Winter Maintenance at Chapel Allerton
By Anthony Asquith
Well winter is finally here! Cold, icy mornings and plenty of cups of warm tea are the orders of the day however. This is also a crucial time to develop the "building blocks" for the forthcoming grass court season due to commence in April / May.
We are currently aerating every fortnight with solid tines to a depth of 4mm and mowing as and when to encourage "tillering" and dis-courage any "microclimate" that may occur due to the plant being longer and more "leggy".
All of the ground staff are currently mowing and keeping our ryegrass-based sward, at a winter height of 13mm. We have to ensure that the mowing blades are sharp and well grinded. This is because rye grasses are notoriously difficult to "cut cleanly" due to the plant`s thicker cell walls.
Badly cut grass is more prone to pathogenic disease attacks. Reducing the amount of water on the leaf (dew) is also an important factor in preventing disease attacks. Regular brushing is essential, this operation knocks off the dew allowing the grass plant to dry out more quickly. Brushing also helps to encourage the grass plant to stand "upright" thus enabling a better more even clean cut to be achieved.
I have also recently applied some doses of iron supplements that generally help harden the plant and at the same time develop some colour in the sward. However, I have to be careful on the amount of iron we apply. Overdosing can cause de-flocculation of the clay by changing the plant`s "binding qualities" by creating an "open soil" if over used. Totally the opposite effect you want on a clay structure, used for tennis or cricket.
Renovations carried out in the warm Autumn period are now reaping the rewards, with a 90 % plus germination, and establishment of new grass in the sward. Of course there are certain areas that are still thin, when temperatures increase in the spring however, the "dormant" seed will hopefully come through.
A Sarrel roller is used to keep the surface open and allow free draining during the winter months. Like most Groundsmen I am always looking to reduce the amount of "toxins" and inorganic materials, particularly fungicides I am using. I now tend to apply more organic products on my courts. I have been using seaweeds to good effect and have been pleased with the results. Seaweeds naturally contain beneficial "plant hormones" i.e. cytokinins -these encourage root and leaf growth.
This quieter period generally allows me time to evaluate and plan next year's activities. Firstly I ensure all my machinery will be serviced and repaired ready for the new season. I then usually begin contacting companies to evaluate products and materials for the forthcoming season. Once I have made my mind up, I usually get my orders in early to ensure I get them in advance for the new growing season. It always amazes me how quickly the new season arrives.