Regular brushing should be carried out to lift the sward, keeping it upright to help dry the plant and reduce disease.
Where ground conditions and temperatures are suitable, mowing the square to remove its winter growth is one of the first tasks. You may need to raise the height of cut, so that you are just topping it off and not trying to remove too much grass in one go. A rotary mower, set at 25-30mm, would be best suited for this purpose, as clippings will be removed at the same time.
Sarrel roll your square after the first cut, as this will open it up and lightly iron out the surface.
As the month progresses, start reducing the mowing height on the square to around 15-20mm, subject to local weather conditions. A light verti-cut will remove any lateral growth caused by the snow or wet weather and clean out the surface. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this time is vital for better results going into the new season.
Do not neglect your outfield: Outfields should be harrowed, aerated and a programme of solid or slit tining to a depth of 150-200mm will assist water movement and oxygenate the soil (vary the depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan). Soil samples can still be taken, with findings used as part of your fertiliser programme. Keep on top of any grass growth; mow at 30mm in accordance to its usage; if left too long, it then becomes a struggle to mow.
Keeping one eye on the weather; you may want to begin your square rolling programme early, but only if your season starts early April; any other rolling should be delayed untill March. Start with your lightest mower; using the “Union Flag” system, roll in as many different directions as possible, but always finish in the direction of play. Timing of this operation is vitally important.
If you are using the weight of a mower to consolidate the ground, disengage the blades to reduce friction and unnecessary wear on the machine. More weight can be added to the grass box (bag of loam) to increase consolidation. Gradually build up the rolling weight by moving onto the next size of cylinder mower and adding weights to the grass box as required. This gradual build up may be over a few weeks until the heavy roller comes out of the shed to achieve the right consolidation for the start of the season.
Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil to be in a state of plasticity, or "plastercine" like. Test your square regularly with a knife to see the condition of your square, if it is too wet, delay rolling as any type of rolling will create a bow effect and could cause some structural damage.
Consolidation is your aim and the quality of your pre-season rolling will show when you produce your early season pitches. The square is required to be consolidated throughout to a depth of no less than 100mm. (where squares have been constructed to ECB guidelines); this can only be achieved with a gradual build-up of roller weight.
Check your sightscreens for damage; many free standing types often get blown over during high winds or, worse still, are stored underneath trees, resulting in green algae forming on the sheeting. Check and repair fences and scoreboards. Organise appropriate repairs or replacements. Covers will be required for use during pre season preparations, make sure they are ready. Allow time for cleaning and repairing.
Artificial Pitches: Keep all surfaces clean and safe, by regular sweeping and brushing to remove any algae and moss from surface. Ensure damaged batting and bowling areas are repaired. Ripped or loose material could cause injury to players and end users.
Net Facilities: Replace or repair damaged structures and netting, order new if required. Strim and mow around structures.
February, officially late winter. The 1st of February is 42 days post winter solstice (21st December) and come the 29th of the month that figure will rise to 70 days. For comparison, from the 1st February the summer solstice on the 21st June will be 141 days away and by the 29th February 113 days away.
This play of the numbers hopefully illustrates that time marches on, and that means so do the seasons. February can often be a cold month, but the planets relentless march around our home star means that the sun will be higher in the sky come the 29th February. To put this into context, day length in Leeds (to pick a central location in the British Isles) on the 1st February will be 8 hours 54 minutes and the altitude of the sun from the horizon will be 11.65°. Come the 29th February, day length will be 10 hours 47 minutes and the altitude from the horizon will be 20.46°. A difference from the 1st of the month to the 29th of the month of 1 hour 53 minutes, and an altitude difference of 8.81°. The reason for labouring this point is to illustrate that almost two hours of added day length and a 56.9% increase in the height of the sun at mid-day will impart more solar radiation on your sports turf surface at the end of the month compared to the start of the month. Now, it might not feel much warmer, because we are coming out of winter, so the bulk air temperature has not yet had time to warm up, but with more daylight means more opportunity for photosynthesis and a higher altitude for the sun means more radiative heat. How do these factors impact your sports turf surface?
Potential for increasing soil temperatures and the ability for the plant to grow and recover from winter damage.
The thing to remember however is it can’t be forced. Day length may be longer and the sun may be higher as the month progresses, but cool residual winter air means weather patterns may well provide us with cold temperatures and overcast days.
The key agronomic principle then for February is to maximising recovery from winter damage whilst also protecting against inclement weather, at a time when the plant has spent the best part of four months surviving in less than optimal growing conditions.
The way to practically achieve this is; Proactively think about and plan for opportunities and threats.
- Cold winds | cold temperatures | frozen ground | snow fall
Preparation here is key; look at forecasts and seek to protect and fortify the plant to minimise stress, lessen damage and promote faster recovery.
Silicon and calcium will help to strengthen the cell walls.
Amino acids will also help to guard against cold weather damage.
Carbon will not be in immediate requirement, but applications now can act as a power reserve into the system helping to promote faster responses from the plant-soil ecosystem once any cold weather breaks.
Microdochium nivale risk is likely to be low in these conditions, however existing scars in particular may reactivate under prolonged snow cover. Thus an application of fludioxonil to target dormant spores prior to snow cover may provide some security.
Aeration close to a cold spell can aid drying out of the soil, however it may lead to even lower soil temperatures which will place added strain on the system. The ideal time to aerate is once conditions have lifted and warmer conditions are returning.
- Mild days | warm night time temperatures | still air | prolonged dews and rain fall
Microdochium nivale risk is likely to be high in these conditions, so turf hardening packages to strengthen cell walls and promote plant resistance are sensible. Systemic fungicides will only be effective if growth is active due to higher soil temperatures.
Avoid biostimulants in these conditions as the organic compounds can promote fungal activity. Use of penetrant surfactants and dew cure products to reduce leaf blade wetness and canopy humidity will be useful as part of an integrated approach. Dews may need removing more than once a day.
Aeration will oxygenate the soil helping to lessen stress on plants in waterlogged soils.
- Sunny days | warm spells of day time temperature | air movement | reduced rain fall
Taking soil temperature readings throughout the month (and year to that matter) will allow you to see when the system has warmed up to the point that metabolic biological activity is commencing. Things will become noticeably functional at soil temperatures of 8-10°. Take temperature readings at different times of the day to learn how your soil responds to periods of warmer brighter weather. The air may still feel cold but sheltered spots exposed to the sunshine will warm nicely, especially towards the end of the month when day length and sun altitude are increased.
Gentle applications of nutrition, based upon soil test results when the system is warm enough to require it, will promote recovery growth. Biostimulants such as seaweed, amino acids, carbon and humic sources will foster a functional soil-plant ecosystem.
Aeration will provide the soil with the ability to respire, releasing waste gasses such as carbon dioxide, methane, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide and allow vital oxygen in.
Microdochium nivale risk is likely to be low and scars will begin to recover.
Of course, defining such complexities into neat little sections is somewhat of an over simplification, but it does help to think about scenarios and the cause and effect relationships those factors will have to the system. The key for February is be prepared to act defensively to the threats, but maximise the sweet spots of opportunity without getting carried away and forcing things. We still have typically cold and wet March, followed by cold and dry April to come before the soil-plant ecosystem takes off with confidence in May. Maximise February’s opportunities as best you can but don’t let a few warmer hours of sunshine in an afternoon trick you into thinking spring is in full flow. There may be a sting in the tail yet to come.
With this mild weather, your machinery will be in use sooner rather than later, so make sure all the necessary repairs and servicing has been done. Keeping your cylinder mowers sharpened and serviced is vital to good groundsmanship; there is nothing worse than a mower that keeps breaking down, not starting or one that cuts poorly.
Stock a good supply of materials such as loam and seed for repairs and maintenance. February is an ideal time to contact sales reps and find out what products are available for spring work. Never leave it late to order materials.