail and cause more problems than benefits when carried out at the wrong time of the year. In order to achieve this all operations need to be carried out in the right methods, having the right soil & weather conditions, the ability to time the schedule of work and in the right sequence.

The main objectives of renovation which should be considered are:

1.    To maintain the standard of the surface.
2.    To improve the standard of the playing area.
3.    Rectify and install any new drainage requirements.

Once we have removed the posts, we can proceed to reduce the amount of grass from the surface to about 10 –15mm, preferably boxing off all arising’s at this stage.

Totally scarify the surface to remove all debris, thatch and organic matter. A number of passes may be required at different depths depending on the amount of organic material that is to be removed. 

All arisings should be removed from the surface before the next stage of work is started. By creating a seed bed through scarifying, overseed the playing area with a 100% Perennial rye grass (preferably with three or more cultivars) by use of machine (auto seeder) bury the seed in about 10-12mm deep to ensure good seed to soil contact. 

Topdress the whole pitch with a sandy/soil rootzone of 70/30 to address your levels. Aeration can then be performed to de-compact the surface allowing the top dressing to migrate down the tine holes to help with draining the surface and improve the soil profile. Drag matting or brushing will assist in this operation. An application of a pre-seed fertiliser to speed up germination or a spring/ summer 9-7-7 could be used. A soil test should determine you N.P.K, if in doubt. 

Ensure bare areas are well irrigated to establish early germination. Allow new grasses to grow to at least 2nd or third leaf stage before mowing with a sharp rotary, as a cylinder mower will most likely tear the grasses from their roots. Mow and aerate regularly throughout the summer and where possible Verti- cut to help thin and prune the sward through this period. Spray for control of pests, weed and disease and over the coming weeks your sward will thicken up and become denser providing a perfect carpet for the forthcoming season.

No number of graphs of historical data, or TV news bulletins that feature wellie-clad reporters against a backdrop of rivers that have burst their banks, can portray what we’re experiencing at the moment. Saturated doesn’t cover it, and even as I sit writing this agronomic diary update, it is steadily raining.

Although the Blackthorn is blooming and the Hawthorn is starting to break its buds in the hedgerows, spring feels like it’s a long way away. Spring officially starts in three weeks’ time, although the adage not to ‘cast a clout till May is out’, referring to the Hawthorn blossom which typically occurs during the month of May, and which also gave rise to the playground nursery rhyme:

Here we come gathering nuts in May,
Nuts in May, nuts in May,
Here we come gathering nuts in May,
On a cold and frosty morning.

The nuts actually referring to ‘knots’: the May blossom which would have been gathered as part of the May Day celebrations - an expression of the evident joy and relief that late spring and early summer finally bring; when all this water will be a memory.

Research has shown that a series of complex chemical signals are triggered in plants as soon as it starts raining. Myc2 is a protein which, when activated, causes thousands of genes to spring into action to prepare the plant’s defences. These warning signals travel from leaf to leaf and induce a range of protective effects. Why would plants panic when it rains? Rain is the leading cause of disease spreading between plants.

When a raindrop splashes across a leaf, tiny droplets of water ricochet in all directions. These droplets can contain bacteria, viruses or fungal spores which have evolved to utilise this means of transmission to a new host. A single droplet can spread these up to 10 metres to surrounding plants. Evidence also suggests that when it rains, the same signals spreading across leaves are transmitted to nearby plants through the air.

One of the chemicals produced is a hormone called jasmonic acid that is used to send signals between plants. If a plant’s neighbours have their defence mechanisms turned on, they are less likely to spread disease, so it’s in their best interest to spread the warning to nearby plants. When danger occurs, plants are not able to move out of the way, so instead they rely on complex signalling systems to protect themselves (Moerkercke et al. 2019).

It’s a good time of the year to undertake training updates, and during a recent education session that was provided to some members of our internal teams, I was reminded that the most diverse ecosystem that exists is in the environment immediately around the plant’s root system. The impact upon playing surfaces, of the volumes of water that we’re experiencing, is as direct consequence of the affect that saturated soils have upon the plant’s capacity to cope with inundation.

Apart from increased levels of disease, the disruption caused to the plant in the form of appreciably reduced populations of micro and meso-organisms, apparent in the amount of worms floating about on the surface trying to obtain respite from a saturated environment.

This loss was written about in the December update which discusses the means to mitigate against damage and develop a strategy which can aid effective recovery, and is as relevant now as it was then. The importance of a well-structured substrate when it comes to water flow off the surface and into aquifers was highlighted for me on a weekend walk over the Shropshire Hills. The fields with standing water have been worked over the winter, this disruption to the existing soil structure has impaired field drainage whereas the surrounding permanent pasture has removed the water off the surface.

It would appear that the intervals, or opportunities to undertake the timely operations necessary to maintain sports surfaces to a good standard, appear to be diminishing – speaking to managers over the winter, for some renovations were incomplete or lacking at the end of the season and the start of this period is proving to be troublesome.

As I get older, I appreciate my capacity to forget, and I can say with confidence that once the sun shines and the grass is growing vigorously, thoughts of this water will evaporate and more pressing problems will emerge for our attention.

John Handley
Technical Manager

References
Alex Van Moerkercke, Owen Duncan, Mark Zander, Jan Šimura, Martyna Broda, Robin Vanden Bossche, Mathew G. Lewsey, Sbatie Lama, Karam B. Singh, Karin Ljung, Joseph R. Ecker, Alain Goossens, A. Harvey Millar, Olivier Van Aken (2019) 'A MYC2/MYC3/MYC4-dependent transcription factor network regulates water spray-responsive gene expression and jasmonate levels', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , 116(46).

 

  • Check and service any floodlighting systems; ensuring they are ready for the new playing season.
  • It also important to replace any worn tines on your aeration equipment.
  • Clean out the shed, sell off any old machinery and dispose of any junk that’s clogging up the shed.

 

Grounds Training was established in 2006 to provide a complete and unique service delivery training courses for the sports turf industry. We are now the go-to provider for on-site, bespoke training for groups. Grounds Training also works with the industry’s awarding bodies – Lantra and City & Guilds (NPTC).

Our Online Sports turf maintenance courses  which are independently accredited by Lantra which are going from strength to strength. The video tutor is leading industry consultant, Alan Lewis MSc NDT FinstG. The course provides flexible, cost effective training and is accompanied by a comprehensive training manual. https://www.groundstraining.com/online-grounds-training-courses/

In addition we have  a wide range of ground care machinery courses, safe handling of pesticides, tree survey, and ecology courses. All our which are delivered by industry qualified instructors registered with  Lantra Awards and or NPTC.

We also offer a small number of open courses at our site at Allscott ,Telford.

All the courses we have to offer can be found by visiting https://www.groundstraining.com/

Here are our upcoming open courses:

PA1/ PA6A - Thursday 19th /Friday 20th March Allscott Telford TF6 5DY

For more information visit: Groundstraining.com or email info@groundstraining.com