Expected weather for this month:

Unseasonable mild spells forecast, interspersed with cold snaps

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. Stay off the pitch with heavy equipment if your ground is holding water – a hand fork might be your best friend!

Pitches that are not cut on a regular basis will often exceed 125mm - far too long. The plant becomes weak, straggly and often flattened after play or training.

If snow does make an appearance, training will either head indoors or on the main pitch. If the latter, ensure that regimes, such as shuffle 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 as and when required
  • Continue spiking when the conditions are right (this should only be carried out if the soil is suitably moist) to compliment your deep spiking
  • Keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting
  • Hand fork high wear 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!
  • Apply a low nitrogen, high phosphate and potassium autumn/winter fertiliser to aid grass recovery
  • 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.


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.

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.

  • 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

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