Live chat interview with Jon Buddington ECB Pitch Advisor
Friday 21st February 2003
Editor: Good evening and welcome to all of the members. Tonight we are pleased to have Jon Buddington, an ECB pitch advisor back with us again, Good evening Jon.
Jon Buddington: Good evening Dave and a good evening members.
Editor: Given that last time we barely scratched the surface, shall we go straight in and carry on where we left off. We talked about thatch last time, but how can we reduce the build up during the playing season?
Jon Buddington: Because thatch is the build up of grass clippings and dead plant material, it is good to have some kind of on going plan in place for the whole season. This will begin with verti cutting of the whole square on a weekly basis.
Editor: Can you explain verti cutting, as I doubt all of our members will necessarily know what you mean?
Jon Buddington: It is a process of combing and grooming the grass, as opposed to disturbing the soil surface, it is what it sounds like, vertical cutting. A verti cut machine is like a scarifier, but the blades are closer together and not designed to penetrate the ground.
Editor: At what height would you set the verticut machine for regular grooming?
Jon Buddington: It will, to some degree depend on how good the local levels are, but in an ideal world, I'd set my blades to be 2-3mm above the surface. If there are local undulations, then you run the risk of scalping the sward.
Editor: Most Groundsmen would probably only have the option to scarify, what do you recommend in this instance?
Jon Buddington: As I said, verticutting is done on a weekly basis, if the scarifier is the only option available, then lift the blade setting to a similar height and that will help enormously with the control of thatch build up. Scarifying severely or too deeply during the playing season is not an option. Therefore general grooming and combing plus hand scarification on match pitches will maintain a level of thatch which is manageable.
Editor: If a club doesn't have a motorised scarifier, what can they do to combat thatch?
Jon Buddington: In days gone by, we used to spend weeks of back breaking work using spring-bok rakes, these days all clubs should have some type of motorised scarifier/verti cutter and there are grants available through the local county cricket development officer to purchase them.
Editor: When you do these operations, how much rubbish/debris would you accumulate from the square?
Jon Buddington: With a well maintained square, non match prepared, I would remove one grass box of debris every three passes, so about four to five boxes per wicket.
Editor: That's quite a lot what about a poor square Jon?
Jon Buddington: You can't really scarify or verticut more severely during the playing season on a poor square. It has to be a gradual process, otherwise you run the risk of removing too much of the surface coverage.
Editor: A question from a member: Our square has not wintered well to the extent that moss is prevalent over 75% of the playing surface. How soon, pre-season, is it advisable to apply Mosstox (?) or similar.? Can it be applied at this time of year when the threat of frosts is still around?
Jon Buddington: As soon as the risk of surface water lying on the square has subsided you may go ahead with an application of a suitable moss killer. I would check with the manufacturer as to the application of chemical during frosty periods.
Editor: Moving on, you mentioned last time about root break, can we elaborate on what it is and what consequences it causes?
Jon Buddington: When the vertical root reaches a change in the soil medium it can do a number of possibilities.
Editor: Go on Jon.
Jon Buddington: If there is a gradual change in the soil make up, the root will thrive, but extreme changes in soil compatibility will cause the root to shear. As we discussed in the last forum, bulk density is the main reason why roots shear, because of differing swelling and shrinking within the different types of soil. Another reason for root break is that a root meeting a different soil medium will not necessarily like its new surroundings and instead of penetrating this new medium, the root will just grow sideways. This growth habit is clearly visible when a soil core sample is taken and analysed.
Editor: Last time you talked about shaking a core profile to see root break, is that usually what you'd look for?
Jon Buddington: Inconsistencies in the loam medium are normally where the visible breaks occur, for example, horizontal root growth, inconsistent loams and buried thatch layers will all be a cause of root break.
Editor: What's a buried thatch layer Jon?
Jon Buddington: It is caused by a lack of historical maintenance. Many Groundsmen do not remove enough surface thatch at the end of the season, subsequently it is buried by the process of top dressing.
Editor: How do you know when you have done sufficient scarifying at the end of the season, to have removed the thatch layer?
Jon Buddington: Good question, scarify the surface and you will get a feel of what you are removing. I keep reiterating the point that the renovation in terms of scarifying needs to be very aggressive.
Editor: Can you give us some idea of what that means or describe it?
Jon Buddington: What you are removing is rubbish, moss, dead material, lateral grass growth, weed grasses such as annual meadow grass, and this alone will produce prodigious amounts of rubbish, maybe as much as nine cubic yards of debris off a single square. The square should look very sparse, even bare, leaving only the strong correct grasses intact and an ideal seed bed.
Editor: Going back, if a square has a buried thatch layer, how can you remedy it?
Jon Buddington: We covered this last time, good aeration and the use of bio-stimulants.
Editor: I'm sorry Jon, I'm not paying attention. Many members at the moment are worried about their ends being weak and sparse of grass, what do you recommend as the best way forward for them as the season moves ever closer?
Jon Buddington: At the earliest possible opportunity prepare a tilth on the ground and seed with a very light application of loam on top, remembering that without seed/soil contact the operation will be useless. Germination sheets will help the process as the season does draw closer.
Editor: Would you advocate holding back these wickets for as long as possible?
Jon Buddington: If you have the opportunity to do so, then great, but the ends are not a major consideration. You should have a good coverage anyway by the end of April.
Editor: A member asks:-have you used chemicals to combat thatch?
Jon Buddington: There are a variety of chemical products on the market that claim to eat the thatch, but I've never used them and couldn't comment on their use and effectiveness. In the past I have had success with natural Bio-stimulants. Just on the subject of weak ends, it has been a common problem this year with the dry autumn, wet winter and spring. This has caused poor germination, where the seed has either been too dry to germinate or sitting in pooled water.
Editor: You mentioned annual meadow grass, is this the bane of your life?
Jon Buddington: Yes, it's a grass which the untrained think provides good coverage on their square, the problems associated with annual meadow grass are numerous. The species is first of all, shallow rooting and therefore wears very quickly. It also has a tufted growth habit and severely dies back, just when you may think you have a good sward of grass. It continually seeds through the growing season, and is a real pest to get rid of.
Editor: What problems occur with a tufted growth habit?
Jon Buddington: When there is a uniform sward the poa annua (annual meadow grass) will spoil the uniformity, causing the ball to deviate.
Editor: A member question : What are your thoughts on the koro machine?
Jon Buddington: The koro is a simple, yet ingenious machine that has revolutionised the renovation and re-construction of cricket facilities. It can be used for a variety of reasons, such as saddle removal, removal of poor loams at depth, severe thatch removal or for the removal of poa annua by the method of fraize mowing.
Editor: Fraize mowing is a bit of a buzz word at the moment, just like the Koro, what is fraize mowing?
Jon Buddington: It is the removal of surface vegetation, both living and dead, leaving only the strong grass roots intact and a perfect seed bed. In other words the Koro can remove a plain at whichever depth you require from 1mm to 75mm. The fraize mowing generally will not go beyond a depth of 5mm, just enough depth to remove the surface vegetation.
Editor: With the Poa annua removed, what is your ideal seed mix for the perfect square?
Jon Buddington: It would have to be a hundred per cent Rye, with a minimum of three cultivars.
Editor: For those not in the know, what do you mean by cultivar?
Jon Buddington: A cultivar is purely a variety of that cultivated seed. In other words you will sow a minimum of three different variety of Rye grass.
Editor: Two questions then Jon, why use Rye and why use at least three varieties?
Jon Buddington: Firstly, we use Rye because of its suitability for cricket purposes. It offers extreme wearing qualities, especially in our climate. It recovers well, establishing quickly and provides a dense and uniform sward. Secondly, each Rye variety will have different qualities, in terms of wear resistance, disease tolerance, toleration of close mowing and leaf thickness. By using at least three well chosen varieties, if one is more susceptible to a given problem, the others will plug the gap.
Editor: Is root important to you on the cricket square?
Jon Buddington: Of course it's important, roots provide the stability and this is another reason why Rye grasses are the preferred grass for cricket. The root grass of a rye is mainly lateral for the first inch or so, and then it will spread to maybe 100mm in width, to at least a depth of 100mm.
Editor: Time is moving on Jon, can we talk about the next month or so, in terms of pre-season maintenance, what should everyone be looking to do from now onwards?
Jon Buddington: The main job at present is whenever possible, keeping water i.e. water and rain off the grass plant on the square. This can be achieved with brushing or switching. This will remove the weight of liquid from the leaf, allowing the plant to grow unrestricted, and also lessens the risk of disease. Keep the grass topped at around 10-15mm, when soil conditions and weather allow.
Where I live, up in East Yorkshire, the cold north-easterly winds do have a major effect on grass cut shorter than this, at this time of the year. Another concern that I have is that many leave the outfield in a state of neglect all through the winter. When it comes to the first cut, clippings and huge piles of unsightly grass are left everywhere!
Editor: Should Groundsmen be rolling yet? and if not when should they start?
Jon Buddington: At Test and County cricket grounds further south may start, or already have started, doing some light rolling. Again further North, the temperature and dampness prevent us from experiencing early pre season rolling. Usually, rolling should start at least six weeks before the season starts. This isn't always possible, but should be used as a guideline.
Editor: With regards to rolling how much should you do on the square, prior to season start?
Jon Buddington: The rule of thumb is an average of 80 hours on a top class international ground. So you must work in comparison to your facilities. I would suggest as a minimum, 15-20 hours.
Editor: That's fine, but what about weight, size of mowers and rollers?
Jon Buddington: You should start off with the wicket mower and build up gradually through the range of mowers to the light roller and then the heavy roller. In terms of weight, a medium roller is classed as 500kg's and the heavy roller would be around a tonne to a tonne and a half in weight.
Editor: The lads on the professional circuit use rollers up to three tons in weight, is this advisable on a standard square?
Jon Buddington: Not really, due to the fact that heavier clay percentages are only used at the stadium venues.
Editor: What do you mean by that?
Jon Buddington: At this level of play in terms of cricket, more consolidation of the wicket is required, so higher clay content and more rolling is carried out to provide a first class wicket, which has to last up to four days of professional play. Except when England play Australia, when only two maybe three days are required!
Editor: A joke from Jon :)
Editor: Jon, we need to wrap this up, but can I thank you again for offering your time and experience tonight.
Jon Buddington: Your very welcome, thanks again for the opportunity to talk on Pitchcare, because we Groundsmen don't often get the chance to share opinions to so many people. I hope that we can perhaps do another in the near future.
Editor: I'm sure we will, there has been a lot of invaluable content tonight, Good night to everyone and to you Jon.