Looks like we could be in for quite a harsh winter. Some nothern parts of the UK experienced snow at the beginning of November, with frost hitting all parts of the country as this is being written. As always advised, keep off frost affected turf; walking on it will cause the brittle leaves to break, thereby causing severe damage and, in some cases, death of the plant. If in doubt, stay off.
Recent winters have been variable and unpredictable; however, it remains clear that a keen eye on forecasts and advanced preparation for either mild and wet, or cold and dry periods will pay agronomic dividends
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.
With December's arrival, autumn officially gives way to early winter. Any breaks which might crop up in a hectic fixtures list over the Christmas holiday provides a good opportunity for turf recovery and maintenance, especially if soil temperatures are above 8°C.
Hardening off the plant with applications of iron ahead of any forecasted cold nights and biting winds will serve to thicken the plants cell walls and make it more resilient. Equally, should soil temperatures remain above 8°C the plant will be requiring some nutrition, with low nitrogen options remaining relevant.The delicate balance will be to avoid turf stress where autumn feeds may be running low but without stimulating soft susceptible growth from any applications of nitrogen.
If milder weather is forecast, repairing worn areas and severe divots with a low temperature germinating Perennial rye-grass mixture will give it every opportunity to germinate and begin establishment.
Applications of Carbendazim will continue to be required to areas which are subject to high levels of worm activity. Controlling the casting will also make a significant contribution to reducing greasy and smearing surfaces which helps to prevent turf wear.
As long as ground conditions are suitable, aeration in any form is key to maintaining surface drainage and soil respiration.
As temperatures reduce and moisture is present on the leaf for longer, Microdochium patch is still likely to be virulent; the window for systemic fungicides has likely passed, with products containing a contact mode of action proving to be the most suitable method of control. Users should be aware that correct and high quality application is vital for the success of any spray operation. This is especially so with a contact fungicide where the idea is to effectively coat the leaf in a protective ‘jacket’ of the substance which will ward of disease attack. Ensuring sprayers are well calibrated, label recommendations are adhered to, nozzles are appropriate and in good condition are all factors crucial to success as 10-20% of spraying efficacy is down to spray quality. Nozzles should be replaced annually and when the cost of a set of nozzles is set against the cost of a fungicide, the final 10-20% of efficacy more than pays for them.
Turf managers should maintain good cultural methods of control for disease with timely removal of morning dews – to reduce periods of leaf blade wetness – and the considered use of liquid irons, phosphite and calcium – routinely applied to provide the plant with its own defences – all forming the backbone of an holistic approach to responsible Integrated Turf Management (ITM) .
Good post-match routines are vital, sending out a group of willing volunteers at half time, each armed with a Groundsman’s Divot Repair Fork and then again for ten minutes post-match, is the single biggest thing most amateur clubs could do to help the pitch repair and maintain quality throughout the growing season. Firming back divots and lifting depressions allows the grass to start to knit back together immediately, rather than leaving it for a mower to cut them up, or a roller to crush loose divots down onto healthy grass underneath. Perhaps a reward at the club bar afterwards is all that is required to muster up a small but willing group.
Finally, maintaining oneself and team is equally important throughout periods of inclement weather, and investment in good clothing helps to maintain comfort, morale and productivity.
Earthworms may be a problem, so regular dragbrushing will be necessary. Brushing can be daily when conditions are right. Regular aeration to keep the surface open will aid drying. A drier surface may help towards reducing the effects of the earthworm activity near the surface. Diseases have been widely reported, particularly Fusarium. These outbreaks have been mainly due to the heavy dews and changing climatic air temperatures we have recently experienced.
The three disease factors: susceptible grass/host, pathogen, and environment, provide the evidence for disease diagnosis. Symptoms are the expression of the susceptible grass to the disease and can take on a variety of forms.
Symptoms may appear on the leaves as small, circular, tan-coloured lesions surrounded by brown or purple borders (leaf spotting); as yellow, red, or tan blotches over most or all of the leaf blade (blighting); stunting; wilting; or as a brown or black rot on the crowns and roots. The appearance of these symptoms will also vary depending on the type of disease, the severity of the attack and the developing stage of the disease.
The typical types of diseases you may come across are:
- 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 any forthcoming autumn courses can be found on our website Groundsman 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.
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
Remember – that the sun is at its lowest in December and daylight hours are at their shortest, so any shade problems you have will be exacerbated. These areas tend to take longer to warm up and dry out which, in turn, may affect maintenance operations and playability.
- Check posts are secure
- Check team dugouts are stable and anchored securely.
- Make sure that they are tidy and free from litterRepair and maintain fence lines
- Sweep up/vacuum fallen leaves