Expected weather for this month:

Generally unsettled with seasonal average temperatures

Important things to keep an eye on in October will be night time temperatures, relative humidity and periods of leaf blade wetness. Warmth and available moisture are the keys to both grass and fungal pathogenic growth. If night time temperatures fall, growth rates will start to drop off, however lower night time temperatures will lead to heavier morning dews, prolonged periods of leaf blade wetness and increased risk of attack from fungi.

If your local conditions are at the drier end of the spectrum, water stress can quickly creep in, especially on windy days when evapotranspiration rates are higher. This is something which represents a particular risk to newly sown seed which may be in the initial stages of early germination and establishment.

Key Tasks for October

General Maintenance

Grass courts

  • Grass growth will have slowed down, but certainly not stopped altogether
  • Cut weekly, ensuring that you take no more than a third off in any one cut
  • Depending on the weather a cylinder mower may still be used, but it is more likely that a rotary mower will serve you just as well
  • Box clippings to avoid the spread of disease
  • Remove leaves and other debris as soon as possible

Artificial courts

  • 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 - keep surface clean, rolling to consolidate surface, levelling and brushing of fast dry materials, brushing to clean lines
  • Clay courts - regular sweeping and brushing to restore playing levels using SISIS Trulute or similar equipment. Topdress any hollows or damaged areas
  • Tarmacadam - regular sweeping and brushing. Repair any hollows or damaged areas

Before you start, take a core sample from each of your grass court to ascertain their current state. A visual inspection of the core will allow you to see the level of thatch/organic matter (OM) you have and to what depth.

Target OM levels:

0-20mm 6-8%

20-40mm 4-6%

40-60mm 2-4%

60-80mm 2-4%

An excess of OM will lead to poor hydraulic conductivity, soft putting surfaces, increased disease problems, loss of green speeds and poor all year round playability.

Appropriate renovation work will help reduce and control thatch / OM levels in your swards.

With air temperatures still averaging around 10-12°C in most parts of the country, seeding is still a viable option.

The recent spell of dry weather may have prompted disease attacks, with red thread, fusarium, leaf spot and fairy rings being common. Use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.

Prior to mowing, remove moisture from the grass surface. This will help to stop the spread of disease and improve the quality of cut.

End of Season Renovations

If you have not completed your renovations, here is a reminder of what you should be doing :-

Once the playing season is over, take down nets and post and store away; replace broken or damaged tennis nets and posts.

Get organised for your end of season renovations, ensure you have ordered your materials to arrive on time. Check equipment, ensuring it is ready for the work entailed. Check all belts and drives on the scarifiers.

If you are intending to use a contractor to do your work, confirm start dates and be clear they understand what level of work you want.

Do not skimp on the quality of seed and fertilisers. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. Just remember, it takes many years of research and development to bring many of our common materials to market.

It is important to ensure that all materials (seed, fertilisers, topdressings) and any hired machinery have arrived, and are secured and stored safely on site ready for use. Often, when ordering materials late, you may be faced with delays on delivery or not being able to get the products you want in time for your planned works.

Mow the sward, preparing surfaces for renovation. Lower cutting height to about 3-4mm to clean and prepare courts.

Scarification - depending on the severity of the thatch, you may need to scarify several times in different directions. However, in most cases, if regular verticutting/grooming has taken place during the growing season, you would probably only be required to scarify in two directions. Do not scarify at right angles to the previous scarification line. Depth of scarification between 4-15mm, depending on depth of thatch to remove.

The rotary mower can then be used to clean up the courts after scarifying has been completed.

Aerate to relieve compaction and encourage root development. Aeration is the decompaction of soil, improving air and gas exchange in the soil profile. Depending on the turf's condition, you can choose to carry out hollow or solid tine spiking. Hollow tines are generally used on a bi-annual basis or when you have a severe thatch problem. Depth of aeration will be determined by the depth of your soil profile and what problems you want to rectify. Hollow tining is best achieved to a depth of between 75-100mm. Solid or slit tines can be set to penetrate deeper, ideally between 100-200mm.

Topdressing restores levels and improves surface drainage. Ensure you use compatible topdressing materials, sands, sand/soil mixes. Spreading can be achieved by several methods, utilising pedestrian or ride-on, disc or drop action top spreaders, or by hand using a shovel and a barrow. Best carried out in dry weather. It is important that the topdressings are spread uniformly. Brush to incorporate dressings and to help the grass stand back up. Brush in with a lute or drag brush/mat to restore levels.

Overseeding restores grass populations. It is important to ensure a good groove or hole is made to receive the seed; good seed to soil contact is essential for germination. Good moisture and soil temperatures will see the seed germinate between 7-14 days.

Fertilising provides nutrients for grass growth. Apply a low N nitrogen fertiliser product, something like an NPK 5:5:15, to help the sward through the autumn period.

It is essential to keep the sward watered after renovations to ensure your seed germinates.

Cooling temperatures, shorter days and longer nights, and heavy dews inextricably lead to reduced recovery growth, fungal pathogens and worm casts. October truly is the middle of Autumn and the steady march towards winter gathers pace. That said, October can still throw up some sunnier and drier spells, not to mention vibrant autumn colour, so all is not lost for the month. It does undoubtedly represent a time of change for turf managers as the plants needs adjust with the environmental conditions.

Nutrition

Accordingly, nutrition geared towards growth should be placed on the back burner. Organic fertilisers are best phased out any time after the start of the month as the release of nitrogen is inhibited once soil temperatures fall below 10 ◦C.

Nitrogen, the key driver for growth, is in much lower demand within the plant and forcing growth with nitrogen has its risks, but it is important to maintain adequate potassium levels.

Traditionally, accepted wisdom has been preventative applications of iron sulphate throughout the autumn and winter. The latest research demonstrates that iron sulphate statistically performs no better than control when used in this manner and, when used curatively, only reduces disease by 40-50%. Furthermore, iron sulphate is acidic and, when applied to the leaf, can actually weaken the cell structure. Phosphite is a much better option to use in this manner and calcium is the element responsible for cell wall thickness, not iron. Hence, we should all be applying calcium in combination with phosphite to effectively guard against disease.

Silicate is utilised by grass plants to provide structural support to cells. When applied as a foliar plant feed, available forms of silicate will accumulate in the secondary cell walls, providing added protection to biotic (pathogen) and abiotic (environmental) stresses.

Aeration

Increasingly, we see greater extremes of weather and the main pressure during autumn across many areas of the country can be heavy rainfall.  Aeration ahead of prolonged periods of rain aids percolation rates, which helps to maintain appropriate soil/water ratios and which are important for microorganisms and plants alike. This aeration can take numerous forms, however a mix of deeper aeration from solid or hollow tines will facilitate water movement to deeper depths in the soil profile. This can be combined with frequent shallow sarel tine aeration, just into the surface, which has the benefit of aerating a large percentage of the surface area, aiding initial movement away from the surface.

It goes without saying that, whilst frequent aeration is important during wet conditions, it should only be undertaken when ground conditions allow, so to avoid surface damage and soil compaction.

Maintaining the soil water balance prevents hypoxia (deprivation of oxygen) and black layer due to sulphur metabolising anaerobic bacteria proliferating in low oxygen soils.

Penetrant wetting agents will aid water movement through profiles and are worth considering as another tool in the armoury.

Pest Control

Two main pest issues are causing pressure to turf managers currently. Insect pests, in the form of Leatherjackets and Chafer grubs, and worms.  Both sets of circumstances are due to the withdrawal of chemical pesticides.

In the case of the insect pests, we are in the second season without chemical controls. Some sites were caught out in spring 2017 due to missing preventative controls in late summer 2016. The control in question is Entomopathogenic nematodes, a natural native predator of the insect pests which have been proven, over many years, to be very effective when applied correctly; i.e. at the right time of the pest life cycle and in conditions conducive to beneficial nematode activity. 

The approach to managing pests with biological controls is multifaceted and requires a thoughtful prepared mindset. The Pitchcare articles library and the shop webpages provide a wealth of information on this subject to help you maximise your results.

The control of worms is a significant issue for turf managers, and the withdrawal of Carbendazim for their suppression earlier in the year means that this is the first time we enter the main worm season without any legal means of mitigating their effect. There are a number of products available on the market which are known to have effects on worms in a variety of ways; however, knowledge as to their effects on the environment, the grass plant rhizosphere and wider soil ecosystem are extremely limited to non-existent.

In some circumstances, we may have to consider cultural management combined with tolerance in the form of dispersal when dry, or localised acidification of rootzone surfaces. Consideration of controls which are sustainable in the long term is also important.

There are no easy or perfect answers to this situation, but turf managers should arm themselves with informed knowledge before taking decisions, especially where they feel they are employed by organisations who may not be overly sympathetic should the ultimate outcome of a decision be something unintended.

Disease

Disease management will be at the forefront of turf managers minds across the country. Whilst soil temperatures remain above 10◦C, systemic fungicides are still an option; otherwise, products with a contact action will be required.

Autumn/Winter 2017 is likely to mark the final season turf managers will be able to call upon the eradicative action of products containing the contact active Iprodione. For many years, this has been the go to active ingredient providing eradicative activity of numerous diseases. With this option removed, turf managers have to arm themselves with the knowledge and skills to manage surfaces to prevent against disease. One method in the integrated armoury for achieving this is via plant nutrition. In this regard, the main elements are calcium, phosphite, silicate.

Traditionally, accepted wisdom has been preventative applications of iron sulphate throughout the autumn and winter. The latest research demonstrates that iron sulphate statistically performs no better than control when used in this manner and, when used curatively, only reduces disease by 40-50%. Furthermore, iron sulphate is acidic and, when applied to the leaf, can actually weaken the cell structure. Phosphite is a much better option to use in this manner and calcium is the element responsible for cell wall thickness, not iron. Hence, we should all be applying calcium in combination with phosphite to effectively guard against disease.

Silicate is utilised by grass plants to provide structural support to cells. When applied as a foliar plant feed, available forms of silicate will accumulate in the secondary cell walls, providing added protection to biotic (pathogen) and abiotic (environmental) stresses.

With some machines not currently being used, take the time to carry out an overhaul or send them away for a service.

  • Inspect and clean machinery before putting away for the winter
  • Replace worn and damaged parts as necessary
  • Empty fuel tanks as petrol will go stale over winter
  • Maintain a stock of consumables for your machinery
  • Secure machinery nightly with good storage facilities and strong locks
  • Record makes and models and take pictures of your equipment as additional reference
  • Don’t leave it to the last minute when servicing dealers will be very busy

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.

We have one day LANTRA accredited LINEMARKING COURSES being held:

Wednesday 18th October, East Harling, Norwich, NR16 2NB

More information

Some of the other 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 on our new Grounds Training website, or you can email Chris Johnson for information.