The poor weather in February has certainly taken its toll on many pitches, with many clubs not only having games called off but have lost precious grass cover after play.
This loss of fixtures will also have a detrimental effect when clubs have to play hastily rearranged matches later on in the season.
Soil and air temperatures have remained fairly static around eight degrees centigrade and we are all hoping that the weather will improve significantly to help these grounds recover. Some dry, windy sunny days will help enormously.
Once soil and air temperatures start creeping up into double figures, the warmer weather and increased daylight hours will stimulate some much needed grass growth.
It is important to ensure your mowing equipment has been serviced and sharpened. There is nothing worse than cutting your grass with blunt mowing blades.
First priority, once the ground begins to dry out and you are able to access the pitches without causing damage, you can carry out some aeration work to increase aerobic activity and get some much needed oxygen around the grass plants' root system. Regular spiking and, if possible, the introduction of sand dressings will definitely improve soil/water movement in the top 100mm of your pitches.
Marking out is done as required. Playing pitch surfaces can often become muddy and very wet in January, which may sometimes affect the performance of wheel to wheel transfer line marking machines. To overcome this problem, other marking systems are available. Pressure jet and dry line markers are able to produce lines on uneven and muddy surfaces. Care should be taken when initially marking out new lines, ensuring that they are true, straight and measured correctly, using the 3,4,5 method to achieve accurate angles.
Always wash down the machine after use; if you are not likely to use the machine for a few days, it would be advisable to empty it. Particularly with spray jet markers, keep connections clean; spray with WD 40 to help keep it protected.
If your budget allows, do some overseeding, particularly on the bare areas. This will be very beneficial in promoting grass coverage for the coming spring and will give the new grasses longer to develop.
Surface level may need to be restored in areas where scrums have occurred, by light topdressing, seeding and raking over. Infill any holes that have occurred in the pitch surface with a sand/soil and seed mix. Lightly roll after repair work, preferably with a pedestrian mower.
Renovations should be in the forefront of your mind. Bear in mind any problems that you may have encountered during the season ("wet-spots" or poor drainage). Try to solve these problems during or before renovations start. You should, by now, have quotations for your renovation work and a provisional starting date with the contractor, or booked the machinery with your local ground care hire shop.
The type of end of season renovation will be dictated by the condition of your pitches, however, the extent and what you can achieve will be driven by cost and the will of the club to invest in their pitches.
A typical end of season renovation will be centred around aeration (decompaction), scarification to remove thatch, open up the sward, topdress to restore levels and overseed to introduce some new grasses.
Frequency - when conditions allow - hand or machine aeration to aid surface drainage, varying depths of penetration to prevent the development of a soil pan. As last month, if there is opportunity to aerate, then do it. Regular winter aeration provides air space for the roots to expand into and allow the plant to breathe.
One of the best pieces of equipment for rejuvenating your pitch after matches is the SISIS Quadraplay, a four in one piece of equipment that can roll, spike, rake and brush in one pass.
Keep up with the drag brushing/matting or harrowing when conditions permit, for dew and wormcast dispersion and to help stand the grass up prior to any maintenance work. Repair divots as soon as possible after games or training, with particular attention to the scrum and line out areas.
Using a pedestrain box mower (cylinder or rotary ) will help clean and prepare the surface for matches.
Maintain sward height at 25mm-75mm. The top height will cushion heavy falls on hard ground. Ensure your mowing blades are kept sharp and well adjusted. Cutting grass in very wet conditions can often be detrimental to the playing surface. The mower may smear and damage the surface, especially when turning. The quality of cut can be affected if the grass is very wet.
Frequency - after games. Playing surfaces are becoming wetter, increasing the likelihood of surface damage during games. Repairs and replacing divots after matches is an important part of the maintenance programme to restore playing surfaces. The use of a hand fork to lift depressed turf, and gentle pressing with the foot, is the best way to return/replace divots, however, on larger areas the use of harrows will help return levels.
Soil and air temperatures in March should be rising into double figures, promoting some much needed growth and recovery. Apply a fertiliser dressing on the results of a soil analysis, however, applying something like a 12 :6 :6 NPK will help initiate some colour and vigour.
An application of spring fertiliser will also help reduce the incidence of red thread disease, that can often be seen on winter sports pitches due to the plant being under stress and lacking food.
Disease: Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Early morning dew on playing surfaces often promotes the chance of disease attack. Regular brushing off the dew will help prevent an attack of turf disease.
Red thread can be quite prolific on ryegrass swards especially when the soil has been leached of nutrients; topping up with a dose of spring fertiliser will help control Red thread. If it persists, then you may have to apply a fungicide.
With renovations looming, it pays to plan and order the relevant materials required for your end of season renovations, top dressing, seed and fertilisers. Recommended rates for seed and fertilisers is usually set at around 35grams per m2.
Inspect and clean machinery after use; service and repair damaged machinery. Do not forget there are other ways of getting equipment for a particular job, such as hiring or borrowing from another local sports club /golf club.
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 0n 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.
Goalposts: Inspect goalposts and sockets to check they are safe and secure. Also ensure post pads are secure during matches.
Drainage: Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. It is important to ensure that pitches with primary/secondary sand bands/sand groove drainage systems are kept operational. During wet conditions, these bypass systems often get capped over by surface soil, thus reducing their efficiency. Regular spiking and annual sand dressing of the pitch will keep these drainage channels open and working.