Key Tasks for April
It's good to be back out on the courts; however, please continue to follow government guidelines.
Hopefully, most of your aeration operations were completed during the winter period. Generally, we do not aerate clay soil profiles after January, as we do not want to encourage cracking of the clay surfaces. However, if there is a need to help remove surface water from the courts, we can utilise the sarrel roller which lightly aerates the top 25-30mm, allowing any surface water to drain down deeper into the soil profile. Carry out the following regular tasks:
- Continue to roll the courts
- Fortnightly light scarification or verticutting
- Seed sparse or bare areas
Rolling. It is essential to carry out an effective rolling programme in April. Continue to roll the courts, firstly across the line of play, 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.
Mowing. The mowing height on the courts should be lowered to around 8-10mm for the playing season, but remember not to remove more than 1/3 of total grass height in each cut.
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 which, together with brushing, will improve the quality of cut.
- Ensure drainage outfalls, channels and ditches are clear
- Inspect stored posts, nets, seating and notice/score boards
- Inspect and remove debris from playing surface
- Regular sweeping and brushing
- Repair any hollows or damaged areas
- Repaint lines
Looking back to last April, when we were starting off on the journey we have all been on over the last 12 months, thoughts were very much towards the unknown. Which seems in stark contrast to the current situation, certainly for those who manage sports surfaces. Since the announcements were made detailing the plans for a gradual lifting of restrictions and the commencement of some outdoor sports from the 29th March, turf managers up and down the country have been working tirelessly to get facilities into excellent condition for the return of their sport. The level of work which has been undertaken has been phenomenal and so have been the standards produced. Everyone has had their own set of circumstances, regarding staff levels, budgets etc… but the sheer level of professionalism to provide the best possible conditions is a credit to everyone in the industry.
Looking ahead to the long-term forecast, the predicted temperature increases for the end of March (mid-twenties in some southern regions) unfortunately don’t look set to continue long into April. Temperatures throughout April appear to be fairly conservative with only 2 days predicted to be 15° or above, a further key factor here is that night temperatures are also remaining low, with 23 out of 30 days at 4° or below. This is reflected in the daily growth potential sharply dropping off from around 75% to below 25% from the 1st up to April 7th. This contrasts with last year, at the beginning of the first lockdown, where we experienced excellent weather for the time of year.
The cold nights forecast around this point in the month will mean soil temperatures remain relatively modest and will not make a huge jump forward. Towards the end of the month, the night-time temperatures are predicted to rise, with the last 6 days all around 8°. This will have a positive impact on growth potential and, dependant on the forecast for May, could be the start of consistent growth.
With this is mind, plant stress is going to be a key part of turf management this month; particularly for those who have increased maintenance practices over the last month in preparation for the commencement of play, cultural aeration and top-dressing work followed by fertilisation to encourage recovery. The added stress of wear on top of the changing temperatures will lead to plant stress. The cooler temperatures indicate that growth will be moderate and therefore nutritional inputs need to follow on from this information. Trying to force continued growth is not recommended as it can lead to further issues. Instead, look to support the existing growth by applying small inputs of nutrition when conditions are suitable and additional inputs of plant health promoting products, to alleviate some of the added stresses.
Keeping disruption to a minimum over the coming weeks will be a focus for many turf mangers not wanting to have too much of an impact on playing surfaces. However, when thinking about the additional stresses the plant will be put under, continuing to carry out some light maintenance is recommended. Light aeration work will allow for the gaseous exchange and will also aid the movement of water down the profile. This will be most beneficial should there be a period of dry weather, which in recent years has not been un-common for April. Wetting agents can also be a useful tool in this regard, to ensure even distribution of moisture through the profile. They can be used periodically, but prevention can be better than the cure, and starting early in the season ahead of any prolonged dry periods can have a positive effect on plant health.
Given as of the 28th March we entered British Summer Time (BST), temperatures increase (maybe not until towards the end of the month) and daylight hours increase. This gives the plant more opportunity to carry out photosynthesis; more photosynthesis means more growth. Applications of simple sugars and carbohydrates can provide the plant with a readily available supply of energy, which can be much needed at a time when growth is commencing and can assist in reducing any additional stress. As can choosing an appropriate fertiliser with a suitable nitrogen source for the time of year. If growth is not strong because of environmental conditions, applications in small amounts of readily available nitrogen can be used to keep a constant but low supply of nutrition, which supports healthy growth. Alternatively, a granular application with a portion of slow release technology could be used, which will provide nutrition gradually over a longer period, depending on the environmental conditions. Typically, part of the formulation will depend on microbial activity to break down the technology to urea which, once converted via further processes to ammonium and nitrate, can be taken up by the plant.
Biostimulants applied at the right time will be beneficial to the plant and soil. Applications of seaweed will elicit important beneficial defensive and stress responses in the plant and associated micro-organisms, when applied ahead of disease activity, before conditions favour its development. Amino acids play an important role in abiotic stress tolerance, helping plants to prepare for and cope with additional stresses such as varying changes in temperature and volumetric water content. As the level of nutrient applications increase, as we head into the growing season, applications of Humates can assist in maximising nutrient availability as well as stimulating and providing habitable zones for beneficial bacteria.
Pests such as leather jackets and chafer grubs will continue in their life cycles. Therefore, maintaining observations as part of your Integrated Pest Management plan will be crucial for timing operations later in the season. If damage is currently an issue, sheeting can be used to draw the pests out of the ground, which can then be physically removed. This method is being deployed by many turf managers as a method to reduce pest populations, whilst chemical control methods are restricted.
You should have had your mower serviced and sharpened ready for the new season.
- Inspect machinery and equipment
- Clean after use
- Remember to check air filters
- Inspect and reset mowing blades on cylinder mowers to ensure they remain sharp