February began with regulation snow, icy winds and freezing temperatures. So, as we move out of winter hopefully, and into spring, the worst of the winter weather is behind us and the ground is starting to dry out. With the increased daylight hours, milder weather and an increase in temperatures, this should stimulate some much needed grass growth.
This month, we should be looking to increase our mowing, apply some spring and summer fertiliser, get the square "squared off" and start your P.S.R. (pre season rolling).
We can now look towards to getting on with some serious business of preparing the cricket square and outfield for the forthcoming season.
Diary compiled by Robert Stretton
Massey Ferguson Sports Club
Brushing or switching the square regularly is a must to dry out the sward and keep disease under control.
First job would be to give the square a verti-cut or a light scarify and mow to clean out the surface to remove any build up of thatch over the winter.
Mowing should now be on a regular basis setting your HOC at 15-18mm at least once a week to strengthen the sward, making sure your blades are nice and sharp. Sarrel rolling will help open up the surface and then apply some spring and summer fertiliser with a touch of iron to help harden the plant; be sure to water in just incase of a barren spell of dry windy weather.
By now your outfield will have dried out a bit and will be in need of a light harrow, mowing, some aeration and an application of a 9-7-7 outfield fertiliser. Ideal mowing heights should be around 25 -35mm and try to mow at least once a week. The use of slit tines for aeration would be most suited for this time of the year to get some oxygen into the soil to remove the build up of toxic gases, such as carbon dioxides and hydrogen sulphide. Try to aim for about 150-200mm in depth.
As soon as possible (for all you early birds), the square must be "squared off", which is done using semi-permanent markings, this operation can be made very simple using the 3, 4, 5 (3x3, 4x3, 5x3) system to produce your right angles. Fixed plastic points, pushed into the ground on the four corners are valuable in marking the correct position of the square. These are sunk slightly below the surface to ensure no damage to machinery is incurred.
As an addition, a fixed point for the stump line and return creases is also extremely useful. This can provide accurate measurement from stump to stump (22yds). It is advisable to spend time getting your square absolutely correct; it will save time in the future.
Seeding of the ends with a perennial rye grass where the grass is weak, sparse or bare can be undertaken as the rise in temperature, along with germination sheets, will help speed up germination. Remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless. The use of a Perennial rye grass is ideal for this for fast establishment and produces very little thatch.
Pre Season Rolling:- It is important now to start you pre season rolling programme. Firstly, you need to ensure you can get the roller on to the square without doing any damage to the outfield. The square needs to be in a condition whereby the surface is dry but, when you press down with your thumb, some moisture is felt on the skin.
This is a good indicator of when you can start your rolling. Gradually build up the rolling weight as described in February's Diary: 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. 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. Gradually build up the rolling weight by moving onto the next size of cylinder mower and adding weights to the grass box as required. Allow time for the soils to dry before proceeding with the next roll. This gradual build up may be over a few weeks until, at the back end of the month, the roller (serviced and raring to go) should be coming out of the shed to get consolidation right for the start of the season. Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil be in a state of plasticity, or "plastercine" like.
Consolidation is your main aim and the quality of pre-season rolling will show when you produce your early season pitches.
Pitches, where proper construction and gradual build up has taken place, are required to be consolidated throughout to a depth of no less than 100mm. This can only be achieved with gradual build up of roller weight, a constant speed over the whole square and measuring of soil density.
The maximum achievement for soil density is the function of its clay content. As the clay content increases, the soil density increases with compaction. Higher clay content pitches of 27- 35% require more intense working regimes.
Soil testing:- March is a good a time as any to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis, thus enabling you to get them back in time to start your new season maintenance programme.
Fertilisers: To help kick start the grass into growing, you can begin to apply some low nitrogen based fertilisers.
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. However, 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.
With the days drawing out and more hours of sunlight available, photosynthesis will be on the increase. It is important to have good grass coverage at the start of the season, so quadrant sampling of the square to monitor grass coverage, weeds, pests and disease and a soil analysis will help towards achieving a measured performance quality standard of your pitches. Rye grass is a hungry plant, and requires regular nutrition. In strict terms, nutrition is the function by which the plant uses glucose to obtain energy.
The plant itself manufactures the glucose using carbon from the air, water from the soil and sunlight by the process of photosynthesis; also know as the Carbon Cycle. In order to produce a healthy quality sward, pH levels need to be monitored and values should range between the scale 6- 7 (neutral), above will be alkaline and below acidic. A balanced fertiliser programme is a way of controlling its uptake.
Hydraulic conductivity is slow in heavy soils such as clay, so regular syringing allows moisture and nutrients to reach the plant system.
The use of wetting agents will also help when watering the square in reducing localised dry spots.
Regular monitoring and fertilising of the square is important to the plants ability to recover after stress from mowing, rolling and the drying out.
Ideally, if you have not had one done before you should have a full (PSD) Particle Size Distribution soil analysis done to tell you the actual make up of your soil profile.
Soil is made up of percentages of clay, silt and sand. The PSD Analysis will identify the ratio of these and confirm soil type, thus giving you a better understanding of what soil you are dealing with. Also, you can establish the amount of organic matter (OM) content as well as soil nutrient status and soil pH. With this information you will be able to identify the needs of your soil.
Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis service that enables you to get specific results for the soils you manage. Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants. There is an optimum for each plant nutrient and when coupled with other properties such as soil structure and particle sizes determine how vigorous your plants are. Different nutrients undertake different tasks within the plant.
Prevention is always better than a cure, and regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak. The combination of moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade can make the plant susceptible to disease attack. Many turf grass diseases, such as Fusarium and Red Thread, can be active at this time of the year.
Symptoms of Fusarium (Microdochium nival) are, orange - brown patches 2.5-5cm across increasing in size under suitable conditions. Active patches have a distinctive 'ginger' appearance when viewed early in the morning. Creamy white mycelium resembling cotton wool can be seen in the centre and towards the outer edge of the patch.
Systemic curatives and protective fungicides, such as Chlorothalonil and Iprodione, applied in liquid form with water as a carrier, can be used to control any outbreaks. Mixing two or more products in the same tank can help reduce the potential for disease resistance developing. This makes it more difficult for the pathogens to develop resistance to treatments.
Worms can be very active at this time of the year so treatments can be carried out; the use of Carbendazim is the only active ingredient for controlling worms.
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 brushing with a tractor mounted boom brush, following heavy dew will help prevent any attack of disease.
All machinery should now have been returned from any servicing in time for use, with ongoing inspection and cleaning after use being vital. Breakdowns cost money as well as inconveniencing pitch preparations. The workshop should be kept in a good order; good housekeeping is important, a tidy workshop reflects a tidy worker.
Keep a good supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance. Materials for spring remedial works should be booked to avoid disappointment or delay.
Structures: Check and repair fences, scoreboards, covers and sightscreens. Finnish off any painting that may have been delayed due to bad weather.
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.