Having come through one of wettest and mildest Decembers on record, it is no wonder ground conditions are near to saturated, especially heavy clay soils.
Heavy soils are prone to flooding, once saturated, and care should be taken not damage the playing surfaces whilst carrying out any maintenance tasks. It is best not to attempt any work whilst the ground remains in this condition.
Some localised aeration (hand forking ) will help to remove surface water from your playing surfaces. Once the ground begins to dry out, the courts will benefit from some mechanical aeration, preferably using a pedestrian solid tine punch aerator to get some air back into the soil profile.
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 5-8 degrees C, there will be little or no likelihood of any grass growth until the spring. Also, these mild, wet conditions may have increased the incidence of some disease outbreak, particularly fusarium and red thread.
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?
Key Tasks for January
Daily brushing will help disperse early morning dews and help dry out the sward, 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.
The sward should be maintained at its winter height of cut, between 12-18mm. The use of a rotary mower is ideal for topping off and, at the same time, cleaning up any surface debris.
For shallow aeration, the use of a sarell 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.
Generally, no fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some groundstaff do apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant.
January and February is a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis, thus enabling you to get them back in time to start your new year's maintenance.
Ideally, if you have not had one done before, you should have a full (PSD) Particle Size Distribution soil analysis to tell you the actual make up of your soil profile.
Soil is made up of percentages of clay, silt and sand. The PSD Analysis will identify the ratio of these and confirm soil type, thus giving you a better understanding of what soil you are dealing with. Also, you can establish the amount of organic matter (OM) content as well as soil nutrient status and soil pH. With this information, you will be able to identify the needs of your soil.
Keep and eye open for fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Early morning dew on playing surfaces often promotes the chance of disease attack; regular brushing off the dew will help prevent this.
Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery. Do not forget there are other ways of getting equipment for a particular job, such as hiring or borrowing from another local sports club.
Remember to get your machinery serviced and sharpened.
As for material supplies, check stock levels and re-order as necessary, take the opportunity to research new materials, compare costs and seek better deals on products and services.
Pitchcare provide a range of courses suitable for tennis clubs. In most cases, the courses can be held on site using the club's own equipment and machinery.
Some of the courses available are:
Chainsaws - CS30 and CS31
H&S Refresher Training on Combined Turf Care Equipment; Tractors and Trailers; All Mowers (Ride-on and Pedestrian)
Machinery Courses on ATVs; Tractors: Brushcutters/Strimmers; Mowers (ride-on and Pedestrian)
Pesticide Application (PA courses)
Stem Injection of Invasive Species (Japanese Knotweed etc.)
Basic Trees Survey and Inspection
Inspect stored posts, nets, seating and notice/scoreboards. Replace with new equipment, if required. Repair any damaged fencing.
Inspect and remove debris from playing surfaces - 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.
Service and repair damaged machinery. Maintain material stocks and order any other consumables required.
Artificial tennis surfaces also need attention. Regular brushing is essential to keep them clean and free from contaminations. Sand filled/dressed carpet systems also require regular brushing to keep them clean and to 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.