It has been a particularly challenging winter for most rugby clubs, with their pitches taking quite a battering from both the weather and matches played. Many pitches will have lost a high percentage of grass cover and be left with areas bereft of any grass cover (bare areas) often seen in low spots and depressions.
With the playing season officially over, it is now time to turn attentions to renovating your pitches; the recent change in the weather and the fact that temperatures are now getting into double figures means that we should start seeing the grass begin recover and start growing.
May is a busy time for most rugby football facilities, with the end of season renovation works either started or programmed to start. There may be a few exceptions, with some clubs having to complete end of season fixtures and cup games late into May.
It is vital clubs carry out some form of end of season works, at the very least a programme of deep aeration, overseeding and feeding should be carried out on your pitch. The pitches should be mown on a weekly basis to encourage the sward to tiller.
However, localised weather conditions will also dictate what can be achieved; it is surprising how quickly grounds can dry up once we have a few days of warmer weather in May. Ironically, you may need to irrigate to help any newly sown seed germinate. There are a number of excellent sprinklers now on the market.
The commercial cost (from an approved sports turf contractor) for a end of season renovation will vary, dependent on what's required. However, a typical basic end of season renovation would see the pitch aerated and topdressed with 60 tonnes of sand/sand soil rootzone, overseeded and fertilised. For one rugby pitch, the cost will range between £4000-£6000, depending on choice of materials used, transport and set up costs incurred . The rate would come down if more than one pitch is to be completed.
Get your end of season renovations completed as soon as possible, the level of work will be dependent on needs and budgets available.
Good quality seed, fertilisers and topdressings can be quite expensive but, at the end of the day, investing in quality materials will give you good results. Also ensure you use a competent contractor who has the skills and experience in doing end of season renovations.
It sounds a lot of money to invest, however in the long term the pitch will benefit from having this work done; yes, it does sound a lot of money, However, the money can be easily raised if you have the resources and tenacity to arrange a number social events, or indeed start charging an appropriate annual membership to cover costs. I have quoted on a number of occasions that most clubs often have in excess of 200 odd people running riot on the pitches every week; if we were to charge them £1 for the privilege, we could affectively be looking at raising £200 per week, £800, per month, collected over a period of 10 months that would raise the club over £8000 which could be used for renovation / maintenance costs.
Ensure you regularly mow your pitches, ideally on a weekly frequency to help tiller the sward.
You may need to spray for weeds. Remember that you cannot spray newly sown turf for several weeks after the initial sowing. Towards the end of the month, you may need to apply some additional fertiliser material depending on the needs of the grass.
The level of renovation and how it is achieved will vary greatly and will be dependent on a number of factors:
* Type of facility, its construction and soil composition
* Drainage capacity
* Extent of wear and damage to the pitches
* Budgets available
* Equipment available
* Skills and resources of the ground staff
* Time available to complete the works and allowing for establishment
* The use of specialised contractor services
Your end of season renovations will be determined by what wear you have suffered, and the present condition of the pitch. Most of the Premiership Groundsmen will be completely renovating their playing surfaces, utilising the Koro fraise mower to clean off or reduce the amount of existing vegetation from their pitch, and oversowing.
For most top-flight clubs this method is now being done every year, or every other year depending on the condition of their pitch. The aim is to remove the poa and oversow with desirable perennial rye grasses. To do this, they use a combination of Koro machines, power harrows and seed drills. Most, if not all of these operations are carried out by specialist sports turf contractors, who are geared up to complete this work within days, enabling valuable time for establishment.
However, the key factors that influence what renovations are carried out, especially in lower level rugby facilities such as local authority, schools and club pitches, are cost, time and resources.
Advisors and consultants are available, at a price, to assess your requirements and provide a report detailing the works required and costs. However, also look in-house, you may already have the necessary expertise.
If possible, obtain a soil analysis of your pitch, measuring for particle size analysis, organic matter content, soil pH and nutrient status. This information will help you decide what materials to use in respect of grass, fertilisers and topdressings.
In the main, you should be looking to carry out the following end of season operations:
* Aeration/hollow core to de-compact the pitch
* Verticutting/scarifying to clean out unwanted debris
* Repair worn areas
* Brushing /drag matting
* Watering, if required
Aeration:- Ideally, it would be best to hire a vertidrain machine with 25mm diameter tines that can provide deep aeration down to 300mm. This will ensure you have relieved all the compaction and will also provide holes for the topdressing materials to fill. A linear aerator can also be used to decompact your pitches.
Vericutting:- The Weidenmann verticut harrow can be used for quick and efficient removal of thatch, using a high working speed of up to 12km/h. The verticutting tines aggressively pull up thatch and deposit it on the surface. The tines are placed in five rows with a 16mm distance between rows.
Repair worn areas:- Small localised worn areas can be repaired by cultivating to a depth of 75-100mm, then restore levels by adding any additional soil and overseeding.
Topdressing:- Topdressing is carried out to help restore levels, improve soil structure, improve surface drainage and aid seed germination. Ideally, the whole pitch (7000m2) should be topdressed with about 60-100 tonnes of material. Generally, the choice of material is either approved medium sand (particle size ranging from 0.125mm-1mm) or 70:30 rootzone (sand soil mix). The dressing should be brushed into the playing surface so it works its way into any low spots and the vertidrain holes.
Overseeding:- It is essential to ensure that all worn areas have been overseeded at a rate of 35-50g/m2. The whole pitch should then be overseeded. Seed should be disc drilled into the profile to ensure seed/soil contact is made for better germination. A typical method now being used is to overseed in three passes, two passes with a disc seeder that directly drills into the soil profile and one pass with a dimple seeder (surface seeding), both operations completed at a higher seeding rate of 50 g/m2.
Brushing:- You will then need to dragmat/brush the pitch to work in the materials and seed.
Fertilising:- To help the sward recover quickly and encourage the new grasses to establish, a dose of fertiliser is required, usually in the form of a late spring or early summer fertiliser applied at a rate of 35-50g/m2. Most groundstaff will be applying a spring/summer fertiliser, perhaps something like a 9/7/7, which will get the grass moving during May. Then, towards the end of the month, look to putting on a slow release fertiliser to see you through June and July.
Watering:- Once the seed has germinated, there may be a need to irrigate if dry weather persists. Newly sown seed, having shallow roots, will need adequate water to survive and establish.
Costs:- The commercial cost (from an approved sports turf contractor) for the above operations, for one rugby pitch, ranges between £4000-£6000 depending on choice of materials used. The high cost is mainly due to the supply and spreading of the topdressings. The material alone (sand) can cost anything up to £25-30 per tonne, with a spreading cost of between £5-7 per tonne. Based on 100 tonnes supplied and spread, this item alone comes to around £3000.
It is often this cost that deters people from topdressing, which is why we see so many poor pitches in the UK. Topdressing is an important part of the maintenance loop, and is essential for restoring pitch levels and improving surface drainage. Having said all that, it is essential to consider doing so,
Decompacting pitches can be achieved using a vertidrain or linear aerator. This operation can cost between £300-£450 per pitch (7000m2), depending on travel and transport costs. A contractor will charge less if more than one pitch is aerated.
As for seeding, you will need 10-12 bags per pitch; cost of seed will vary depending on the cultivars chosen. A bag of high quality seed will cost between £80-100, plus the cost of seeding, so there will not be much change out of £1000 for this operation.
Ideally, a dose of fertiliser will help promote some much needed grass growth, again you will need between 10-12 bags (£20 per bag) of fertiliser per pitch, therefore total cost plus spreading would be around £300.
Useful Information for End of season renovations
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Once the renovations have been completed and the new grass has germinated, ongoing maintenance must be followed up to help promote a dense sward, regular mowing is essential.
I see many rugby clubs which, once the season has finished, stop mowing the grass, resulting in the grass growing long (200-300mm) and weak. Regular mowing (cutting height 35-50mm), at least on a weekly basis, is essential to encourage the sward to thicken.
Useful Information for Mowing
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Aeration /When conditions allow:- Hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan.
Brushing / sweeping / Daily / weekly:- To remove dew and remove surface debris. Using a brush or a SISIS quadraplay will restore levels and produce striping or banding aesthetics.
Disease /Daily / weekly:- Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.
Fertiliser programme / If grass shows signs of stress (weak growth, discoloured):- Fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued in accordance with your annual programme. If you haven't got a fertiliser programme, have your soil tested; try an independent soil analysis company for an impartial set of results. Most groundstaff will be applying a spring/summer fertiliser, something like a 9/7/7.
Harrowing / raking / When conditions allow:- Helps restore levels and keeps surfaces open.
Useful Information for Aeration, Harrowing and Fertilising
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Irrigation equipment / Weekly:- Inspect installations for leaks. There may be a need to irrigate during any renovation programmes, as air temperatures and daylight hours are getting longer, increasing the likelihood of the ground drying out. It's important to ensure that the water gets deep into the rootzone to encourage deep rooting. Allowing areas to dry out can lead to problems of dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltration into the soil and thus forming areas of non-uniform turf quality.
Soil tests / Ideally once or twice a year, or as required.
Soil sampling is an important part of groundmanship. The results will enable the manager to have a better understanding of the current status of his soil and turf. There are many tests that can be undertaken, but usually the main tests to consider are:
* Particle Size Distribution (PSD): this will give you accurate information on the soil type and its particle make up, enabling you to match up with appropriate topdressing materials and ensuring you are able to maintain a consistent hydraulic conductivity (drainage rate) of your soil profile.
* Soil pH: a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 is a suitable level for most grass plants.
* Organic matter content: it is important to keep a balanced level of organic matter content in the soil profile.
* Nutrient Levels: keeping a balance of N P K nutrients within the soil profile is essential for healthy plant growth.
Once you have this information, you will be in a better position to plan your season's feeding and maintenance programmes.
Useful Information for Soil tests
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Litter / debris/ Daily / Weekly:- Inspect and remove debris from playing surface litter or any wind blown tree debris, litter, twigs and leaves.
Machinery (Repairs and maintenance) /Daily / Weekly:- Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery.
Seed bare and worn areas / When conditions allow:- Seeding of sparse or bare areas can be carried out; the rise in temperatures will help germination. Use germination sheets to aid this process but remove the sheets regularly to check for diseases. Remember that without good seed to soil contact the operation is useless. Ensure you use new seed as old material may not give you the required germination rates.