Key Tasks for February
With only elite clubs allowed to play at the moment, lower level clubs will have to do whatever work they can to keep their pitches in reasonable condition in the hope of an easing of restrictions in the foreseeable future. For guidance on what COVID-19 procedures are to be followed, please refer to your league's website or that of the RFU.
Most professional and semi-professional clubs cut between 30-40mm.
Continue with aeration if conditions allow.
If training is allowed, 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.
Where and when games are allowed:
- 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
- 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
Unfortunately, January may not have been the positive, fresh start to the year that many were wanting. Let’s hope that by the end of February things have started to improve somewhat.
The recent heavy rainfall and cold snap which has seen freezing temperatures and snowfall across the country has caused numerous issues for turf managers. Long term forecasts are predicting that the whole of February will be varied, with a mixture of sunny days but also periods of rain. Daytime temperatures are slowly increasing but night-time temperatures are still relatively low. As we leave January and enter February, we can start to look ahead to get some early response from our turf, or can we?
Some key points from a previous diary which I feel is worth repeating as they highlight some very relevant facts that we are faced with this month. February has typically been classed as late winter, however more recently it has provided windows of favourable weather. This has allowed many agronomic activities to be carried out that wouldn’t usually be done until a couple of months later. The 1st of February is 42 days post winter solstice (21st December), and towards the end of the month that figure will rise to around 70 days and the summer solstice (21st June) will be around 113 days away. To explain what this means in terms of day length, using Leeds as an example (a generic, central location in the British Isles), on the 1st February it will be 8 hours 54 minutes and the suns altitude from the horizon will be 11.65°. At the end of February, day length will be up to around 10 hours 47 minutes and the sun’s altitude from the horizon will now be 20.46°. That’s a difference of 1 hour 53 minutes and an altitude difference of 8.81°. This means from the start to the end of the month you gain approximately 2 hours of sunlight and a large increase (around 57%) in the height of the sun at mid-day.
Increased day length means an increase in sunlight and a gradual increase in temperatures through more exposure to solar radiation. With an increase in sunlight. there is more opportunity for photosynthesis and the turf can begin to ‘wake up’, however this is not a quick process given it is on the back of the cold winter weather. The key is to remember that this can’t be forced, unless you have access to additional resources where artificial conditions can be created, such as undersoil heating and growth promoting lights. This equipment is not available to the masses and therefore trying to force turf into action so early in the season is not advised. Doing so can lead to needless wastage of products and potential impacts on the environment from leaching of nutrients that can’t be taken up by the plant. Therefore, unnecessary applications should be avoided.
If conditions are favourable, this month can be the start of gaining some recovery from any winter damage, by utilising the environmental changes outlined above and the increased ability of the plant to grow and develop. It is important that growth is encouraged not forced, which could lead to agronomic issues later in the year. The weather is unpredictable and unforeseen changes following a heavy application of fertiliser with a high Nitrogen content, given the right conditions, can promote excessive soft tissue growth which can be more susceptible to disease outbreaks. This can be an unwanted set-back when coming out of winter and trying to get turf back to an excellent condition.
Monitoring current soil temperatures will give a good indication of when suitable and worthwhile applications can be made. Once soil temperatures reach 8-10°, the environment will have sufficient warmth to support biological activity and influence soil respiration by increasing enzyme activity. To encourage winter recovery and early season growth, an application of a granular fertiliser with a relatively low % of a readily available source of nitrogen, such as ammonium, could be applied. Ideally, these will be in line with any recent soil testing that has been carried out. This will give a good response whilst conditions are favourable. Applications of biostimulants such as seaweed, carbohydrates and simple sugars, amino acids and humics will start to stimulate the soil ecosystem and rhizosphere.
As turf managers, we must be mindful of the challenges the weather can pose, and although in recent years we have had a ‘false’ spring, that has brought decent weather and favourable conditions. This month can also provide weather that can be a real threat to turf and impart further stress on top of what has already been imparted over winter. This stress can come from numerous sources, such as cold winds, frozen ground and even snowfall. To tackle these, planning is paramount to be ahead of any inclement weather. You can supply the plant with what it needs to strengthen against oncoming stresses, which will lessen any potential damage and, in doing so, also allow for faster recovery once conditions are favourable. The use of silicon and calcium will assist in strengthening cell walls, amino acids and harpin protein can help protect against cold weather damage. Where conditions may not be suitable for granular fertiliser applications, turf hardener type products, in the form of liquid applications, can also strengthen the plant ahead of these stressful situations.
With grass growth on the horizon, the temptation can be to start too early, with no real benefits realised and at unnecessary cost. The target for this month is to continue to protect the turf from any potential stresses, which will enable a quicker recovery response when conditions become favourable. Aim to maximise any opportunities afforded by ideal conditions to nudge growth forward, without over applying and trying to force unrealistic expectations in terms of growth response. Any small gains made this month will have a positive impact come spring.
- 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