Having come through a wet and mild December, many parts of the country have experienced periods of heavy rainfall which has resulted in saturated ground conditions. 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 while the ground remains in this condition.
However, 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.
Howerver, we must be aware that the weather can change quite quickly in Janauary, we may even get some snow and frost depending on which part of the country you are in.
It is important, after a period of snow cover, to be on the lookout for any turf grass diseases, particularly Fusarium and snow mould. The change in temperatures and the fact that snow cover can act as an incubator is often the catalyst for disease outbreaks.
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.
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, preventing anaerobic conditions prevailing. The surface is kept open by a programme of aeration techniques, varying the type and size of tines used.
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.
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.
January 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 done 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.
Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis service that enable you to get specific results for the soils you manage. Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants. There is an optimum for each plant nutrient and, when coupled with other properties such as soil structure and particle sizes, determine how vigorous your plants are. Different nutrients undertake different tasks within the plant.
Generally, no fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some groundstaff may apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant. Soil temperatures should and will begin to rise towards the end of February/early March, enabling the grass plant to make use of any fertilisers being applied. The grass plant's transpiration/respiration rates need to be active to initiate movement of soluble solutions from the soil into and through the plant's tissue.
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.
Pests and disease may still be prevalent, especially after a period of snow or changing weather. Continue to keep the sward dry by regular brushing/caning the dew off the courts in the mornings. Preventative fungicide spraying may be necessary to control these diseases.
It often pays to use a selection of these products over time, rather than constantly using the same product year after year, as the disease can become resistant to the formulation, if continually used.
Ideally, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies should be employed to deter disease attack in turf. IPM is all about putting into place good working practices that reduce and prevent the conditions that support and initiate turf diseases; and integrating a number of cultural practices that can break up the disease cycle and promote healthy, more vigorous growing turf, which in turn promotes a healthy sward than can be more resistant to disease attack.
Increased soil moisture can often lead to an increase in worm activity. Regular switching of the greens will help disperse their casts. However, if the infestation is large, you may need to apply some Carbendazim to supress the worm populations. Some Groundsmen and Greenkeepers use brushes to remove casts but, in wet conditions, this can lead to smearing.
Service and repair damaged machinery. Maintain material stocks and order any other consumables required.
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 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.
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.