Pride Park Summer Renovations
By Mark Robinson
Another season done and dusted. Actually, it has not been a bad one for us, in total we only had about 65 hours of play and training at the stadium. At the end we had close on 90% grass cover left on the pitch compared to 50% last year. That was understandable because we had well over 100 hours of use in 2004/05, and a harsh winter. This year the weather has been quite favourable.
However, like most stadium pitches, we do suffer from shade and lighting problems, which are compounded by the fact that half of our seating is painted black and reflects less light onto the pitch. Many of the professional clubs are now introducing Grow lights into their stadiums and, having seen the success of them myself at various grounds, I would certainly advocate the use of them at Derby when appropriate funds become available.
The pitch has been koroed, it is something we do every 2-3 years. The decision is usually determined by how much poa we have in the pitch. If we get near to 50% poa that will swing the decision to removing the whole sward cover.
Mallinsons came in as soon as the last match was played and took 12 mm off the top. The area was then power harrowed to open up the fibres and then topped up with over 200 tonnes of new 80/20 rootzone material with a small percentage of Mansfield fibresand added.
The materials were then raked and rolled, and the area overseeded with 16 bags of Johnsons Wembley Way. All the renovations were completed by the 12th May, with the hope of getting a quick germination and some favourable growth before we are faced with this year's summer pop concert. We host the Red Hot Chilli Peppers on July 5th.
Once the new sward gets to 25 mm we start cutting with hand rotary mowers; after a couple of cuts we then move on to our ride on rotary and finish off with our Allett Buffalos to consolidate.
A programme of liquid fertilisers (Green Master Blade) is applied to help promote growth and, after last year's successful trial of Primo Maxx, we will again be applying a dose prior to the covering of the pitch with terra plas for the concert. This year the whole pitch will be covered. Once the concert has finished we will only have 24 days to get the pitch ready before the first match on the 29th July.
My biggest worry is how much damage will occur from the concert. In the past the worst areas have been where the covers have been down the longest. The grass underneath is virtually dead. We scarify and spike these areas to open them up and then reseed. As for the remaining areas of the pitch we usually micro tine them with the pro corer, water and re feed.
I will then be hoping for decent weather to promote some real growth. The worst scenario for me would be the need to returf some areas. Not something I like doing. We are then faced with a presentation problem, in that the patches of turf stand out and look different from the rest of the pitch.
At the training ground we have also koroed off three of the eleven pitches, again taking off 12 mm of material and treating exactly as the stadium pitch. The remainder were scarified, top dressed and overseeded with Johnsons Wembley Way. We used a total of 600 tonnes of top dressing at the training ground to restore levels and provide a seed bed for the new seed.
I am now into my ninth season at Pride Park and I'm finally getting used to the management of fibresand pitches. They are easy to manage as long as you keep them open and have the resources to maintain them properly.
It is imperative that they are cleaned off every 2-4 years, removing all the sward and any black layer that may have accumulated. This provides the opportunity to restore playing levels and to top up with new fibresand material before over seeding. This operation will generally cost around £20-25k (materials and labour) depending on the size of your pitch.
When the koro is not needed my renovations include fraise mowing the top 2-3mm to clean the surface, aeration, top dressing and then overseeding.
Actually, there is not really any difference between maintaining these type of pitches than any other. It involves good cultural and hygiene practices that include regular aeration, feeding, watering, mowing and brushing regimes, programmed with the weather and usage requirements of the pitch.
Keeping good air movement in and through the turf enables it to respond quickly to the ever changing environmental pressures put on natural surfaces maintained in a sporting environment.
Feeding is a key issue. I usually apply a slow release product at the start and end of the season and, in between, a little and often liquid feed to sustain grass growth and recovery. I work very closely with Scotts, between us we work out our annual feeding strategy, and monitor it on a monthly basis. Last year we applied the following a NPK ratios :- spring 7/0/14, summer 12/0/9 and autumn 4/0/8.
We aerate the pitch with needle tines at least once every 3/4 weeks, with a normal spiking every couple of weeks or so, using something like a Toro pro corer just to get some holes in. We verti-drain every 4 or 5 months to gain that extra depth. With the rootzone only being 100mm we don't need to go too deep otherwise it will disturb the sand beneath. As long as we are getting through that top 100mm I don't think we'll have any problems about creating a pan.
Aeration is usually done on a Monday to allow enough settlement time prior to the game on the following Saturday. Mowing frequencies are determined by grass growth and weather conditions, we hand mow using the Allett Buffalos making sure they are well serviced and sharp and set to the correct height of cut.
We are now seeing the benefits of having our own dedicated in house mechanic. There is less down time on our own machinery, and we have the added bonus of some much needed income generated from work we do for other local clubs in Nottingham and Derby.
Like all Groundsmen, we would welcome some consistent warm fine weather to promote grass growth, thus enabling us to get a decent mowing programme underway, which in turn will help establish a healthy firm playable surface for the coming season.
However, whatever is thrown at us, we Groundsmen usually end up achieving minor miracles and duly present our clubs with magnificent playing surfaces ready for the new season in August.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody at the club for supporting me and my staff. It is important we get recognised for our efforts and, at that same time, are allowed play an active role in the continued development of the facilities and the Club. Maintaining quality playing surfaces is our aim, which hopefully helps promote success both on and off the field.