Wet and waterlogged is the order of the day for most rugby grounds. In these conditions, it is essential that any heavy wear areas are well spiked. This may be best done with a hand fork rather than machinery.
Pitches that are not cut on a regular basis will often exceed 125mm – far too long. The plant becomes weak, straggly and often flattened after play or training.
Most professional and semi-professional clubs cut between 30-40mm.
Continue with post match divoting and brushing and undertake aeration if conditions allow.
If training on the main pitch, ensure that regimes, such as shuffle drills and small sided games are rotated on the pitch to avoid excessive wear.
- Continue cutting to encourage good sward density, ensuring that you do not over cut as this would thin out the sward due to the slowdown in growth
- Ensure that any equipment used is keenly set to cut
- Regular brushing will keep the air circulating around the base of the plant
- Deep spike to alleviate compaction as and when required
- Continue spiking when the conditions are right (this should only be carried out if the soil is suitably moist) to compliment your deep spiking
- Keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting
- Hand fork high wear areas, if difficult to get onto the pitch with machinery
- Use any downtime to overhaul/service machinery
- If it’s frosty, keep off the pitch until the frost has lifted or it becomes absolutely necessary. This will avoid damage to the grass plant/leaf
Try to keep the top 100mm free draining; this can be achieved by regular spiking with solid or slit tines to a depth of 150mm or more.
- Keep your linemarker clean
- Keep string lines taut
- Ensure that right angles are correctly formed. Use the 3:4:5 triangle method. The bigger the triangle at the start, the more accurate the pitch will be.
Pre and post match routines
Before the match
- Check that the pitch is fit and safe for play
- Check post protectors and flags
- Check for debris (glass, stones etc.)
- Clear away leaves – a thankless task, but one that needs doing
- Ensure the surface is firm and not saturated, correctly marked out and flagged, and that the posts are safe and secure
- Replace divots, even if it’s just the worst affected areas – it will make a difference!
- Dragmat/brush/harrow to restore playing surfaces and remove worm casts
- Clean up the playing surface with a rotary mower
- Dragmat, harrow and groom rake surface, as required, to maintain levels, remove early morning dew, control disease and generally get air in and around the plant
- Spike/verticut as often as possible
- Check posts are secure
- Check team dugouts are stable and anchored securely. Make sure that they are tidy and free from litter
- Repair and maintain fence lines
- Sweep up/vacuum fallen leaves
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.
- Keep your machinery in tip top condition
- Grease where you find a grease nipple, oil where you see a metallic moving part, check the oil, check the water
- Clean it when you've finished