After a very wet winter, we hope March will bring some much needed favourable dry weather to help pitches recuperate from the saturated state that they are in. With soil and air temperatures rising into double figures, it will not take long to observe the grass recovering.
March is also a time to start planning end of season renovations, making it important to invest time and money into your pitch. Typical end of season renovations are centred around scarifying, aerating, topdressing and overseeding .
If you are not doing the work yourself, make sure you shop around and get the best quotation for the supply of services.
For many local authorities and lower league clubs, early March is a good time to get the dragmats, brushes and harrows out onto the pitches to try and clean and stand the grass up, making them presentable.
Deep aeration will help oxygenate the soil profile and restore levels. Rotary mowers are becoming a popular choice for use on pitches; many of the modern types are able to cut to 15mm and leave a nice stripe with the rear roller.
Pitch presentation at this time of the year remains important. Well striped pitches with lines that are both bright and straight, and goalposts that are upright with nets that are tidy, will help to take the eye off some of the thinner areas of grass.
For training pitches used on a daily basis, try and reduce wear, rotate where activities may take place, especially fast feet drills.
If you have irrigation reels or equipment, it is wise to look over them and check that they are working ok and complete any service requirements, if they are needed.
Try and ensure all matches are completed in time for your renovation window and allow enough time for the seed to germinate and establish before the next bout of fixtures onto the pitch.
Cut at a height between 25mm-45mm, remembering to mow on a regular basis, although frequency of mowing will be dependant on growth, ground conditions and presentation requirements.
Cutting grass in very wet conditions can be detrimental to the playing surface, with vibrations from the mower causing finer particles in the soil/rootzone to migrate to the surface, allowing air pores to become blocked. When pores are blocked, they will inevitably encourage the surface to seal, making it difficult for water and air to enter the ground. The mower will also smear and damage the surface, especially when turning.
Quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet. Cylinder mowers can offer different cutting qualities, which are governed by the amount of blades on the cylinder. A five bladed cylinder will give you a fine quality cut on ryegrasses.
Divoting is important work and should be completed after each match. Best practice is to arm yourself with a border fork and a bucket of topdressing with a little seed mixed in.
Not every one can afford the necessary time to go divoting on the scale of some of the Premiership grounds, but even if you could afford just a couple of hours post match divoting and sorting out some of the worst, I can guarantee that you will notice the difference over time.
If you cannot afford a full divoting programme, then you could equally tackle the worst and clean the rest off with a mower or pick-up sweeper.
Dragmatting and Brushing
Continue the work of brushing to keep the air circulating around the base of the plant, particularly important for removing early morning dew and controlling disease. Pay particular attention also to the goalmouth areas and centre circles post match, to lift the grass back up out of muddy areas. This is also important in maintaining surface levels.
Surface cleaning: You will need to clean out the surface and get rid of the build up of dead organic matter, particularly on the wings of the pitch, and the remnants of old divots etc. A tractor drawn rake, followed by a box mower is probably the most traditional method, and most likely within the means of most clubs and schools. The use of a pick-up flail mower is useful, in which case you may find that scarifying tines can be fitted and the job will be completed in one operation. The scarifying tines will leave a grooved surface, ideal for ensuring oversown grass seed is buried just beneath the soil surface and in contact with the soil.
An operation that is gaining popularity to those that can afford it (mostly Premiership clubs fall into this bracket) is fraise mowing, which is extremely efficient at removing the top organic layer of the pitch. You will however, be effectively starting again with a newly sown surface, so your seeding rates will need to be higher.
Spiking: Spiking relieves compaction and getting air back into the soil. If you have a spiker that will allow some heave, such as a vertidrain or Weidenmann etc., you may find this beneficial, otherwise you may do well to hire one in or employ the services of a local sports ground contractor.
Oversowing: Acquire a good quality grass seed for your renovation, with fresh seed being more beneficial compared to old seed. Look at the STRI list for the list of recommended cultivars.
Topdressing: Get it ordered. Choose wisely for compatibility with your current rootzone. If you employ the services of an agronomist, then he/she will advise you of the best topdressing for your situation. If you cannot afford to topdress, you may consider hollow coring, recycling them by breaking them up and dragmatting them back into the surface.
Raising and restoring surface levels, getting rid of those compacted areas in front of the goal is everyone's obvious aim, however do not forget the linesmen's run-up. Occassionally forgotten, however easily incorporated into your programme and, whilst you're about it, the area beside the pitch that everyone stands to watch the game will need attention.
Fertilising: A good pre-seeding fertiliser, low in nitrogen and high in phosphate and potash (P:K), to provide the young seedling with the essential nutrients which will be deficient in a soil washed through by winter rains.
Getting your soil test completed now is a priority to ensure that your nutrient programme can be mapped out for the summer leading into the start of your next season.
Keep a look out for the visible signs of nutrient deficiency and compaction which may lead to the ingress of Red Thread, which in most cases will disappear very quickly, especially after a dose of fertiliser.
Many pitches will be in need of a feed, with a low nitrogen input with some iron would be beneficial, allowing the grass plant a kick to get going, and the Iron (Fe) will help colour up the sward and kill off any moss spores.
Turf treatments work well for some, and there are a number of them to choose from, such as organic based micronutrients, seaweed treatments, clay flocculants, amino acids and plant growth regulators such as Primo Maxx. It can sometimes be difficult to assess the benefits of such treatments, however most managers will notice if it has been effective or not. If you are unsure, then ask you supplier for a trial amount and test it for yourself, I'm sure they would be pleased to accommodate you.
Weeds should not be too much of a problem if you carried out a sucessful selective weed programme last year.
Keep and eye open for fungal disease, and use approved fungicides to treat any infected areas. Early morning dew on playing surfaces often promotes the chance of a disease attack; regular brushing off the dew will help prevent this.
Leaf spot can be quite damaging, especially in stadium environments; keep the leaf blade relative dry by regular brushing, and apply an approved fungicide to prevent further outbreaks
Red thread is an extremely common turfgrass disease that can develop at any time of the year during cool, wet weather, but frequently appears most severely during late spring and autumn. It can develop on most turfgrasses, but ryegrasses, meadowgrasses and fescues appear to be more commonly affected. This disease is often referred to as an indicator of low fertility, and symptoms will often develop more severely if nitrogen or potassium is limited.
Usually, a dose of fertiliser will help control and outbreak of Red thread, howerver, it it persists, many of the fungicides that are currently available for use on managed amenity turf have shown efficacy against this turf disease and, where necessary, can be used as part of an integrated programme. Always ensure that the disease is correctly identified prior to the application of any plant protection product.
With renovations planned, ensure all equipment is fit for purpose and ready for use, making time to keep mowing machinery clean and serviced for use, with blades sharp and set to correct height of cut.
Irrigation systems will require servicing and commissioning ready for the new season, calibrating, checking for leaks and priming for use.
Pitchcare is the only provider of LANTRA accredited training courses in the maintenance of Winter Sports Pitches. It is a one day course designed to provide a basic knowledge of rugby and football pitch maintenance. The course enables the Groundsman to grasp the basic needs of a winter sports surface throughout a 12 month period.
Delegates attending the Winter Sports Pitch Maintenance course and using the accompanying manual will be able to develop their own skills, working knowledge and expertise, by understanding the method of instruction and the maintenance principles it sets out.
Included in the Course Manual, there are working diaries showing the range of tasks needed to be accomplished each month. The Course Manual is available for purchase separately.
Our next public courses are taking place at Wallsend Boys Club on 18th March, Birmingham University on 25th March and Christchurch on Thursday 3rd April - more details can be found here.
In addition, we are able to arrange courses to be delivered on site to groups of 6 – 10 people. Email Chris Johnson for information.
Make certain you check goal nets and posts before each game, ensuring they are upright and the nets are tidy and tied in properly.
Keep you lines looking bright by over marking before each match and string them when you start to see them wander.