Expected weather for this month:

Miserable start to October with a lot of rain expected. Should clear up again however and dry spells should follow.

Key Tasks for October

General Maintenance

Renovations

All clubs have their own methods of working and renovating their squares. In most cases the level of work will be dictated by what budgets and resources they have available at the time and what they are trying to achieve. 

Make sure your machinery is up to the task with regular services. In the main, most club groundsmen are now putting on between 6-10 bags of loam per pitch. It is important not to under or over-dress your tracks. Even in the current economic climate, it is best not to skimp on the amount of loam used. I see too many club tracks that do not perform in terms of pace and bounce because of poor end of season renovation practices. 

Generally, it is usually a combination of two factors that, when combined, causes problems - not removing enough thatch or organic material during renovations and spreading insufficient loam down to increase the bulk density of the soil profile.

However, there is a fine line between too much and too little.

Soil Analysis: - If you have not had your soils tested for some time, then do so at the earliest possible chance. Soil tests commonly carried out fall into two categories: Physical and Chemical.

The Physical analysis of soil reveals its texture, the amount of organic matter present, the rate of which the water passes through the soil profiles and the pore spaces within the soil.

The Chemical analysis produces information on soil acidity & alkalinity, the amount of mineral nutrients available for the grass plant to take up and the amount of toxins that may be harmful to the turf. 

Scarification: - Scarification is important to remove unwanted vegetation, but also to produce a key for the new loam material to sit in. The level of scarification required will be dependent on how much of a thatch layer you have generated throughout the season. The best way to identify how much you have is by taking a core sample. It will be then a case of going through a vigorous renovation programme, scarifying in at least three directions, finishing in the line of play. 

Depending on how much thatch is removed, where necessary, clean off all the thatch debris after each pass. The square can then be over sown using a suitable grass seed mixture; do not be frightened to try out new cultivars. Sowing rates now range between 35-50 g per square metre. In essence, you are aiming to establish new grasses into your square. 

Aeration: - The very basics of grass growth has never changed; sunlight, water and air, three factors essential for good grass growth of all plant life. Whilst we have no influence over the quality and hours of sunlight, there is a single management operation that directly influences the availability of the latter two. That is aeration. The purpose of aerating a cricket square is the key to producing the foundation upon which additional treatments can work. 
Aeration relieves compaction, assists in top dressing to migrate down the tine holes and improves water percolation through the soil profile. It also helps to create the general environment essential for healthy grass growth. Autumn and winter aeration treatments are beneficial to promoting drier surfaces for further maintenance practices to take place. Solid tining is usually the most common practice but, where saddling is a problem to your ends, then hollow coring over a period of time will help with settlement. 

Soil compaction is often the main contributing factor to poor grass growth; the lack of air in the soil profile inhibits many beneficial activities such as water movement and retaining microbial organisms. A programme to decompact the soil is essential, preferably using a pedestrian powered vertical aerator, to re-introduce some porosity into the profile. Solid tine, hollow coring and linear aeration are a number of methods being used to aerate soil profiles. 

These operations tend to be carried out on a frequency basis depending on the type and size of the tines being used. However, there are a number of groundsmen who never aerate their cricket squares; they believe that the aeration holes formed can cause a weakness/stress line in the clay profile that could eventually break, causing problems with the pitches. They believe that the clay's ability to shrink and swell provides the necessary voids to promote root growth.

Top Dressing: - It's important not to overdress the square, as you will not only be wasting the precious loam material but you may also be smothering your sward. The last thing you want to be doing is to bury any vegetation, which will lead to future problems. The object of the renovations is revitalize the top growing zone, restore levels and to integrate new material into the soil profile. This will help build up the clay content in your square. 

Irrigation should follow as soon as possible to assist in the germination of new seed. By keeping the soil moist, the seed should germinate between 7-10 days weather permitting, a germination sheet will aid this process. 

Once the grass has germinated out on the square, you should look to maintain a cutting height between 15-25mm, and continue to brush off the dew in the mornings to keep the sward in a dry and disease free condition

Outfield

Once you have finished renovating your square, devote some time to the outfield. Outfields are often neglected if not used for any winter sport such as rugby or football.

They do not get much attention in the way of scarifying / harrowing, aeration, topdressing, over seeding and, in some cases, not even being cut through the winter months.

Mowing of the outfield should be undertaken on a regular basis. By maintaining a height of cut between 25-35mm, this will help to encourage a dense sward and reduce disease.

Invest some money on your outfield to restore levels, kill any weeds and aerate where possible. Some clubs even use their pedestrian Groundsman spiker to aerate their outfields.

It may not be too late to get some selective weed killer applied, especially if soil and air temperatures remain favourable. Also apply a winter feed to help keep some colour and stimulate some growth

ideally, when aerating the outfields, penetration should be down to a depth around 200mm to promote deeper rooting and surface drainage. Some groundsmen like to carry out a programme of solid tining, deep slitting or hollow coring, which again increases porosity but can also help redistribute/recycle topsoil which, in turn, helps restore levels.

The frequency of aeration activities will often depend on the resources - money, machinery and time - available. In the main, you should be looking to aerate throughout the winter period on a monthly basis, weather and soil conditions permitting.

As we come to the end of September and start looking ahead towards October, it appears from the forecast that it will be an unsettled start to the month. This could be an unwanted disruption for those who still have renovation work to carry out. The average rainfall for September was 70mm (region depending), with highs of 20oC or above. This allowed many to make the most of the good ground temperatures and moisture available, with only a steep drop in temperatures towards the end of the month causing some challenges.

The middle of the coming month looks to be more settled and it will be important to monitor the local environmental conditions with a view of the site’s previous history and patterns in disease outbreaks. As conditions become more conducive for disease development, checking historic information against current conditions and also factoring in what is expected ahead is key to increasing the probability of successful turf grass pathogen management in autumn 2020. Principles and actions which collectively form part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach.

At this juncture in the calendar year, Microdochium nivale (microdochium patch) control is key for many turf managers. Predicting the likelihood of disease expression can seem about as easy as predicting the winning lottery numbers, however, knowing what has happened, what is happening now and what could be about to happen is essential when attempting to determine the likelihood of disease expression. Understanding these elements then allows better informed decisions when selecting and timing any inputs aimed at counteracting any outbreaks of disease, whether they be fungicidal, nutritional or plant response applications. As we adapt to the newer chemistry and modes of action available, the more information gathered to make accurate well-versed decisions on what, when and how to apply, the increased likelihood of success there will be. Success will look different for each turf manager, with varying budgets, resources and club expectations. For some, it will be blemish free surfaces, for others it will better control than the previous year and different again for others. There is no fixed target, however, having a target and planning around it increases the chances of success.

Nutrition

As temperatures and available sunlight changes, so must the approach to the applications of nutrition, mainly nitrogen. The aim being to promote steady, hardy shoot and leaf growth, with any lush, flushes of growth being more susceptible to attack by fungal pathogens. Fertilisers with a slow release nitrogen source, such as methylene urea or polymer coated urea, perhaps used in combination with straight urea, will give longevity through the autumn and into winter. If slow release fertilisers are not suitable for a specific site, when using a conventional fertiliser (to avoid the aforementioned flushes of growth), ensure the ammonium value is not above 4 or 5 percent.

Nitrogen is not the only important nutrient to be applied this month; micronutrients and biostimulants are a good idea to ensure the plant has a full suite of essential nutrition available.

Iron, calcium and magnesium – the traditional go to options for hardening the plant and providing colour through the winter. A fully chelated iron with a pH more towards neutral will be far less antagonistic towards cell wall integrity and beneficial leaf dwelling microorganisms than Sulphate of Iron. Required Magnesium and Calcium can be applied as part of a nutritional application when factored into a well-balanced fertiliser programme.

Biostimulants applied at the right time will be beneficial to the plant and soil over winter. As the rate of photosynthesis changes in line with the seasons, applications of carbon energy in the form of sugar can assist the plant in being more resilient and well-developed in the early spring.

Applications of seaweed will elicit important beneficial defensive and stress responses in the plant and associated microorganisms when applied ahead of disease activity, before conditions favour the development of disease.

Consideration should also be given to amino acids and humates, with the former playing an important role in abiotic stress tolerance, helping plants to prepare for and cope with autumnal and winter stress events, such as varying changes in temperature and volumetric water content.  Humates assist in maximising nutrient availability as well as stimulating and providing habitable zones for beneficial bacteria.

Key activities:

  • Use a programmed approach to maximise plant health, through balanced nutrition of all plant essential elements not just NPK as part of an IPM plan.
  • Raise cutting heights to minimise stress with a reduction in stress invoking practices such as top dressing which weaken and damage leaf blades.
  • Ensure cutting units are sharp to provide a clean cut to minimise weakened points for pathogen attack.
  • Well timed aeration to maintain movement of water away from the surface and down through the profile.
  • Reduce periods of leaf blade wetness by removing dews or utilising dew dispersant technology (apply only to a dry leaf)
  • Monitor disease forecasts via resources such as Syngenta’s Greencast
  • Use biostimulants and plant response promoters to maximise plant health.
  • Take advice on and construct a preventative fungicide application plan, using historic data, live weather forecasts and site-specific conditions, for applications ahead of when conditions favour the development of disease.

Worms

Worms have been a focus for turf managers throughout the last month with the increase in soil moisture levels. There are no legal controls for earthworms and any product which is applied to directly affect them is done so illegally.

Cultural management continues to be the only route currently available.  This can include a combination of practices such as, localised surface acidification, removal of grass clippings to reduce their food source and sanding of surfaces to assist in the drying out and dispersal of casts. The above does not completely eradicate the problem, but it will lead to less negative lasting impressions on the surface from the casts.  Sulphate of iron is often used as a surface acidifying agent but it is worth considering that over application may lead to an accumulation in the soil causing long term imbalances and negative effects to plant health throughout the rest of the year.

Tom Wood
Amenity Specialist

B.Sc (Hons) BASIS FACTS

Keep machinery in good order, clean after use and top up any oil/fuel levels.

Check cutting cylinders are at correct cutting height and are sharp.