Expected weather for this month:

Low pressure systems forecast to dominate bringing wet and windy conditions for all areas.

Key Tasks for December

General Maintenance

Maintain a winter height of cut between 24-30mm.

Continue with post match divoting and brushing and undertake aeration if conditions allow. A lot of pitches will be very soft or waterlogged after all the rain in November, so stay off the pitch with heavy equipment if your ground is holding water – a hand fork might be your best friend!

If snow does make an appearance, training will either head indoors or on the main pitch. If the latter, ensure that regimes, such as goalkeeping drills and small sided games are rotated on the pitch to avoid excessive wear.

  • Continue cutting to encourage good sward density, ensuring that you do not over cut as this would thin out the sward due to the slowdown in growth
  • Ensure that any equipment used is keenly set to cut
  • Regular brushing will keep the air circulating around the base of the plant
  • Deep spike to alleviate compaction when conditions allow
  • 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 the pitch with machinery
  • Use any downtime to overhaul/service machinery
  • If it’s frosty, keep off the pitch until the frost has lifted or it becomes absolutely necessary. This will avoid damage to the grass plant/leaf

Try to keep the top 100mm free draining; this can be achieved by regular spiking with solid or slit tines to a depth of 150mm or more.

Marking out

  • Keep your linemarker clean
  • Keep string lines taut
  • Ensure that right angles are correctly formed. Use the 3:4:5 triangle method. The bigger the triangle at the start, the more accurate the pitch will be.

Pre and post match routines

Before the match

  • Check that the pitch is fit and safe for play
  • Check for debris (glass, stones etc.)
  • Clear away leaves – a thankless task, but one that needs doing
  • Ensure the surface is firm and not saturated, correctly marked out and flagged, and that the posts are safe and secure

Post match

  • Replace divots, even if it’s just the worst affected areas - it will make a difference!
  • Dragmat/brush/harrow to restore playing surfaces and remove worm casts
  • Clean up the playing surface with a rotary mower

Additionally ...

  • Now is the time to check and repair covers!
  • Dragmat, harrow and groom rake surface, as required, to maintain levels, remove early morning dew, control disease and generally get air in and around the plant
  • Spike/verticut as often as possible

Remember – that the sun is at its lowest in December and daylight hours are at their shortest, so any shade problems you have will be exacerbated. These areas tend to take longer to warm up and dry out which, in turn, may affect maintenance operations and playability.

Weekly checks:

  • Check goals for loose bolts and tighten as necessary
  • Check nets - make sure they are properly supported at the back of the goal and aren't sagging
  • Check team dugouts are stable and anchored securely. Make sure that they are tidy and free from litter
  • Repair and maintain fence lines
  • Sweep up/vacuum fallen leaves

Artificial Pitch Maintenance

  • Keep surface clean
  • Brush according to manufacturers recommendations usually after every 7 to 10 hours of use or once per week and no more than 3 times per week general rule. Keep records.
  • Remove any algae and moss from surface. Crumb Rubber filled systems require regular brushing to maintain manufacturer's recommendations on rubber levels and pile heights.
  • Check line and seems for any glue failure or tears and repair immediately any seems left unrepaired can become a big problem quickly
  • Check fencing around pitch for loose panels
  • Make sure that goal mouth rubber levels especially along kick out areas and replace if low.
  • Clean decontamination areas out, make sure brushes at entrance and pitch signage is in place.

Artificial Goalmouths

  • The carpet is usually contaminated with debris from pitch. Brush carpet when dry to remove any clay particles. Make sure levels are ok with clay surrounds.
  • It's a good time to raise goal mouths if the pile height of the carpet is below the bordering natural pitch. Remember raising the carpet means raising the cross bar.

December brings with it some mixed blessings: the need to contemplate relatives, gifts and cards whilst controlling alcohol intake over Christmas and the New Year. Meanwhile, it can be seen as the low time within the growing calendar which can be a tricky time to navigate from a disease and weather perspective.

I don’t need to remind you how wet it has been, almost from the end of September, though it’s useful for us to think about the implications of all that water for both the plant and for the substrate it’s rooted in.

The need to take a breather

Much of the life that we are familiar with uses oxygen in a process called respiration, and that includes microorganisms within the soil. Conventionally a well-structured soil will contain roughly equal parts of water to air contained within the pore spaces. This provides an environment for organisms such as worms, fungi, algae, protozoa, bacteria and nematodes. Some of these are mobile but many have restricted ability to move meaning that the environment largely determines which suite of species can exist – if the soil structure is compacted or waterlogged for periods of time then anaerobic species, organisms that don’t require oxygen, will be the dominant form of life.

Bacteria vary in size from around 0.2 µm up to 10 µm making them a comparable size to clay and silt soil particles (< 0.2 µm and 2-50 µm respectively). They grow and live in thin water films around soil particles and near roots in an area called the rhizosphere. Bacteria’s small size enables them to grow and adapt more rapidly to changing environmental conditions than larger, more complex microorganisms like fungi which tend to prefer more acidic environments without soil disturbance.

Most microbes are generally inactive and may only have a short burst of soil activity. Since bacteria live in difficult conditions they reproduce quickly when optimal water, food, and environmental conditions occur. Populations of bacteria may easily double in 15-30 minutes. Soil oxygen levels often determine soil bacteria activity with most soil bacteria preferring well-oxygenated soils. Examples of aerobic bacteria include the Aerobacter genus which is widely distributed in the soil and actinomycetes bacteria genus Streptomyces which give soil its good “earthy” smell.

Anaerobic bacteria prefer an environment without oxygen. Many pathogenic bacteria prefer anaerobic soil conditions and are able to outcompete or kill off aerobic bacteria in the soil when conditions are suitable. Bacteria populations expand rapidly and the bacteria are more competitive when easily digestible simple sugars are readily available around in the rhizosphere. Root exudates, dead plant debris, simple sugars, and complex polysaccharides are abundant in this region.

Soil aeration

So how can we maintain an aerobic soil when the weather conditions are so wet? The answer is that we can’t. As with many things in life the secret is preparation. We undertake renovations at the end of the summer because we have good growing conditions – soil temperatures in excess of 10 °C and consistent moisture, these renovations stimulate the grass plant to grow into the spaces that we’ve created. We’re engineering an environment, around the rhizosphere, that is suited to the aerobic species that we want. Despite this soils that have been waterlogged for long periods of time, because of this wet autumn, will need some additional support to kick-start the development of an aerobic suite of bacteria.

Do no harm

The first principles of first aid are that we do no harm, and that principle also applies to environmental management regimes. If we take machinery over waterlogged soils we are likely to create problems as we compact and damage the soil structure. Ideally whilst the drains are still running, we need to stay off the surface. When the drains stop running the soil is said to be at field capacity. Only when drains have stopped running, and you can start to hear the soil pores opening, should we think about putting any machinery over the surface – and even then we need to be cautious: spread the weight with turf tyres at low pressure.

Aeration should be our next priority, depending on the kit we have and the ability for us to make a mess of the surface we can consider a range of devices available: verti-draining, solid tining, air injection, earthquaking and slitting are all forms that use different mechanisms to reincorporate oxygen back into the rootzone. Different root zones drain at varying rates because of the distribution of the different sand, silt and clay particle sizes. They will determine how quickly the moisture can flow away or how intractable the soil is.

Once we’ve aerated, and if temperatures are sufficiently mild, we can then think about trying to build up the levels of beneficial organisms by supplying them with some readily available nutrients e.g. carbon sources such as SeaAction liquid seaweed or BioMass Sugar. The movement and development of microorganisms will help restructure a soil and maintain oxygen within the rootzone. This benefits the plant which can then obtain nutrients through the activity of bacteria, facilitating good plant health and recovery ability.

We will all have suffered some losses over what is turning into an exceptionally wet autumn for many green keepers and groundstaff. Hopefully a dry Christmas will help us get some much needed air into our surfaces and whilst we’re eating the occasional mince pie we can console ourselves that we’ll be turning that corner in the calendar this month and from the 21st we’ll be starting the steady journey towards what we all hope will be an inspirational new decade.

John Handley
Technical Manager

  • Keep your machinery in tip top condition
  • Grease where you find a grease nipple, oil where you see a metallic moving part, check the oil, check the water
  • Clean it when you've finished