Probably the worst time of the year for natural grass tennis courts, the recent wet weather will have certainly saturated the courts. While they are in this state it is best to leave them alone; clay soils, when in a plastic wet state, are unstable and easily smear.
Ideally, you will have aerated in November with a suitable solid tine spiker achieving a depth of penetration between 100-150mm. This operation will have helped increase the porosity of your soil profile and will have aided surface drainage.
With soil temperatures hovering and remaining around 7/8 degrees C there will be little or no likelihood of any grass growth until the spring. However, climatic conditions will vary during January, possibly initiating outbreaks of disease.
Daily brushing will help disperse early morning dews and help dry out the sward, thus reducing the amount of surface leaf moisture content that can initiate an outbreak of fungal disease.
Brushing also helps stand the sward upright and increase air flow around the grass plant. It is also important to try and keep the the top 50mm of the soil profile free draining, this is achieved by keeping the surface open to allow gaseous exchange, thus preventing anaerobic conditions prevailing.
The surface is kept open by a programme of aeration techniques, varying the type and size of tines used.
For shallow aeration the use of a sarrell roller is sufficient, however you may need to go deeper by using either pedestrian or tractor mounted aerators fitted with longer tines. which can be selected to achieve depths of aeration from 100-300mm. Care should be taken when undertaking these tasks, trying to aerate when the soil is wet or saturated can cause greater problems such as smearing and compaction.
Often there can be a lot of leaf debris still about that needs to be cleared. Allowing this debris to accumulate on grass surfaces is not ideal, regular sweeping and cleaning of the playing surfaces is essential. The sward should be maintained at its winter height of cut between 12-18mm. The use of a rotary mower can be ideal for topping off and, at the same time, cleaning up any surface debris.
Artificial tennis surfaces also need attention. Regular brushing is essential to keep them clean and free from contaminations. Sand filled/sand dressed carpet systems also require regular brushing to keep them clean and redistribute sand infill materials.
Algae can often be a problem at this time of the year on artificial playing surfaces. Regular brushing and fungicide treatments may be required to reduce and remove algae growth on the courts. You should use approved chemical products when treating algae problems.
January is a good time, whilst it is quiet, to plan and get yourself organised. What are your targets for this year? What do you want to achieve? Have you organised your spring renovation works? Have you ordered materials and machinery for the forthcoming season?
Aeration: Frequency - as required
Aerating the playing surface helps keep grass surfaces free draining. A sarrel roller is often used to prick small holes in the surface down to a depth of 45mm. Other solid tine aerators can reach greater depths. Spiking between 100-200mm is beneficial to encourage deeper rooting and gaseous exchanges in the soil profile. However, deep aeration should be avoided after January to prevent the likelihood of the courts cracking later in the year when the soils begin to dry out.
Drainage: Frequency - weekly
Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. Renew or repair any damaged or problematic drainage systems.
Diseases: Inspect daily
Keep an eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Any mild and wet weather will certainly provide the ideal climatic conditions for diseases. Regular brushing or switching off the dew in the mornings will reduce the chance of fungal attack.
Inspect stored posts, nets, seating and notice/score boards. Replace with new equipment if required. Repair any damaged fencing.
Litter/debris: Frequency - daily
Inspect and remove debris from playing surface - litter or any wind blown tree debris, twigs and leaves. Leaf debris can be a problem during the winter months. It is important to sweep and clear the leaves off the courts as an accumulation of wet leaves will damage the grass surface.
Machinery, repairs & maintenance: Frequency - daily or after use
Service and repair damaged machinery. Maintain material stocks and order any other consumables required.
Mowing: Frequency - as required
The mowing height on the courts should be maintained at a winter height of between 12-18mm. Mowing frequency will be dependant on a number of factors such as grass growth, sward type, level or standard of facility, resources (staff & machinery) but, generally, it may only need mowing on a weekly/fortnightly basis to keep tidy during the winter months.
Pest control: Frequency - as required
Worm treatments can be carried out if needed, but please remember to ask yourself why worms are present. Ph level, organic matter and your cultural practices on the square need to be assessed. Remove any casts by switching. Carbendazim is the only approved active ingredient available left to control worms. Comply to all safety data sheets when using this pesticide product.
Soil tests: Frequency - ideally once or twice a year, or as required.
Soil sampling is an important part of Groundsmanship. The results will enable the manager to have a better understanding of the current status of his soil and turf. There are many tests that can be undertaken, but usually the main tests to consider are:
- Particle Size Distribution (PSD) this will give you accurate information on the soil type and it's particle make up, enabling you to match up with appropriate top dressing materials and ensuring you are able to maintain a consistent hydraulic conductivity (drainage rate) of your soil profile.
- Soil pH, it is important to keep the soil at a pH of 5.5-6.5, a suitable level for most grass plants.
- Organic matter content, it is important to keep a balanced level of organic matter content in the soil profile.
- Nutrient Levels. Keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth.
Once you have this information you will be in a better position to plan your season's feeding and maintenance programmes.
Artificial Tennis Courts
Artificial grass systems: Inspect weekly:-
Keep surface clean with 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: Frequency - before and after matches:-
Keep surface clean, rolling to consolidate surface, levelling and brushing of fast dry materials, brushing to clean lines.
Clay courts: Frequency - weekly:-
Keep surface clean, regular sweeping and brushing to restore playing levels using a SISIS Trulute or similar equipment. Top dress any hollows or damaged areas. Repaint lines.
Tarmacadam: Frequency - weekly:-
Keep surfaces clean, regular sweeping and brushing. Repair any hollows or damaged areas. Repaint lines.
Moss and algae can be a serious problem on tarmac tennis courts, especially if the courts are situated next to trees and hedges, the shading and damp conditions create a favourable environment for moss and algae to grow.
Regular brushing and cleaning of the courts helps disturb the moss preventing it from taking hold. However, once established, the best methods of control are by a combination of Chemical and washing activities. Ideally, tarmacadam courts should be power washed annually to clean off the moss, slime and grime that has accumulated on the courts.
Chemical control requires spraying the moss when it is growing with a herbicide having an active ingredient of dichlorophen. There are many products available, notably Scotts Enforcer, Rigby Taylor's Mascot and Bayer's Super Mosstox.