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.
Pitch presentation remains important. Well striped pitches with lines that are both bright and straight, and goalposts that are both upright with nets that are tidy, will help to take the eye off some of the thinner areas of grass.
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 haven't yet thought of what equipment or materials you will need for your end of season renovations, then I think you need to give it some serious thought, starting now. Time is moving on and you really need to have everything to hand to maximise the available time you have for renovations.
Give some consideration to how you will achieve your objectives i.e. what are your problem areas? How are you going to solve the problems and what methods are you going to use to carry out the tasks effectively (often dependant on what you can afford and what equipment you have available to carry out the work)? Work out timescales for each step of your renovation programme. Quite often there can be a lot of things to think about, so having a written plan is not a bad idea.
If you are not doing the work yourself, make sure you shop around and get the best quotation for the supply of services.
March is the month when warm spells can often be interrupted by a few cold frosty days but, with the average temperature rising a little, then some movement in the grass can be seen. This may require an increase in the need to cut the grass. In the south of the country, it wouldn't go amiss to try a small sowing of seed to try and get some grass cover back.
Make sure the seed is covered and worked into the surface. If you have one, a Quadraplay with the surface spiker and brush will work well. Do this only if you expect a period of warmer weather but, if you do expect a frost, then you may need to cover the seed if it has not yet emerged.
Drag matting 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 keeping surface levels.
Divoting is important work and should be completed after each match. Arm yourself with a border fork and a bucket of topdressing with a little seed mixed in. Not everyone 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, 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.
Mowing:- If the opportunity presents itself, you may find yourself mowing early this month. Keep your height of cut as near as possible to the high end of a winter cutting height. This will ensure the grass has the optimum leaf area for the production of carbon (the building blocks of plant growth) through the process of photosynthesis.
If you are expecting to carry out your renovations earlier in April, then you might want to think about reducing the height of your grass over the next few weeks. Not only will this ensure your emergent grass sowing will not have to compete for light amongst taller established grasses, it also means that you will not need to be on the grass with heavy machinery whilst it is trying to establish.
Aeration:- Continue spiking when the conditions are right. Keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting. Hand fork goalmouth and centre circle areas if difficult to get onto with machinery.
Marking Out:- Keep you lines looking bright by overmarking before each match, and string them when you start to see them wander. A good bright straight line is like a frame for a beautiful painting. Giving some thought and taking some time with a string line helps give a better impression of a groundsman's skills, particularly as this is one of the visible facets of what we do
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.
March is still a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis.
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.
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.
Start thinking about your end of season renovations, and how you may be tackling the possibility of an extended season and the need to get onto the pitches to carry out the work. Start to build your strategy and get it down on paper. Look at what resources you will need - manpower, materials and machinery.
With reference to your machinery needs; if it's part of your inventory, drag it out, dust it off and fire it up to make sure it will work for you when you need it. If you don't have it in your inventory, but you know someone who has, a neighbouring club or school perhaps, particularly if you are on good terms with them; you may come to some arrangement to borrow it when they are not using it.
Alternatively, look at the option of hiring. There are a growing number of hire companies these days that are now specialising in the hire of sports ground equipment. With reference to your material needs, get them ordered now so that they are on hand when you need them.
I hear far too often clubs stating they have no money for their end of season renovations; we need to change the mind set of clubs and encourage them to raise funds for pitch maintenance, the benefits of having decent pitches are many, better playing surfaces, increase skills, attract players and, in the long term, increase revenue. Most clubs have a healthy youth section which often use the pitch facilities; if everyone connected with the club paid £1 into the grounds pot once a week, clubs with 200 plus playing members would raise over £200 per week, £800 month, £10,400 a year. Investing some £5-10k per year would vastly improve your pitches.
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.
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 your lines looking bright by over marking before each match and string them when you start to see them wander.
Keep an eye on drainage/ditch outfalls, keep them clear and free from debris.