Tennis1.jpgSoil and air temperatures will soon rise once we get a few hours of bright March sunshine. Surfaces will hopefully dry out allowing you the opportunity to get on with your planned spring work.

The present condition of the courts will also have a bearing on what maintenance operations you should be doing. Coming out of this unseasonal wet and mild winter weather, there will be many clubs suffering from a build up of moss and algae problems.

Mosses are primitive non-flowering plants that have no root structure and rely on there being sufficient moisture in the environment for reproduction and survival. The majority of mosses are tolerant of acidic conditions and are stimulated by wet humid conditions. Rapid colonisation of moss and algaes usually occur during autumn and winter months when turf surfaces are lying wet and saturated for long periods of time, particularly when little or no aeration has been undertaken.

Remember, moss is the symptom of poor grass growth and not the cause of it. If you make sure you have a tightly knit sward next year and have maximised drainage with plenty of regular aeration you should not have to deal with moss at all.

If you are saddled with a turf situation that has a lot of moss present, there will be a requirement to kill the moss off.

The only product now available to control moss in turf is sulphate of iron (Ferrous Sulphate), it is relatively cheap and effective. It can be applied in a liquid or granular formulation. The granular form is usually mixed with sand to provide a carrier for the active ingredient. Apply at recommended rates.

When using lawn sands it is important you use a compatible sand product that matches your rootzone soil profile. You do not want to create a layering problem. Some club Groundsmen may not entertain the use of lawn sand as they do not want to introduce a sand medium into the clay based soil structure.

For tennis courts I would recommend you apply the sulphate of iron in a liquid form; you will have better control over application rates.

For best results:-

· Apply when the turf is actively growing and the soil is moist

· Mow 3 days before treatment and do not mow for three days after treatment

· Water after 2 days if no rain forecast.

· Rake out dead moss thoroughly 7-14 days after treatment

· Re-treatment may be necessary for heavy infestations

Any bare or sparse areas can be lightly tilthed, over seeded and topdressed with a sand/soil rootzone mix. Cover with germination sheets to promote quicker growth.

It will be important to keep an eye out for disease attack, rye grasses can be prone to red thread especially when under nourished. The turf will be under stress coming out of the winter period and will need an application of a spring fertiliser to stimulate growth and improve colour.

It will be important to carry out some aeration to aid surface water drainage, the use of a sarrel roller or some micro tines will aid and speed up water infiltration.

Care should be taken when carrying out these operations; aerating during the wrong conditions (when saturated) can do more harm than good.

The weather usually improves significantly from mid March when drying winds and outbreaks of warm sunshine become more regular (hopefully). In such conditions an application of spring fertilisers is recommended to help stimulate grass growth. Ideally, you should conduct a soil analysis to confirm the nutrient status of your soil and buy an appropriate fertiliser product to suit your requirements.

Brushing the courts daily will help keep the sward dry and improve air circulation around the grass plant, thus reducing the likelihood or incidence of disease attack.

March will also see an increase in mowing frequencies from once to 2-3 times a week depending on growth. It is vital that the mowing machines cutting cylinders are kept sharp and set to correct heights of cut. Poorly cut swards will stress out the grass plant, resulting in poor colour, vigour and verdure.

Remember to check that your tennis equipment posts and nets are in good order, replace any damaged equipment.Tennis2.jpg

Your artificial courts will also need some remedial works to bring them into play for the new season. This will be in the form of brushing and cleaning off any surface debris that has accumulated during the winter period. There may also be a need to apply a herbicide product to kill off any algae, moss or weeds that may be found on the courts and surrounds.

Heavily contaminated sand dressed or sand filled carpet playing surfaces may lead to flooding. It is important to address these issues quickly to prevent any further deterioration of the courts.

Repair any damaged fence lines, particularly chain link fences; once they become damaged they easily lose shape and form. Also, remember to have your floodlights serviced by a competent electrician who will provide you with the necessary certificates for use.

Most of the tasks detailed can be undertaken within a limited budget. Local conditions and circumstances will need to be taken into account.

Natural Grass Tennis Courts

Aeration:- When conditions allow. Hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, (varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan) Use small/needle tines or slits (penetration down to 100mm), regular use of a sarrell roller will aid surface drainage.

Brushing/Sweeping:- Prior to mowing, the surface should be thoroughly brushed, every time. Continue to brush courts daily to remove moisture from the grass surface, stopping the spread of disease and facilitating an improved quality of cut on the dry grass.

Drainage:- Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working.

Diseases:- Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.

Fertiliser programme:- If grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured). 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.

Frost:- Be aware, there is still a chance of ground frosts occurring in March, keep off the playing surface during frost.

Inspect Tennis structures:- Check and repair fences, tennis posts, and nets.

Litter/debris:- Inspect and remove debris, litter or any wind blown tree debris from playing surface.

Machinery/(Repairs & Maintenance):- Inspect and clean machinery after use, service and repair damaged machinery, prepare machinery ready for new mowing season.

Materials Inspection:- Estimate and order seed, loams and fertilisers for forthcoming season.

Mowing:- The mowing height on the courts should be lowered to around 12mm by the end of March, 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.

Pest control:- Worm treatments can be carried out if needed, but please remember to ask yourself why you have worms? Ph level, organic matter and your tennis germination sheetscultural practices need to be assessed.

Rolling:- If rolling hasn't started, then this should be initiated no later than the middle of the month, again subject to local conditions. Firstly, roll across the line of play to settle frost heave, 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 affect. Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil be in a state of plasticity, or "plasticine". Gradually build up roller weight by moving on to the next size of cylinder mower and so on. Consolidation is your aim and the quality of pre season rolling will show when you produce your early season courts.

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; alongside brushing, this will improve the quality of cut.

Seed bare and worn areas on courts when conditions allow:- Seeding sparse or bare areas can be continued; any tennis.jpgrise in soil/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 manufacturers recommendations on sand levels and pile heights.

Clay Courts:- Keep surface clean, regular sweeping and brushing to restore playing levels using Sisis Trulute or similar equipment. Topdress any hollows or damaged areas. Repaint lines.

Tarmacadam:- Keep surfaces clean, regular sweeping and brushing. Repair any hollows or damaged areas. Repaint lines.