With a good chance of frosts during January, groundsmen will have to be very protective about their pitches. We all know that working or playing on frozen surfaces can cause serious damage to the turf plant. It will be a case of the groundsman using all his local knowledge and expertise to decide what to do and when during what is the most testing month of the year.
The running theme throughout the month is toughen and protect.
With low light levels and low temperatures, January represents mid-winter and anything you can do to maintain plant health now will pay significant dividends in February and, in particular, the spring when optimal health during the first tantalising growth periods allows you to get in front of the metaphorical performance curve.
Key Tasks for January
As generally advised, it is always best to avoid working on frosty or frozen ground. However, in the real world, this is not always that easy with the pressure to get fixtures on. Local knowledge, expertise and individual circumstances will determine whether a pitch is playable or not.
Weather permitting, the following guidelines should be followed:
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 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
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.
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 – 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
As we enter mid-winter, January presents a continuation of good winter time agronomic practices, as described in the December diary.
Practices which should, as always, be driven by the climate. If warmer conditions prevail, then very light applications of fertiliser can be considered if the plant looks to be struggling. Be aware of waterlogged soils and low light causing stress which may lead to plants responding better to liquid applications. Try to aim for brighter days when the plant will be slowly photosynthesising, leading to better uptake.
Warm and wet provides opportunity for fungal pathogens to take hold. Keeping an eye on forecasts and applying the cell wall thickening calcium and plant defence stimulating phosphite are sound strategies backed up by research. Remember, contrary to traditional belief, iron does not harden turf, the element plays no role in physically strengthening or “hardening” the plant.
Iron is involved in the synthesis of chlorophyll and is essential for chloroplast and mitochondrial function due to its role within the electron transport chain. Thus, it is required for a wide range of biological functions including enzyme activation and plant respiration. In short, Iron will act as a catalyst for plant function and chlorophyll production, but remember magnesium is the central atom in the chlorophyll molecule so concentrate on making sure magnesium levels are sufficient first.
The other thing to remember about iron is it is a micronutrient, required in low levels by grass plants, with the majority of soils containing an excessive quantity which is antagonistic to the availability and uptake of; Zinc, Phosphorus, Copper, Manganese, Calcium
It is worth bearing in mind that, among other things:
- Zinc is important for – cold weather tolerance
- Phosphorus is important for – respiration and energy transfer
- Copper is important for – stress response
- Manganese is important for – resisting root pathogens
- Calcium is important for building thick cell walls able to withstand abiotic (environmental) and biotic (pathogenic) stress.
As we can see, appropriate levels and availability of all these elements are going to provide the plant with more direct assistance in withstanding midwinter challenges than iron.
Many people will state that they experience iron curing disease and, for many years, iron applications have been the perceived wisdom throughout the winter. However, effect is not always directly correlated to cause.
Liquid iron fertilisers, soluble iron and iron in granular fertilisers is present as ferrous sulphate. These ingredients have a low pH, generally around pH 2-3. Research undertaken by ICL at the STRI consistently shows that when ferrous sulphate is applied in the traditional manner i.e. prophylactically as a preventative, it offers suppression of Microdochium nivale barely distinguishable from control. Applied as a curative, it offers around a 50% reduction. On the face of it, that may sound reasonable as a curative. It is worth considering why it has some effect as a curative. The answer is that the acidity is antagonistic to the disease pathogen, at the same time that same acidity is antagonistic to plant beneficial microorganisms living in the phyllosphere (on the leaf) and in the rhizosphere (around the root).
A modern more technically astute way to achieve the same effect is by applications of phosphite PO3 (note; not phosphate P2O5) which, by acting to stimulate natural plant defences, is a way to achieve the same effect without the negative effect on plant beneficial microorganisms.
Phosphite works by stimulating plant defensive substances such as phytoalexin, which attacks the disease as it attempts to invade. Stimulation of plant carbon compounds assist in strengthening cell walls and further signal mechanisms proactively alert other cells to the danger.
As we zoom at breakneck-speed towards the 2020s, this kind of science based informed knowledge, as a result of modern analytical techniques and understanding, will increasingly inform turf managers approach to healthy grass plant management.
The suggested points to take from this are two fold
- Beware simply repeating traditional thinking out of habit.
- Seek to understand the why and how of all products you apply.
On that theme, January is traditionally a time for preparation; fertiliser programmes will be at the forefront of everyone’s minds but consider also;
- Wetting agent programmes
- Fungicide programmes
- Insect pest control programmes
Writing things down, such as the date to put out chafer grub monitoring traps or apply the first polymer wetting agent, can be the start of a plan likely to be actioned.
Finally, and probably the most important agronomic principle for the winter months is to pay very close attention to the most important ingredient in your turf management armoury; yourself.
Hopefully, refreshed after a Christmas break now is a great time to assess and take action to plug gaps in your knowledge. We all have them, and the danger is we can quickly trick ourselves into thinking ‘everyone else knows more than we do, when they don’t’. It is also easy to fall straight back into the routine and ‘not have time’, but it is important to make time.
Across the industry, 2017 has been yet another year of environmental and legislative challenges, with 2018 and beyond set to continue that trend.
The prepared will prevail and the first step of preparedness is stopping, considering and openly taking in knowledge.
- BTME is running during the third week of January and presents a fantastic opportunity to gain knowledge through the continue to learn programme.
- The sum of human knowledge is at our fingertips via the internet.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions of peers and be open to considering new approaches.
- Quiz Technical Sales Managers who visit your site, the good ones will have sound answers and may even be able to offer complementary training information to you and your teams from either themselves or Technical Managers.
- Most importantly, remember: Stop – Make Time – Consider – Openly take in knowledge – Be Prepared
- 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