0 Props and ploughers; a rugby groundsman’s tale

In his first blog for Nomadgroundsman.com, Ian Avery, Grounds Manager at Sutton Valence School, offers some do's and dont's for looking after a rugby pitch in winter.

Hi everyone. l am thrilled to be publishing my first blog and my years of being Head Groundsman at Sutton Valence School will, l hope, be helpful in helping and encouraging you.

To start, l am going to write a few notes on the current situation in the world of rugby grounds and I hope your find these useful. This is the 28th year of me preparing pitches in club and school rugby and, looking back, it's amazing how the standard all over has improved, so take a moment to pat yourselves on the back.

As we are in the middle of one of the wettest autumns in decades, it can be very tempting to get on the pitches to do maintenance operations as either we have not been able to get on for weeks or "I'm so bored I will just run the spiker across the pitch."

Don't, just don't or ...

The ploughed field you will end up with will not be hosting any matches for a long while.

This happened when a staff member decided he would ignore what I said about 'if it is too wet, stop immediately' … and he did not want to get out of the nice warm tractor seat!

We are nearly twelve months from this happening and, even with over £6,500 spent on renovations, I can still see where the damage is.

Also, we had a marquee and summer ball on the pitch for two weeks in July.

Just in case you are under pressure from a committee, captain or Bursar just show them the picture above and say, so far, that it has taken twelve months and seven grand to repair.

So, what can you do?

First, walk the pitch get to know its current condition, pick up any rubbish, have a fork with you and repair manually any divots you see. Although a tedious task, it can make a real difference over a season. If you have drainage ditches, check that they are clear of debris and no beavers have set up a lodge nearby. Over mark the lines; hopefully, you'll have a spray marker and it's amazing what a difference freshly marked lines can have on player/spectator enjoyment of the game.

Next, as soon as ground conditions allow, get on and aerate. This is the most important maintenance operation this time of year as compaction is at its highest in these conditions. For healthy grass plants, we need air to the roots, especially after a period of extreme weather and high rainfall and the possibility of anaerobic conditions in the rootzone.

You may see a yellowing of the grass plant, especially for Dwarf rye grass mixes, as these tend to be more hungry. If you can fertilise, do so. Use an autumn/winter fertiliser without too high a nitrogen content as this can produce long and weak growth that can be susceptible to fungal disease. Something with 5% iron will help with greening up and hardening the plant to fight disease and poor growing conditions.

Remember, the most important part of any grounds maintenance operation is you!

It's easy to pile pressure on yourself because the pitch isn't up to its usual standard. Step back, look around you and say 'I have done everything I can but the weather is beyond my control', and we all know it will go back the other way soon.

Hold in there everyone and look at the second to top picture.

Tasks for the next month.

- Aeration, but only if conditions allow.

- Aeration again - see above.

- Clear leaves if possible.

- Check drainage - if you are lucky to have some.

- Clean the linemarking machine.

- Check post protectors and flag poles etc. for damage.

- Do a dry weather dance.

- Check your own health - take time for yourself.

Thank you so much for reading. Please share or retweet so others can also see this.

Ian Avery
Grounds Manager
Sutton Valence School
Maidstone
Kent

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