Expected weather for this month:

Unseasonable mild spells forecast, interspersed with cold snaps

Key Tasks for December

As ever, the caveat with the below advice is weather permitting. If you have frost, keep off the surfaces - you will do more harm than good.

Square: - Inspect your ground regularly for disease, worm activity, and spray as required. Dragbrush your square to remove any surface moisture to discourage any disease, and sarrel roll to keep the surface open. Mow the outfield and square as required.

Spraying: - The difficulties with spraying chemicals at this time of the year is getting an accurate forecast to know when there is a dry enough window of opportunity, the last thing you need is to spray a chemical for it to be rendered ineffective by weather. These products are expensive enough to buy in the first place. Worm treatments can be carried out if needed, but please remember to ask yourself why worms are present. pH levels are usually the main factor but, organic matter and your cultural practices on the square need to be assessed. Carbendazim is now the only active ingredient available for controlling worms.

Mowing; The use of a rotary for mowing the square will be more beneficial as it will reduce the effect of surface compaction. Maintaining a consistent height of cut on both square and outfield is very important, as this helps to encourage sward density, the square should be maintained between 12-20mm with the outfield between 25-35mm. Remember the outfield too has a major effect on a game if unattended.

Outfields: - Too many clubs tend to neglect their outfields, it is important to undertake some work on these areas as they play an important part of the game. They need to be firm, flat and free from weeds. The outfield should be treated through the winter the same as any other natural grass surface, Fertilising and mowing should not be neglected. Some cricket outfields are often maintained as winter sports pitches and the amount of work carried out may be determined by whether it is used for other sports (football/rugby). 

Depending on ground conditions, some clubs may be able to complete drainage or reconstruction works during the winter months. Existing drainage systems can be overhauled and cleaned out, and additional drainage systems may be added.

Aeration treatments are of a fundamental importance. If not done so already, aerate your square and outfield. If your outfield is used for winter sport, link the work into your management programme. All soils are prone to compaction, but heavy clay soils which are inherently poor draining are particularly susceptible. To counteract existing compaction, aeration work should be seen as an ongoing process which must be carried out with modern, efficient equipment to achieve maximum benefits.

Deep penetration should be the objective to allow air in, facilitate water infiltration to lower levels and encourage deeper grass rooting. Without good gaseous exchange and movement of surplus water, excessively soft thatch riddled playing surfaces will be dominated by shallow rooted annual meadow grasses. For alleviating deep seated compaction, Verti-draining is invaluable and has become an integral part of a maintenance programme at many clubs. To maximize the benefits of Verti–draining, treatments must be carried out before ground conditions get too wet.

Verti-draining with solid tines are best suited for this work, as this will reduce deeper compacted layers and reduce the risk of panning; Slit tining is a preferred option as this opens up the surface and is much quicker. Hollow tine aeration has a key role in combating soil compaction within the top 75-100mm of the profile too, followed by a sandy top dressing mix will assist a more freely draining playing surface. In the main, you should be looking to aerate throughout the winter period on a monthly basis, weather and soil conditions permitting. 

The weather forecast for December is for fluctuations. Periods of unseasonably mild weather interspersed with cold snaps. Nothing too prolonged is predicted over the course of the month, particularly with respects to cold spells which are more likely to occur throughout January and February once the storage heater effect of the North Sea’s residual summer heat has receded, such that it can no longer have a warming affect upon cold easterly air streams moving across the British Isles and into Ireland.

It is likely to be a roller coaster month of peaks in growing potential for both grass plant and fungal pathogen alike, followed by dips of activity, first in the plant and then in the fungal pathogen as temperatures fall.

Looking at the pros and cons of each scenario they can broadly be summed up thus:

Warmer Period

Pros: If soil temperatures rise above 10 degrees Celsius, then good growth will promote recovery on disease scars and worn areas, as well as push along seeded areas following renovation events during early autumn.

Cons: Warmer conditions which promote growth can encourage fungal diseases, especially when they occur alongside high relative humidity and low air movement.

Colder Period

Pros: Once temperatures drop to zero or below, fungal diseases will also draw to a halt.

Cons: Grass growth stops once soil temperatures hit low single figures, thus reducing recovery and establishment growth. In addition, cold conditions place an abiotic stress demand on the plant leaf tissues.

Sitting somewhere between warmer and colder are what can be defined as cooler periods where temperatures sit between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius. It is these periods when the grass plants metabolic systems are beginning to grind to a halt, but the fungal pathogens systems are still driving onward so that surfaces are at high risk of becoming infected with diseases such as Microdochium nivale.

Following the withdrawal from use of iprodione in June of this year, and consequently the formulations Chipco Green and Interface, this disease season marks the first year turf mangers are faced without a fungicide which will target visibly active Microdochium nivale and stop it in its tracks. Instead, the active substances available need to be applied to surfaces before the disease is active, none more so than the active substance Fludioxonil.

Fludioxonil is an antisporulant which acts upon dormant spores on the plant surface and in the rootzone. Fludioxonil interferes with the water pressure in fungal spores causing them to burst and die before prevailing environmental conditions are suitable for promoting their germination. Due to the fact that it does this outside of the plant's physical structure, Fludioxonil does not have a systemic action which requires plant metabolic function to become effective. Rather, Fludioxonil operates outside the plant when it comes into direct contact with dormant fungal spores. 

Understanding the basic principle of a relatively straightforward mechanism by which an active substance operates upon a fungal pathogen (Fludioxonil makes dormant spores burst) allows for greater consideration of effective application timing. For example; given this knowledge, it is clear that an application of Fludioxonil once spores have germinated and then infected a plant, thereby causing visible signs of damage, is somewhat akin to bolting the proverbial door once the horse has bolted.

On the flip side, an application of Fludioxonil prior to an outbreak of fungal disease – as the result of reference to historical records and checking of upcoming weather patterns and forecasts which indicate disease is highly likely to occur – would serve to remove dormant spores eagerly lying in wait for conditions to favour them.

Additionally, combining the antisporulant action of Fludioxonil alongside the plant cell wall-strengthening action of foliar calcium would further help to fight off disease by providing the plant itself with the resources it requires to bolster its defences.

Finally; combining these actions with good old-fashioned principles of aeration, to allow the soil to respire, and dew removal to inhibit the fungal pathogens ability to grow and infect across the leaf surface, and you have before you the core fundamentals of an Integrated Pest Management Plan for combating fungal diseases on sports turf in December.  

One quick word on soil water management, where surfaces are prone to water logging; then consider the use of a penetrant wetting agent to drive moisture away from the surface; not only will this reduce surface humidity, helping to mitigate pathogen attack, it will also allow the soil to maintain effective respiration which reduces stress on the plant and helps to maintain populations of beneficial microorganisms.

Finally, be sure to investigate areas which were dry in the summer; do not presume moisture will have yet penetrated at depth, and consider that if not sufficiently rehydrated over the winter, soils will start drier in the spring. Should another dry summer come to pass, the onset of water stress will become apparent sooner, again a penetrant wetting agent will help to alleviate this problem.

When looking back at weather records over the past forty-five years, summer 2018 may be considered something of a freak occurrence; however, inspection of weather records over the past five to ten years indicates such extremes are becoming more and more common. The lesson then is not to presume spring and summer 2019 will not be similar to 2018, it may very well turn out that way.

As always prior consideration and then adequate preparation for a range of potential extreme scenarios is paramount to maximising sustained quality of turf surfaces throughout any given year.

Inspecting and cleaning of machinery - December is an ideal time to send any machinery away for repairs or servicing. Keep a good supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance.

Check H.O.C Ensure cutting cylinders are sharp and set to winter mowing.

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

Latest discussion points on the Pitchcare Forum:

Worm Control
Renovation of a cricket square