Expected weather for this month:

Unseasonable mild spells forecast, interspersed with cold snaps

Key Tasks for December

Grass courts

  • grass growth will have slowed down, but certainly not stopped altogether, so you should continue to cut weekly, ensuring that you take no more than a third off in any one cut
  • a cylinder mower may still be used, but it is more likely that a rotary mower will serve you better
  • box clippings to avoid the spread of disease
  • remove leaves and other debris as soon as possible – a rotary mower does a good job

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

  • carry out regular sweeping and brushing to restore playing levels
  • topdress any hollows or damaged areas

Tarmacadam

  • carry out regular sweeping and brushing
  • repair any hollows or damaged areas

With many clubs allowing and, indeed encouraging, play on their artificial surfaces through the winters months (when weather conditions allow) it is imperative that these courts are completely free from moss, algae, leaves or anything else that might pose a slip hazard.

Remember – that the sun is at its lowest in December and daylight hours are at their shortest, so any shade problems you have will be exacerbated. These areas tend to take longer to warm up and dry out which, in turn, may affect maintenance operations and playability.

The weather forecast for December is for fluctuations. Periods of unseasonably mild weather interspersed with cold snaps. Nothing too prolonged is predicted over the course of the month, particularly with respects to cold spells which are more likely to occur throughout January and February once the storage heater effect of the North Sea’s residual summer heat has receded, such that it can no longer have a warming affect upon cold easterly air streams moving across the British Isles.

It is likely to be a roller coaster month of peaks in growing potential for both grass plant and fungal pathogen alike, followed by dips of activity, first in the plant and then in the fungal pathogen as temperatures fall.

Looking at the pros and cons of each scenario they can broadly be summed up thus:

Warmer Period

Pros: If soil temperatures rise above 10 degrees Celsius, then good growth will promote recovery on disease scars and worn areas, as well as push along seeded areas following renovation events during early autumn.

Cons: Warmer conditions which promote growth can encourage fungal diseases, especially when they occur alongside high relative humidity and low air movement.

Colder Period

Pros: Once temperatures drop to zero or below, fungal diseases will also draw to a halt.

Cons: Grass growth stops once soil temperatures hit low single figures, thus reducing recovery and establishment growth. In addition, cold conditions place an abiotic stress demand on the plant leaf tissues.

Sitting somewhere between warmer and colder are what can be defined as cooler periods where temperatures sit between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius. It is these periods when the grass plants metabolic systems are beginning to grind to a halt, but the fungal pathogens systems are still driving onward so that surfaces are at high risk of becoming infected with diseases such as Microdochium nivale.

Following the withdrawal from use of iprodione in June of this year, and consequently the formulations Chipco Green and Interface, this disease season marks the first year turf mangers are faced without a fungicide which will target visibly active Microdochium nivale and stop it in its tracks. Instead, the active substances available need to be applied to surfaces before the disease is active, none more so than the active substance Fludioxonil.

Fludioxonil is an antisporulant which acts upon dormant spores on the plant surface and in the rootzone. Fludioxonil interferes with the water pressure in fungal spores causing them to burst and die before prevailing environmental conditions are suitable for promoting their germination. Due to the fact that it does this outside of the plant's physical structure, Fludioxonil does not have a systemic action which requires plant metabolic function to become effective. Rather, Fludioxonil operates outside the plant when it comes into direct contact with dormant fungal spores. 

Understanding the basic principle of a relatively straightforward mechanism by which an active substance operates upon a fungal pathogen (Fludioxonil makes dormant spores burst) allows for greater consideration of effective application timing. For example; given this knowledge, it is clear that an application of Fludioxonil once spores have germinated and then infected a plant, thereby causing visible signs of damage, is somewhat akin to bolting the proverbial door once the horse has bolted.

On the flip side, an application of Fludioxonil prior to an outbreak of fungal disease – as the result of reference to historical records and checking of upcoming weather patterns and forecasts which indicate disease is highly likely to occur – would serve to remove dormant spores eagerly lying in wait for conditions to favour them.

Additionally, combining the antisporulant action of Fludioxonil alongside the plant cell wall-strengthening action of foliar calcium would further help to fight off disease by providing the plant itself with the resources it requires to bolster its defences.

Finally; combining these actions with good old-fashioned principles of aeration, to allow the soil to respire, and dew removal to inhibit the fungal pathogens ability to grow and infect across the leaf surface, and you have before you the core fundamentals of an Integrated Pest Management Plan for combating fungal diseases on sports turf in December.  

One quick word on soil water management, where surfaces are prone to water logging; then consider the use of a penetrant wetting agent to drive moisture away from the surface; not only will this reduce surface humidity, helping to mitigate pathogen attack, it will also allow the soil to maintain effective respiration which reduces stress on the plant and helps to maintain populations of beneficial microorganisms.

Finally, be sure to investigate areas which were dry in the summer; do not presume moisture will have yet penetrated at depth, and consider that if not sufficiently rehydrated over the winter, soils will start drier in the spring. Should another dry summer come to pass, the onset of water stress will become apparent sooner, again a penetrant wetting agent will help to alleviate this problem.

When looking back at weather records over the past forty-five years, summer 2018 may be considered something of a freak occurrence; however, inspection of weather records over the past five to ten years indicates such extremes are becoming more and more common. The lesson then is not to presume spring and summer 2019 will not be similar to 2018, it may very well turn out that way.

As always prior consideration and then adequate preparation for a range of potential extreme scenarios is paramount to maximising sustained quality of turf surfaces throughout any given year.

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.

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.

 

Other Key Tasks

  • repair and maintain fence lines
  • cut back any hedges and trees and prune shrubs
  • take down and store all tennis equipment, ensuring that it is clean and dry before doing so
  • repair/update equipment as necessary

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