April Tennis Diary
By Laurence Gale MSc
The weather has certainly disrupted any opportunity of an early start to spring renovations. The recent cold weather has done nothing to encourage any real grass growth, coupled with the fact that we have either had too much or not enough rainfall which in turn has affected the condition of grass courts.
Insufficient rain fall has led to soils drying out, this has been predominantly noticeable in the South East regions of the country where we are now seeing hose pipe bans in some areas. Clay soils need a certain amount of moisture for effective rolling to be achieved. Also clay soils taken longer to warm up therefore grass growth may not reach its potential until mid May or even later depending on the topography of the site and how exposed it may be.
If you are faced with a ban on watering it may be necessary to leave a bit more grass cover on the courts, this can be done by raising your height of cut, also you could also restrict the amount of thatch you take out. Keeping a bit of thatch may help conserve water in and around the base of the plant and also protect the roots from drying out. However, leaving too much thatch will affect ball bounce and in the long term restrict healthy grass growth.
Under normal circumstances you will now be looking to apply a spring fertiliser product to initiate some healthy growth.Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results. Apply a spring fertiliser when conditions allow. Fertilisers can be applied in liquid or granular forms,
Most grounds staff will be applying a spring/summer granular N P K fertiliser, perhaps something like a 12/0/9 or 9/7/7 will effectively get the grass moving during April then, towards the end of April or early May, applying a slow release fertiliser to see you through to June/July. However, the choice of material and how well it works can be dependant on many factors, soil type, weather, with moisture and soil temperature being the catalyst for growth.
The performance of slow release fertilisers can be influenced by the weather, often producing a flush of growth when you least expect it. Some grounds managers may use straight compound granular or liquid fertilisers which activate when in contact with moist soil conditions, effectively stimulating grass growth within days.
It is essential to carryout an affective rolling programme in April. Continue to roll the courts. Firstly roll across the line of play, followed by rolling down the length of play. Timing of this operation is vitally important. Trying to roll when soil conditions are wet or too dry will not achieve the desired effect. Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil be in a state of plasticity-or "plasticine".
Gradually build up roller weight by moving onto the next size of cylinder mower and so on. Consolidation is your aim and the quality of rolling will show when you produce your early season courts. If the roller is causing damage to the turf surface (ridging) stop rolling and wait for drier conditions.
Renovation will involve a number of tasks, scarification, aeration, overseeding, fertilising and topdressing: Click here to see Spring Renovation article.
Generally, the level of renovation will be dependant on budgets, whatever the club/facility can afford. Ideally, the green will be multi cored/aerated to relieve compaction followed by overseeding (applying seed at rate of 17-35gm per sq m) dependant on current sward density. Pre seeding fertiliser may be applied to help the germination of seed. On completion of these tasks, top dressing materials are applied using selected rootzone or sand materials. It is best to evaluate your soil type, getting an analysis of the soil, enabling a good match of materials for your site.
Tennis court maintenance
Aeration: Most of your aeration operations should have been completed during the winter period, generally we do not aerate clay soil profiles after January, as we do not want to encourage cracking of the clay surfaces. However, if there is a need to help remove surface water from the courts we can utilise the sarrel roller which lightly aerates the top 25-30mm allowing any surface water to drain down deeper into the soil profile.
Mowing: The mowing height on the courts should be lowered to around 8-10mm height for the playing season, subject to local weather conditions, but remember not to remove more than 1/3 of total grass height in each cut. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this vital time, the better the results further on into the season. Mowing frequency will be dependant on a number of factors, grass growth, sward type, level or standard of facility, resources (staff & machinery). but generally it may vary from three days a week to weekly frequencies.
Scarification: Light scarification or verticutting can be carried out at fortnightly intervals pre season. Removing horizontally growing grasses and surface organic matter are always beneficial for the onset of court preparation; together with brushing, this will also improve the quality of cut.
Marking out: To ensure accurate lines, consult the Lawn Tennis Association's rules and regulations and use approved line marking materials, set out base lines and side lines using the 3,4,5 method.
Pest control: Worm treatments can be carried out if needed, but please remember to ask yourself why are worms present. Ph level, organic matter and your cultural practices on the square need to be assessed.
Diseases:Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.
Weed control: It is important to remove any weeds from the playing surface, as they can affect ball bounce and performance of the court. Weeds can be removed mechanically by hand, or controlled by application of chemicals, usually a broadleaf selective weed killer. Best results are achieved when the soil has warmed up and the grass is actively growing.Seeding: Seeding sparse or bare areas can be continued. Any rise in soil or air temperatures will help germination. Use germination sheets to aid this process but remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless. Ensure you use new seed as old material may not give you the required germination rates.
Artificial Tennis Courts
Artificial grass systems: Keep surface clean, regular sweeping and brushing. Remove any algae and moss from surface. Sand filled systems require regular brushing to maintain manufacturer's recommendations on sand levels and pile heights.
American Fast Dry courts: Keep surfaces clean, rolling to consolidate surface, levelling and brushing of fast dry materials, brushing to clean lines.
Tarmacadam: Keep surfaces clean, regular sweeping and brushing. Repair any hollows or damaged areas. Repaint lines.