Expected weather for this month:

Colder, with temperatures just about into double figures

Lots of grass growth at the moment, thanks to all the rain and warmer than average temperatures in October. Hopefully, that means most groundsmen will have their pitches in a decent condition as we come into what is normally the heavy wear period for rugby pitches. Temperatures are forecast to be reasonable for the first part of this month, so mowing and general maintenance regimes should continue. If there's the chance, aerating the pitches will do wonders, getting air to the roots and helping to dry out the soil profile.

Heavy dews at this time of the year will increase the risk of disease; keep an eye out and treat as early as possible to minimise any damage to the grass plant.

Key Tasks for November

Aim to present your pitch with bands, stripes and a consistent surface and maintain a height of cut between 30-90mm. These are the RFU guidelines for  heights of cut during the winter months. Many junior club pitches tend to have too much grass on their pitches.

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.

General tasks, weather permitting:

  • 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.

At this stage of the season, the addition of seed mixed with a little topsoil may help to repair any deep scars. Ensure good seed to soil contact, otherwise the operation is pointless. Ensure you use new seed as old material may not germinate.

Marking out

  • 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.

Machinery

  • 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

General

  • Apply a low nitrogen, high phosphate and potassium autumn/winter fertiliser to aid grass recovery
  • 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

With the sun now lower in the sky, shade problems tend to increase. Shadows remain on the ground for longer periods and these areas tend to take longer to warm up and dry out which, in turn, may affect maintenance operations and playability.

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

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

As ever, decisions on agronomic inputs are governed by climactic conditions. October witnessed certain extremes with Atlantic storms delivering forceful winds and heavy rain to the west of the British Isles whilst many other areas simultaneously experienced unseasonal warmth and, for some periods, even sunshine.

Such variability necessitates turf managers at all levels to keep themselves informed of upcoming weather forecasts and also ensure they are suitably prepared with the relevant inputs in stock. This means they are then able to react to application windows swiftly and decisively. Reference to growth degree and growth potential forecasts further allow managers to time inputs when the plant is the most receptive to efficient uptake and utilisation.

Traditionally, November brings with it short, dull days with plenty of rainfall and stormy weather, potentially good for removing leaves off the trees but less favourable for good turf conditions.

November then is a good time to be mindful of good sound cultural practices.

  • Remove dews to minimise periods of leaf blade wetness, thereby reducing humidity in the sward canopy and helping to prevent fungal pathogen advance.
  • Aerate little and often whenever ground conditions allow to facilitate balanced soil water/air ratios, maintaining aerobic conditions and supporting beneficial soil microorganisms.
  • Remove leaves from surfaces to prevent microclimates which promote conditions for pathogen attack and also weaken the plant, making it further susceptible.
  • Raise mowing heights to increase leaf surface area and accordingly help the plant to compensate for reduced day length by maintaining photosynthesis potential (the plants energy factory), such that plants can maintain healthy and efficient metabolic function.

Nutritional inputs should be applied with the aim of maximising plant health and resilience through November in a bid to prepare the plant, and thus surfaces, to better cope with the oncoming rigours of December, January and February.

From a feed perspective, adequate nitrogen for plant function is all that is required; forcing growth for aesthetics or recovery from disease scars potentially risks increasing susceptibility to pathogens.

Pay close attention to the secondary micronutrients, sulphur, calcium and magnesium as well as the assorted micronutrients. No one nutrient is more important than the other, they are just required in different quantities. Identifying deficiencies and topping up plant levels with liquid applications is the best way to provide a healthy balanced diet which will allow the plant to be happier, healthier and more resilient in the coming months.

Wetting agents are a go to item at the start of the season with an eye on preventing drought and dry patch. Correct water management should be a prime concern all through the year, with penetrant wetting agents designed to drive water through the profile being the tool of choice from October and November onwards.

Biostimulants are still useful tools through November, whether it be seaweed, sugar or humic substances. Applications should be timed during periods of low disease pressure when they will be most useful to the plant and its associated beneficial microorganisms. Avoid applications during times of pathogenic pressure so as not to further facilitate their function.

Disease management is due to become more challenging following the recent EU vote to not renew the approval of Iprodione on the grounds of human health concerns (Iprodione is an endocrine disruptor). Notification of withdrawal is expected in December, with end of sale and use/disposal of stocks expiry dates expected to come into effect around March and June respectively.

October, November December 2017 then are the last peak fungal disease months where turf managers will be afforded the luxury of a ‘knock it on the head’ active ingredient with which to act reactively to visible signs of disease attack, whether that be mycelium or scarring.

For many months, these diaries have sought to promote the message of Integrated Turf Management with respects to proactive, preventative disease management. Rather than an option, that principle is a rapidly approaching as a necessity.

Anyone seeking further help and advice on such matters should not be afraid to reach out and seek assistance, whether that be from informed peers who are already successfully utilising such techniques, or by telephoning Pitchcare and asking to speak to one of eight BASIS registered advisors, all of whom are trained and accredited in the latest legislative and management practices.

  • 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.

If preferred, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.

Other training courses available include:

Pesticides (PA courses)
Pedestrian operated mowers
Hedgecutters
Brushcutters/strimmers
Toolbox Training
Manual Handling

More details

 

Weekly checks:

  • 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

Discussion points currently on the Pitchcare Forum:

Worms
Irrigation water temperature
Growing grass on sand