It is surprising how quickly the ground can dry up in May. Heavy clay and clay loam soils will begin to crack if left to dry out, and this is the last thing you want to happen to a natural turf tennis court. It will be imperative to get some water on the courts to prevent the soils drying and the grass plant suffering from heat stress.
After lower than average temperatures through late April, the weather for May continues to look rather uncertain, although the most likely scenario is for areas of low pressure to move in from the Atlantic, generally to the northwest of the UK. This means that the most unsettled and windiest weather is likely in the north and northwest with showers, or longer spells of rain, interspersed by shorter, drier and sunnier periods. The south and southeast, however, should see longer, drier, sunnier periods with shorter spells of rain or showers.
After a cold start, temperatures should become nearer average through this period, so snow and overnight frost will become increasingly unlikely and confined only to the hills of the far north.
Key Tasks for May
Rolling will be a priority; it is important to build up the rolling frequencies and gradually increase the weight to achieve maximum consolidation. However, it is important to note that we do not want to over roll or adversely compact the soil to the detriment of root growth, surface water drainage and active microbial populations.
Firstly, roll across the court 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".
Other regular tasks include:
- Initial marking out of the grass courts, using the 3,4,5 method to ensure the lines are square and accurate. Ensure you use approved line marking paint for the line marking machine.
- Feed the sward with a spring/summer fertiliser product to maintain colour and vigour.
Mowing will be one of your main tasks during May, ideally at least 2-3 times a week, or even daily if you have the time and resources. However, this frequency will be dependent on a number of factors - grass growth, sward type, level or standard of facility, resources (staff and machinery).
Cutting height should be coming down towards 8-9mm (tournament height). Inspect the sward before mowing to remove any debris. Stones or sticks can damage bottom blades and cutting cylinders. Poorly adjusted mowers will result in poor presentation and damage to the grass plant, making the plant more prone to disease.
Fertiliser treatments and turf tonics 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.
In May, you would be using a 13:5:10 fertiliser or similar or, towards the end of the month, apply a slow release fertiliser to see you through June and July. However, the choice of material and how well it works can be dependent on factors such as soil type, weather etc., with moisture and soil temperature being the catalyst for growth.
Particle Size Distribution (PSD). During May, you can continue to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis, thus enabling you to get them back in time to start your new season'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.
Leather jackets and chafers are fairly prevalent at the moment. Merit can still be applied if people have it in stock, but it can be tricky to get a good kill when the grubs are at this stage of development.
As soils warm up, there may be some symptoms of plant parasitic nematode activity. There are two categories of nematode which will infect grass plants; Ectoparasitic which migrate along the outside of roots and feed accordingly on root cells and Endoparasitic nematodes which enter the root tissue and feed on the plants in these areas.
Be vigilant for the following symptoms:
• Yellowing and thinning of the turf
• Reduced turf vigour
• Premature wilt
• Turfgrass that is slow to recover from stress
• Turfgrass that does not respond to fertilisation
Biomass Sugar will assist in returning balance to the soil and reducing plant stress associated from parasitic nematode attack.
Microdochium patch may also pop up as temperatures increase, particularly if the warmth occurs in conjunction with humidity and moisture on the leaf for prolonged periods. Systemic fungicides can be considered but only as a last option. IF grass is growing well and then the disease may well just bubble under the surface and the grass will outgrow it.
Please note: More information on these and many others can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php
Continue to keep on top of machinery maintenance:
- Inspect and clean after use
- Remember to check air filters
- Inspect and reset mowing blades on cylinder mowers to ensure they remain sharp
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
More details about all the courses can be found here, or you can email Chris Johnson for information.
Drainage: Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. Renew or repair any damaged or problematic drainage systems.
Tennis structures: Inspect stored posts, nets, seating and notice/score boards. Replace with new equipment if required. Repair any damaged fencing.
Litter: 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.