Key Tasks for March
The cold spell that has been forecast will cause problems. The advice is to be patient - keep off the square if it is frozen or if there is a heavy frost. Rolling and general pre-season maintenance tasks will need to be put on hold.
The following advice should be applied once weather conditions are favourable.
Regular brushing in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surfaces will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak.
Many turf grass diseases, such as Fusarium and Red Thread, can be active at this time of the year. Keep an eye out for disease and worms, spray accordingly - Fungicides
Check all machinery has been serviced and sharpened ready for use. Give the square a light verti-cut and mow at 15-18mm to encourage sward density. As soon as possible, the square must be "squared off". Carry out renovation to bare areas such as ends and foot holes.
Start pre- season rolling if not already done so.
Outfields will also need some attention, with a light harrow, mowing at 25mm and aerating.
Check sight screens and covers are in good condition.
Keep records of work carried out, such as core samples, mowing and rolling.
Re-commission your irrigation systems and check you have not had any frost damage.
As soon as possible (for all you early birds), the square must be "squared off". By using semi-permanent markings, this operation can be made very simple using the 3, 4, 5 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 crease 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.
Continue brushing on a daily basis to remove moisture from the grass surface; this will allow for a much better standard of cut. Light scarification or verticutting can be carried out at fortnightly intervals pre-season. Removing horizontal and stoloniferous growing grasses and surface organic matter is always beneficial for the onset of pitch preparation; together with brushing, this will improve your quality of cut.
The mowing height should be lowered to around 15-18mm by the end of the month. Remember not to remove more than 2/3 of total grass height in each cut. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this vital time the better the results further on into the season.
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 sheets will help germination. Remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact, the operation is useless. The use of perennial rye grass is ideal for this. With its fineness of leaf, it combines superb close mowing with excellent wear tolerances and high quality aesthetics, is shade tolerant, fast establishing and produces very little thatch.
Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. Ideally, get your soil sampled for nutrients, organic matter content and soil pH. This information will help decide on the appropriate course of action with regard to applying the correct NPK balance for your site. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, then get your soil tested soon. To help kick start the grass into growing, you can begin to apply some low Nitrogen based fertilisers.
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 28- 35% require more intense working regimes.
For current thinking on pre-season rolling, there is a very interesting and useful thread on the Pitchcare Forum.
As we leave what is likely to prove one of the warmest Februarys on record, we face the oncoming spring with the opportunity for recovery growth from the rigours of winter and a strong start to the growing season. However, the general lack of rainfall over the winter should be of grave concern to turf managers at all levels. The notorious drought of 1976 was a summer statistically not as dry as the summer we experienced in 2018. However, what made summer1976 so difficult was the fact that it followed a previous year's dry summer and a dry winter. As we move towards summer 2019, water reserves in the reservoirs are as low as the water reserves in the soil. If this continues, then there will be intense drought pressure on grass plants, much faster than in 2018, as soils which are already relatively dry lose their moisture content sooner.
March is the month to start applying polymer wetting agents, such that you have enough time for the chemistry to build up in the soil ahead of summer. Prevention is absolutely better than cure when it comes to dry patch, and planning and preparation now prevents poor surfaces later in the year. This is especially important against the context of soils which are already dry. Maximising the absorption of any rainfall which does occur, via a combination of aeration and penetrant wetting agents, is a very wise tactic to employ.
It is worth considering the principles which drive growth during the spring, with respect to temperature; and whilst February has already initiated good growth across most of the country, March and April may yet prove to live up to recent expectations of cold and wet, and cold and dry respectively.
Forcing growth in such conditions, however, is simply not feasible nor sensible. The plant and soil biology know what they need, and no amount of fertiliser will force them to respond when they are not ready and warm enough.
The onset of colder weather is, of course, often accompanied by sunshine, which will provide two benefits on areas which receive direct sunlight. Firstly, photosynthesis and, secondly, localised warming. Plants will use the combination of solar energy and localised warming from the sunlight to produce sugars and start metabolic function. However, the problem with cool air at this time of the year is twofold:
- Warming and photosynthesis happen in short lived concentrated blocks of time.
- Cold night-time temperatures mean the daily base-line soil temperature drops as the soil does not build up any warming momentum.
The result is patchy and inconsistent growth. A useful analogy is to think of it rather like a cyclist trying to get up to sprinting speed as quickly as possible, when every tenth rotation of the pedals his foot slips off.
In relation to inputs, it is a time to concentrate on maximising the opportunities when the plant and soil biology is active, as well as assisting the plant to withstand desiccation and drought from cold winds or a lack of adequate water. The means to do that is with little and often liquid or soluble applications aimed at the leaf, with the intention of maximising rapid uptake and assimilation. Tools to achieve this outcome are:
Nitrate nitrogen – research shows it is absorbed into the leaf over 48 hours, where it then resides in the spaces between cells ready and waiting to be assimilated when the plant requests it.
Ammonium nitrogen – the prime nitrogen source of many fertilisers; ammonium will stay in the soil for longer than nitrate. It is utilised more during warmer periods.
Urea nitrogen – Absorbed quickly into plant leaves; urea applied as a foliar is the faster source to be converted into free nitrogen atoms in the plant. However, a large proportion of its nitrogen content will volatilise into the atmosphere as ammonium gas when applied during dry conditions.
Humic Substances – in particular, micronised formulations containing a percentage of Fulvic Acid, which acts to pull fertilisers into the plant more efficiently.
Carbon – the foundation energy source of plant and soil life; providing carbon increases utilisation efficiency of fertilisers and props up the soil food web.
Seaweed – plant stress hormones prime the plant by eliciting metabolic functions which allow it to better withstand environmental (abiotic) and pathogenic (biotic) stress.
Calcium – strengthens cell walls, creating a more resilient plant.
Micro nutrients – anyone looking to make informed decisions on their soil health will have had a full chemical analysis undertaken. Foliar applications of deficient nutrients in the tank mix will allow you to overcome a lack of supply from the soil, and provide the plant with everything it needs to maximise those concentrated blocks of light energy and warmth.
Two other important factors with regards to nutrition in spring are:
Patience – understand what the plant needs and when; don’t be tempted to input nutrient that cannot be consumed. It will either leach into water courses or sit, slowly degrading, forcing a disease-susceptible and mower-demanding flush when conditions turn warm and wet.
Preparation – store a conventional release ammonium sulphate based granular fertiliser on the shelf, ready to go down as soon as you see and hear the forecasters confidently predicting a consistent upturn in temperatures and available moisture. Preferably, one containing a little calcium for cell division and magnesium for chlorophyll production.
March is an excellent time to treat moss; however, beware of applying too much sulphate of iron if desiccating winds are prevalent, and most certainly hold back scarifying unless strong consistent grass growth is there to repair the sward.
Aeration, as always, provides the bedrock of good turf surfaces. Little and often in multiple different ways is a good mantra, but beware of desiccating winds leading to too much drying of the surface; especially on poa annua dominated swards. As with everything; timing and consideration of local conditions is paramount.
March is a good time to prevent the effects from type two fairy rings in the summer. A combination of aeration, surfactants and azoxystrobin fungicide will allow water and active ingredient to move into hydrophobic regions occupied by the fungal mycelium.
2018 highlighted the weaknesses in many irrigation systems. Prioritising repairs, efficiency and calibration of coverage and timing is a key requirement to prioritise, with an eye to maintaining plant health in the summer. Remember, watering volume should be thought about as a replacement for daily readings of millimetres evaporated from the soil, not in an arbitrary amount of minutes watered. Take the opportunity to engage with irrigation specialists to help implementing this, if required.
Formulating plans of how you intend to monitor and deal with a range of challenges through the year, from leather jackets and chafer grubs to anthracnose, microdochium nivale and leaf spot, enables you to work in a best practice, proactive, preventative manner. As we continue to face the challenges of tightening legislation and climate change, doing what it takes to create and follow a plan becomes more and more essential.
- Check and service floodlighting systems; ensuring they are ready for the new playing season.
- It also important to replace any worn tines on your aeration equipment.
- Clean out the shed, sell off any old machinery and dispose of any junk that’s clogging up the shed.
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 - are they ready for action, no repairs needed, all in good order? Remember, covers are used a lot in our climate for protecting the playing surface from rain and sun under preparation for play. 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.
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