Expected weather for this month:

The most unsettled and wettest weather is likely to be in the west and northwest, whilst it should stay drier towards the south and southeast.

Key Tasks for April

As the rugby union season reaches its climax, many of you will be hosting important games, whether that be promotion and relegation battles, cup games or even corporate events, so aim to achieve the best surface possible. It won't be easy given the number of games, but presentation will go a long way.

Regular brushing will help to prevent disease outbreaks and also stand the grass up.

Always ensure that any disease is correctly identified prior to applying any plant protection product.

Maintain a height of cut between 30-40mm.

Continue with post match divoting and brushing and undertake aeration if conditions allow.

If training on the main pitch, 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

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.

Machinery

  • 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

Pre and post match routines

Before the match

  • Check that the pitch is fit and safe for play
  • Check post protectors and flags
  • 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 ...

  • 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

Adequate temperature, light and water are the key drivers of plant growth. Whilst the sun continues to rise on a daily basis, light of one intensity or another remains available consistently. At any time of the year, and particularly during April when there tends to be disparity between day time highs and night time low temperatures, accompanied by dry periods without rainfall, often the trend these days, over and above the ‘April showers’ of yesteryear, adequate temperature and water are the two factors which determine grass growth. As always, the key to success is looking ahead and factoring in strategies to keep in front of the curve whilst, at the same time, reflecting back as to what lessons can be learned.

On winter sports pitches, maximising spring recovery growth from the winter with good quality sports turf fertilisers increases the sward density ahead of the end of season. This is something which potentially allows for a reduction in the volume of overseeding requirement during renovations. For amateur clubs, this is a key consideration, especially given the reduced seed harvest yield in 2018 as a consequence of the long dry summer; a factor which was compounded by high demand across droughted areas, necessitating manufacturers to dip into stores of the 2018 crop in the autumn of the same year; a course of action required by turf managers needing to repair dead patches before the winter.

Here we sit then in spring 2019, with reduced availability of seed and increased demand as turf managers again dip into the depleted 2018 harvest to tackle areas which did not recover adequately. The outcome of this situation in the supply chain is increased demand, clashing with decreased availability. The consequence is less choice and increased price.

The reason I raise this is for awareness. It is important that turf managers are aware of such a situation and how it came to be. The situation is of course a consequence; a consequence of an extreme weather pattern, and one which is predicted to increase in probability over the coming years.

The key consideration then for turf managers is how does this potentially affect my club and what can I learn for the future? In the case of availability for the 2018 seed harvest throughout the 2019 growing season, it may well be:

  •  You can’t get exactly what you want.
  • You can’t get it when you want it.
  • It will cost more.

The contemplative questions for the turf manager are;

  • How will that affect my maintenance timings?
  • How will that affect playing surface quality?
  • How will that affect my budget?

The overriding point here is; greater unpredictability of the climate leads to more uncertainty in respect of what we can do, when we can do it and for how much money.

Anyone who wishes to ride the ups and downs of these unpredictabilities in a smoother fashion, with less buffeting and a more consistent product for players, will be an individual who factors in flexibility of their approach with respect to planning maintenance operations, and is able to communicate that requirement effectively to their members, players and wider stakeholders.

For example; dry soils in October and November 2018 would have benefited enormously from applications of penetrant wetting agents in a bid to capture as much available rain all as possible and channel it down into the soil profile. It is then positioned to act as a reservoir for 2019. Areas which are still dry only a few inches below the surface will burn off much faster than in 2019 than they did in 2018. In turn, lower water resource in the soil means that plant stress will be encountered with less cumulative dry days, and likely sooner in the year than in 2018 when water was in good supply. As a result, implementing block-copolymer wetting agent programmes and checking irrigation efficiency this April are actions more important than ever.

These examples of consequence from extreme climate is of course something which is not sport specific, golf fairways, tees and surrounds, football pitches, bowling greens and cricket outfields are all effected equally alongside grassed amenity spaces. Would a penetrant wetting agent, at relatively low cost per hectare, applied in autumn 2018 have gone some way to help mitigate a potential problem in 2019?

Another example which is prevalent on many areas where grass died and did not recover well in the autumn is weeds and moss recolonising these areas faster than the grass plants. This may well require such areas to be sprayed with a selective herbicide as we get towards the end of April and into May. Is this something which has been budgeted for? If it is not undertaken, what are the consequences for consistent turf quality moving forward?

In areas which had suffered from the 2018 drought, one should be mindful that not all grass is equal. I was stood on a bowling green with a gentleman only two weeks ago, who happily proclaimed that even though the green had been rendered completely brown in summer 2018, it was fine now that a coverage of grass was infilling the worst of the extensive bare patches.

A discerning eye revealed the grass growing in these areas to be almost entirely poa annua; a weak, shallow rooted annual species evolved in the wild to rapidly colonise shallow soils, flower and then shed the seed of the next generation as quickly as possible. A trait evolved in preparation of the weather turning dry over the summer, quickly forcing it to enter dormancy then death. The truth on the green in question was that whilst grass is returning, it is not a grass which will provide a sustainable and good quality playing surface once water and warmth are not at optimum levels. Unlike perennial grass species, poa annua will be the first species to cause a problem by checking out once the going gets tough.

The overriding message from these examples is intended to be; don’t rely on what worked last year to suffice this year - always be looking ahead, by asking questions and seeking answers for how to deal with what lies around the corner.

  • 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 posts are secure
  • 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