Another unsettled month ahead, according to the forecasters. However, the grass has been growing steadily for most of February thanks to some mild weather so, hopefully, you will be able to get onto the courts for some necessary pre-season work.
Priority work for the start of the month is to aerate the court to help gaseous exchanges and increase water infiltration through the soil profile; an application of iron sulphate will help improve colour and kill any moss that has established during the winter months, some clubs apply a lawn sand to kill the moss.
You will need to ensure your mowers are ready for the start of the season, serviced, sharpened and ready to go. Check your height of cut, you do not want to be cutting too low; some clubs may even use pedestrian rotaries to help clean up the court and carry out their initial cuts.
Ensure you brush the dew off the courts before cutting, this helps reduce the amount of water on the leaf blade, a dry leaf cuts better than a wet one. This can be done by dragging a hose pipe, a dragmat or dragbrush or a switching cane.
Key Tasks for March
With soil temperatures warming up, it is important to get some spring fertiliser on to stimulate some early growth and improve colour. Also remember to brush or dragmat the courts to remove early morning dew, thus helping to reduce the incidence of disease
An application of iron sulphate will help kill off any moss; it will usually take a couple of weeks to die, this will enable you to remove the moss during your spring renovation programme - Moss treatments
Ideally, you should conduct a soil analysis to confirm the nutrient status of your soil, and buy an appropriate fertiliser product to suit your requirements - Soil Tests
Get yourself prepared for your spring renovations, which tend to take place towards the back end of March/early April when grass growth is more consistent to aid recovery.
Undertake some aeration work to help get air back into the soil profile.
Mowing frequencies will gradually be more frequent as the grass begins to grow, going from a weekly cut into a 2-3 cuts per week in April. This increased mowing regime helps stimulate the grass plant and help 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. Consult the new Grass Seed 2015 booklet to choose appropriate seed cultivars.
A dose of slow release fertiliser can be applied to act as a base feed; this will keep the grass plant fed for a couple of months, which can be supplemented with some liquid feeds as and when required - Fertilisers
If grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured), fertiliser treatment and turf tonic 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.
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.
If you are saddled with a turf situation that has a lot of moss present, there will be a requirement to kill it off. The only product now available to control moss in turf is sulphate of iron (Ferrous Sulphate), it is relatively cheap and effective. It can be applied in a liquid or granular formulation. The granular form is usually mixed with sand to provide a carrier for the active ingredient. Apply at recommended rates.
When using lawn sands, it is important you use a compatible sand product that matches your rootzone soil profile. You do not want to create a layering problem. Some club Groundsmen may not entertain the use of lawn sand, as they do not want to introduce a sand medium into the clay based soil structure.
For tennis courts, I would recommend you apply the sulphate of iron in a liquid form; you will have better control over application rates.
For best results:-
• Apply when the turf is actively growing and the soil is moist
• Mow 3 days before treatment and do not mow for three days after treatment
• Water after 2 days if no rain forecast
• Rake out dead moss thoroughly 7-14 days after treatment
• Re-treatment may be necessary for heavy infestations
Any bare or sparse areas can be lightly tilthed, overseeded and topdressed with a sand/soil rootzone
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 and 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.
Closely monitoring soil temperatures with a digital soil thermometer is the preserve of the informed and agronomically focused individual as we enter into March. Soil biology and plant function depends on temperatures which encourage metabolic function – there is a reason your refrigerator is set to 5 °C. The minimum temperature whereby things will start to get going on a sustained basis is 8°C. Anything above 10-12°C is the point whereby good noticeable responses will take place.
One of the key points of understanding with regard to this principle is that day time temperatures are not the factor which drives an increasing base line with regard to soil temperatures. Night time temperatures are the key factor which will either hold the base line underneath the 8°C threshold or assist in pushing it over the bar into good growth response.
Understanding how the soil temperature is fluctuating, by taking and noting daily soil temperature readings (ideally at the same time of day), will provide you with insight into when you should actually be timing operations.
It can be all too tempting to apply fertiliser, stimulants, plant protection products, or undertake operations such as scarification, aeration, top dressing and seed sowing based on what the calendar says as opposed to what the data says. The key message here is that nature will run at nature’s pace, and when we strive to undertake operations to push things forward we can inadvertently result in placing stressed surfaces under more stress, which will hold back positive gains when everything does start to kick into gear. Not to mention money can potentially be wasted by applying products the soil and plant cannot utilise.
In terms of inputs; if weather conditions are cool, but surfaces are looking stressed, a light application of foliar fertiliser mixed with a good quality liquid humate product containing fulvic acid will aid uptake efficiency and response. Mixing in some calcium and chelated iron will toughen the leaf cells and guard the plant against stress. If soil temperatures are warmer and activity is increased, then a granular fertiliser containing a reasonable dose of sulphur will help to kick plant function into action.
Feeding soil biology with a carbon source, such as sugars and humates, will help to support the soil plant ecosystem crucial to plant health. Seaweed feeds are also vital in terms of assisting soil biology and priming plants’ natural defences.
Seed can be applied to any bare areas which may remain from autumn renovations, but establishment will benefit from it being pre-germinated (chitted) and, if appropriate, for your surface to be protected by a germination sheet.
Keep an eye out for warm temperatures coinciding with damp still days for more than 24 hours continually, as this will represent high risk for outbreaks of microdochium nivale. Applications of systemic fungicides during warmer spells will provide preventative protection. Removal of dews and minimising periods of continued leaf blade wetness is an essential cultural method of preventing disease.
Plant strengthening tank mixes of calcium, phosphite and chelated iron, facilitated with a humate adjuvant, will strengthen plant cell walls and natural defences. Managing plant vulnerability by understanding and using nutritional inputs can be done in isolation or alongside fungicide programmes.
One thing that everyone should bear in mind is that an integrated approach to the management of turf pathogens, utilising a multifaceted approach, is the future of the industry. Greater legislative pressure will place an increasing demand on many of the traditional chemical options. Individuals involved in maintaining turf surfaces at any level of the industry will be well served to be seeking out knowledge which will allow them to integrate alternative methods and programmes of maintenance into their surfaces now, in a proactive manner ahead of the inevitable changes. Changes which, if not planned for, will initiate a reactive approach from a weak position of understanding.
Particle Size Distribution (PSD). March is a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis, enabling you to get them back in time to start your new year'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.
Soil pH. 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.
Carrying out these test also allows you to check other physical conditions of the green, such as root depth, levels of compaction and aerobic state of the soil.
Some clubs continue to apply wetting agents to help improve and enhance soil performance. A wetting agent is such a substance that reduces the surface tension of a liquid, causing the liquid to spread across or penetrate the soil profile more easily. These are usually applied on a monthly basis.
N:P:K: Keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth.
Daily brushing and switching should continue to keep the greens clean and remove any early morning dew. Keeping the sward dry, particularly in the spring, helps minimise the likelihood of any disease attacks.
Keep an eye on fungal disease attack and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. The typical types of diseases you may come across are:
- Fusarium Patch
- Red Thread
- Fairy Rings
Use appropriate fungicides to control any further outbreaks, however, with the grass soon beginning to grow, it won't take long for these scars to grow out.
Please note: More information on these and many others can be found here: https://www.pitchcare.com/useful/diseases.php
You should have had your mower serviced and sharpened ready for the new season..
Keep machines overhauled and clean.
Inspect and repair any watering or irrigation systems; many bowling clubs now have pop-up irrigation systems, so ensure they have been drained down for winter. Organise an inspection, re-commissioning and calibration of the system.
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
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. It is important to sweep and clear the leaves off the courts as an accumulation of wet leaves will damage the grass surface.