Key Tasks for March
Pre-playing preparations can now begin with the news that outdoor sports can resume at the end of March.
All maintenance work will be determined by your local soil and weather conditions. Some courts will be waterlogged, with some of the artificial surfaces possibly damaged by the rain and standing water.
Mowing should be delayed until surfaces have dried out, and hopefully becoming more frequent as the grass begins to grow, aiming for 2-3 cuts per week in April. Any increased mowing regime helps stimulate the grass plant and helps thicken up the sward.
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.
Usually, these renovation revolve around some light scarification work, which helps remove any dead moss and unwanted thatch, aeration, topdressing and overseeding.
Moss is generally the main problem at this time of year. Mosses are primitive non-flowering plants that have no root structure and rely on there being sufficient moisture in the environment for reproduction and survival. The majority of mosses are tolerant of acidic conditions and are stimulated by wet humid conditions. Rapid colonisation of moss and algaes usually occur during autumn and winter months when turf surfaces are lying wet and saturated for long periods of time, particularly when little or no aeration has been undertaken.
Remember, moss is the symptom of poor grass growth, and not the cause of it. If you make sure you have a tightly knit sward next year, and have maximised drainage with plenty of regular aeration, you should not have to deal with moss at all.
Daily brushing will help disperse early morning dews and help dry out the sward, thus 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 to keep the the top 50mm of the soil profile free draining, this is achieved by keeping the surface open to allow gaseous exchange, thus preventing anaerobic conditions prevailing. The surface is kept open by a programme of aeration techniques, varying the type and size of tines used.
With regard to aeration practices, any deep aeration of the courts should have been completed in January, so as not to incur problems later in the year. Deep aeration carried out in late March can lead to the tine holes/slits remaining in the soil profile well into the playing season, which can cause some surface deterioration when the clay soils begin to dry out.
Sarel rollers can still be used to keep the top 20-45mm open to aid surface water drainage.
There may still be some bare or thin sward areas; these can be oversown when weather conditions improve; the use of germination sheets will greatly improve success rates.
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.
American Fast Dry courts: Keep surface clean, rolling to consolidate surface, levelling and brushing of fast dry materials, brushing to clean lines.
Tarmac Courts: Now is a good time to clean your tarmacadam playing surfaces. Ideally, it pays to power wash the courts surface to remove any debris, moss and algae that will have accumulated and deposited itself on the courts during the winter months. Be careful when washing, using a too powerful washer can result in surface damage.
Keep surfaces clean, regular sweeping and brushing. Repair any hollows or damaged areas. Repaint lines.
Moss and algae can be a serious problem on tarmac tennis courts, especially if the courts are situated next to trees and hedges, the shading and damp conditions create a favourable environment for moss and algae to grow. Regular brushing and cleaning of the courts helps disturb the moss preventing it from taking hold. However, once established, the best methods of control are by a combination of chemical and washing activities. You should use approved chemical products when treating algae problems - Moss and Algae treatment
Clay courts: Keep surface clean, regular sweeping and brushing to restore playing levels using SISIS Trulute or similar equipment. Topdress any hollows or damaged areas. Repaint lines.
I started last month’s diary looking towards the weather hopefully starting to improve by the end of February, and thankfully it has. However, that doesn’t mean we can ignore the poor weather that has been before. The cold continued from the end of January and well into February with more freezing temperatures and snow cover, meaning prolonged issues for turf managers. Fortunately, the temperatures started to rise at the back end, and it felt like the ‘false spring’ had arrived. This has allowed many turf mangers to get some much-needed work carried out on surfaces. Although not the typical time to carry out ‘extensive’ work, there are many examples of success with utilising this method. There are undoubtedly though, also some examples of this being unsuccessful and highlights the point that everyone has different circumstances and we must try and do what is best for our turf on our site.
March’s forecast looks unsettled, which is typical for this time of year. The start of the month, moving towards the middle, looks fairly settled with sunshine and showers, combined with favourable daytime temperatures, which should be encouraging for early season growth and recovery. The predicted night-time lows will restrict any great increases in growth potential and therefore fertiliser applications should be made with this in mind, with caution at making unnecessary applications of excessive nitrogen. Then towards the back end of the month it is forecast to be unsettled with multiple days of rainfall predicted. This coincides nicely (not) with the upcoming commencement of outdoor sports, following the government’s latest COVID-19 lockdown restrictions update, allowing organised adult’s and children’s sport to take place from the 29th March, which will be welcomed by us all I’m sure.
Although I can imagine everyone is desperate to get back to doing the things they most enjoy, such as participating in sport, the date given allows turf managers some time to prepare for the return of sporting activities. The plant will have been under considerable stress, given that the ground in many locations has been saturated for some time and has undergone periods of snow and frozen ground. With the return to play approaching, many will look to carry out maintenance work that would typically be done later in spring, with a view to minimise any disruption; here the key is striking the balance to ensure there will be adequate recovery from the work carried out in time for when play returns. If this isn’t likely, then planning the work when conditions will be more favourable, with decent soil temperatures and more daylight hours, is a reasonable approach.
Selecting the ‘right’ fertiliser at this time of year is critical to ensure that the turf is encouraged to recover from the stresses of the winter, without unnecessarily trying to force growth that just isn’t realistic if the environmental conditions aren’t advantageous. This will give the turf a gentle wake up and help ensure optimal turf health moving through spring. The type of Nitrogen source(s) within the fertiliser will play a major role in this selection;
The nitrogen available from potassium nitrate or calcium ammonium nitrate, for example, is freely available for plants to take up, and for this reason it can be useful where rapid or immediate growth is required. This also makes it particularly useful in the winter and early spring where its availability can stimulate growth under colder conditions. Nitrate is highly mobile and will reach plant roots quickly providing an almost instant nutrient supply.
The ammonium form of nitrogen is typically used in the amenity industry as ammonium sulphate, also called diammonium sulphate or sulphuric acid diammonium salt. Fertilisers containing nitrogen in the ammonium form provide a readily available form of nitrogen and this also makes it particularly good in cool conditions with average to low growth potential, as grass will utilise nitrogen in both the ammonium and nitrate forms, its ability to fix to soil minerals makes it less mobile than nitrate. In warmer conditions, microbes will rapidly begin to convert ammonium to nitrate in the process of nitrification.
After application, urea first needs to be broken down by naturally occurring enzymes called urease to ammonium before it can be utilised effectively by the grass. As this process occurs rapidly in warmer temperatures, the grass is provided with an easily available source of nitrogen, although it becomes more limited during the colder winter months when growth potential is lower. The ease at which urea becomes soluble also makes it both an ideal liquid fertiliser and granular product. However, during the process of transformation, during the warmer temperatures of the summer months, urea can be prone to volatilization losses and this can make it less efficient than stabilised forms of this nitrogen source.
Urea Formaldehyde (Methylene Urea)
This is an example of a long release source of urea nitrogen fertilizer. Urea formaldehyde’s rate of decomposition into carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia gas (NH3) is determined by the action of microbes found naturally in most soils. The activity of these microbes, and therefore, the rate of nitrogen release, is temperature dependent. The optimum temperature for microbe activity is approximately 70-90 °F (approximately 20-30 °C) making this an ideal choice during high levels of growth potential.
An organic fertiliser is composed of natural materials derived from animals and plants, but they may also be from mined minerals e.g. rock phosphate. Relying on natural biological and chemical processes, nutrient content tends to be lower, less exacting and released much slower than conventional fertiliser products. However, many amenity fertilisers are also a blend of inorganic and organic forms and provide a broader range of benefits with regards to nutrient availability and soil microbiology.
Applications of biostimulants will be beneficial to the plant and soil as the rate of photosynthesis starts to increase, so will the requirement of energy from the plant. Therefore, applications of carbon in the form of simple and complex sugars can act as an energy supply for the plant and help reduce any stress from any maintenance works carried out. As the soil becomes more active with temperatures increasing, the carbon will act as a food source for the soil microbes and increase soil activity. Poa annua seed head development can start early and this is also a big consumer of the plant’s energy. Applying a plant growth regulator early to suppress the development of seed heads can help re-direct this energy away from seed head production into other plant development processes.
As we head into March, we move ever closer to hearing the synonymous ‘buzz’ of summer from the humble bumble bee. But as more and more species are becoming extinct or highly endangered, will this sound always be around in the future? There are numerous campaigns running nationwide to ensure the future of the bumble bee. Remember, one in three mouthfuls rely on pollinators, therefore if we can encourage the environments which they thrive in, we can help protect their and our futures. Spring is the perfect time to sow a wildflower mix and they can really transform areas into a bio-diversity haven that is also great to look at and enjoy.
- Check and service any floodlighting systems; ensuring they are ready for the new playing season.
- It also important to replace any worn tines on your aeration equipment.
- Clean out the shed, sell off any old machinery and dispose of any junk that’s clogging up the shed.