February marks the start of a new growing season, with spring just around the corner. The winter storms of December and January have left many grounds severely flooded and waterlogged, and will take some time to recover, so patience is a practice that will pay dividends later. Nevertheless, the grass plant is a very resilient specie so, once the ground has had time to drain and the surface dry out, it will soon kick on and recover.
This will bring about a number of activities; brushing, verti-cutting, mowing, aerating, light rolling and fertilising to prepare the sward/grass surfaces for the forthcoming playing season. For some, it may be the first time you have been to the ground this year, so an inspection of the facilities is your first priority.
Diary compiled by Robert Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sports Club
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 cuttings 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. A low nitrogen, higher potassium feed (NPK 6:5:10 +6% Fe) will help green up the plant and, at the same time, help control any moss that may have accumulated in the sward during the winter months. Outfields should be harrowed, aerated and mowed at 30mm in accordance to its usage, and solid or slit tine to a depth of 150-200mm. Soil samples can still be taken, with findings used as part of your fertiliser programme.
As the month progresses, start reducing the mowing height on the square to around 15-20mm subject to local weather conditions, and a light verti-cut will remove any lateral growth caused by the snow or wet weather. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this time is vital for better results going into the new season.
Keep an eye out for disease and worms, and spray accordingly.
Do not neglect your outfield; if conditions allow, try and carry out some aeration work using solid or slit tines. Aerate by hand or machine to aid surface drainage, (vary the depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan). Keep on top of any grass growth; if left too long, it then becomes a struggle to mow.
Mowing / Brushing
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 cuttings 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. A low nitrogen, higher potassium feed (NPK 6:5:10 +6% Fe) will help green up the plant and, at the same time, help control any moss that may have accumulated in the sward during the winter months. Outfields should be harrowed, aerated and mowed at 30mm in accordance to its usage and solid or slit tine to a depth of 150-200mm. Soil samples can still be taken and finding used as part of your fertiliser programme.
As the month progresses, reduce the mowing height to the square to around 15-20mm, subject to local weather conditions, and light Verti- cutting of the square will remove any lateral growth caused by the snow or wet weather. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this time is vital for better results going into the new season. The height of cut for the outfield should be reduced to around 25mm and an application of autumn and winter fertiliser may be applied, if not being shared with other winter sports. The frequency of outfield mowing should then be increased to fortnightly. Light rolling may commence on the square if conditions are favourable. Keep an eye out for disease, worms and spray accordingly.
The use of a sarrel roller to keep the surface dry and free draining will also be beneficial to the square. Some Groundsmen may still want to carry out some deeper aeration work on the square using PENCIL TINES; however, this policy is effective only where shallow rooting is a main concern and where pre-season rolling is not introduced till late March or early April. As a rule of thumb, many groundsmen do not aerate after JANUARY. The outfield can be aerated though, using solid or slit tines when conditions allow.
Pre season rolling (PSR) normally takes place in March when ground conditions are drier. However, we have seen, in recent years, some groundsmen starting their PSR in February if the weather is favourable, and epecially if their cricket season is to start early.
PSR is initiated using the lightest mower and gradully building up the weight untill ground conditions allow the use of the heavy roller.
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.
Fertiliser treatment and turf tonics can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested. Try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results. Only apply what your soil requires.
To help kick start the grass into growing you can begin to apply some low nitrogen based fertilisers.The application of a low nitrogen, higher potash feed (NPK 6:5:10 +6% Fe) will help green up the grass and, at the same time, help control any moss that has accumulated in the sward during the winter months.
Ideally, get your soils sampled for nutrients, organic matter content and pH. A pH of 6.5 is the optimum. Anything higher or lower would be to Alkaline or Acidic. This information will help decide on the appropriate course of action with regard to applying the correct NPK balance for your site.
Disease can still occur in February, especially Fusarium, Anthracnose and Red Thread during spells of mild weather. It is important to keep the sward brushed, the use of switching canes and brushes can be used to remove these dew deposits, particularly in the mornings. Knocking off the dew helps remove surface water from the plant, allowing it to dry out and preventing disease attacks.
Worm activity can be quite prevalent through the winter months, especially during periods of mild wet weather. Keep an eye on the square and treat accordingly. Worm treatments can be carried out if needed, but please remember to ask yourself why worms are present. pH levels, organic matter and your cultural practices on the square may need to be assessed. Carbendazim is now the only active ingredient available for controlling worms.
Systemic curative and protective fungicides can be used to control diseases; there are a wide range of products on the market that have the active ingredients chlorothalonil and iprodione. These fungicides are usually applied in liquid form using water as a carrier.
All personnel should be suitably qualified in the application of chemicals having gained PA1/ PA6 certificates for hand held spraying or PA2 certificate for tractor or vehicle spraying.
With pests such as rabbits, foxes and moles, it is a case of identifying the problem and controlling their activities; employing approved pest control services to eradicate them from site may be a solution.
Outfields :- Turf disease can become quite prevalent when soil moisture levels increase, coupled with the presence of early morning dews. The combination of moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade can increase the susceptibility of disease attack. Regular swishing or brushing following heavy dew will help prevent any attack of disease.
Some parts of the country may be experiencing snow. Snow cover can inevitably lead to disease outbreaks such as snow mould, so be vigilant after the snow has gone. Sarrel rolling will open the surface for much needed air to the roots; dragbrush the square to raise the sward as it may well be flattened.
Still time left in February to send any machinery away for repairs or servicing.
Keeping your cylinder mowers sharpened and serviced is vital to good groundsmanship; there is nothing worse than a mower not starting or one that cuts poorly. You may even be able to get the work done at a local golf course, thus saving you some money.
Keep a good supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance. February is an ideal time to contact sales reps and find out what products are available for spring renovations. Never leave it late to order materials.
Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Cricket Pitches. It is a one day course designed to provide a basic knowledge of Cricket Pitch (square and ourfield) maintenance. The course enables the Groundsman to grasp the basic needs of a cricket square and outfield.
There are two courses - Spring & Summer Maintenance and Autumn & Winter Renovations.
Delegates attending the courses and using the accompanying manuals will be able to develop their own skills, working knowledge and expertise, by understanding the method of instruction and the maintenance principles they set out.
Included in the Course Manuals are working diaries showing the range of tasks needed to be accomplished each month. The Course Manual is available for purchase separately.
In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 - 10 people. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
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, 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.
Keep a good supply of materials such as loam and seed on hand for repairs and maintenance.
Artificial Pitches: Keep all surfaces clean, by regular sweeping and brushing to remove any algae and moss from surface. Sand filled systems also require regular brushing to maintain manufacturer's recommendations for sand levels and pile heights.
Net Facilities: Repair damaged structures and netting, order new if required. Strim and mow around structures.