The combination of the recent mild and relatively dry weather has helped grass recovery. We will not, however, see any significant growth until temperatures rise consistently above 12 degrees C. It is wise to remember fertilisers will not begin to work efficiently until temperatures rise and there is enough moisture in the soil.
Pre-season rolling should have begun, using your mower. Clay soils need a certain amount of moisture for effective rolling to be achieved with clay soils taking longer to warm up and, therefore, the grass will be slower to develop.
If you are considering applying a worm suppressant, it may pay to wait until the soils have warmed up enough to stimulate worm activity, ensuring you receive better results when applying the pesticide.
Spring renovations will be at the forefront of any planned maintenance regimes followed by some regular mowing activities to improve sward density.
Most of your aeration operations should have been completed during the winter period. Generally, we do not aerate clay soil profiles after January, as we do not want to encourage cracking of the clay surfaces. However, if there is a need to help remove surface water from the courts, we can utilise the sarrel roller which lightly aerates the top 25-30mm, allowing any surface water to drain down deeper into the soil profile.
Prior to mowing, the surface should be thoroughly brushed, every time. Continue to brush courts daily to remove moisture from the grass surface, stopping the spread of disease and facilitating an improved quality of cut on the dry grass.
It is essential to carry out an effective rolling programme in April. Continue to roll the courts, firstly across the line of play, followed by rolling down the length of play. Timing of this operation is vitally important. Trying to roll when soil conditions are wet or too dry will not achieve the desired effect. Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil be in a state of plasticity, or "plasticine".
Gradually build up roller weight by moving onto the next size of cylinder mower and so on. Consolidation is your aim and the quality of rolling will show when you produce your early season courts. If the roller is causing damage to the turf surface (ridging), stop rolling and wait for drier conditions.
The mowing height on the courts should be lowered to around 8-10mm for the playing season, but remember not to remove more than 1/3 of total grass height in each cut. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this vital time, the better the results further on into the season. Mowing frequency will be dependant on a number of factors - grass growth, sward type, level or standard of facility, resources (staff and machinery), but generally it may vary from three times a week to weekly frequencies.
Light scarification or verticutting can be carried out at at fortnightly intervals pre-season. Removing horizontally growing grasses and surface organic matter are always beneficial for the onset of court preparation which, together with brushing, will improve the quality of cut.
Seeding sparse or bare areas can be continued. Any rise in soil or air 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.
Artificial grass systems: Keep surface clean, regular sweeping and brushing. Remove any algae and moss from surface. Sand filled systems require regular brushing to maintain manufacturer's recommendations on sand levels and pile heights.
American Fast Dry courts: Keep surfaces clean, rolling to consolidate surface, levelling and brushing of fast dry materials, brushing to clean lines.
Tarmacadam: Keep surfaces clean, regular sweeping and brushing. Repair any hollows or damaged areas. Repaint lines.
April is still a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis, enabling you to get them back in time to start your new season's maintenance. Ideally, if you have not had one done before, you should have a full (PSD) Particle Size Distribution soil analysis done to tell you the actual make up of your soil profile.
Soil is made up of percentages of clay, silt and sand. The PSD analysis will identify the ratio of these and confirm soil type, thus giving you a better understanding of what soil you are dealing with.
Also, you can establish the amount of organic matter (OM) content, as well as soil nutrient status and soil pH. With this information, you will be able to identify the needs of your soil.
Carrying out these test also allows you to check other physical conditions of the green, such as root depth, levels of compaction and aerobic state of the soil.
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. Apply a spring fertiliser when conditions allow.
Fertilisers can be applied in liquid or granular forms. Most groundstaff will be applying something like a 12/0/9 or 9/7/7 to get the grass moving during April then, towards the end of April or early May, applying a slow release fertiliser to see you through to June/July.
The choice of material and how well it works can be dependant on many factors - soil type, weather, with moisture and soil temperature being the catalyst for growth.
The performance of slow release fertilisers can be influenced by the weather, often producing a flush of growth when you least expect it. Some grounds managers may use straight compound granular or liquid fertilisers which activate when in contact with moist soil conditions, effectively stimulating grass growth within days.
Keep and eye on fungal disease attack, and use approved fungicides to treat infected areas. Outbreaks of Redthread may occur, which often indicates your grass is in need of a feed. Usually an application of a nitrogen feed will be enough to control an outbreak of Redthread.
It is important to remove any weeds from the playing surface, as they can affect ball bounce and performance of the court. Weeds can be removed by hand or controlled by the application of chemicals, usually a broadleaf selective weed killer. Best results are achieved when the soil has warmed up and the grass is actively growing.
Inspect machinery and equipment, clean after use and remember to check air filters.
Inspect and reset mowing blades on cylinder mowers to ensure they remain sharp , click on following link for information on sharpening mowers:- http://www.pitchcare.com/magazine/the-art-of-cylindergrinding.html
Pitchcare provide a range of courses suitable for tennis clubs. In most cases, the courses can be held on site using the club's own equipment and machinery.
Some of the courses available are:
Chainsaws - CS30 and CS31
H&S Refresher Training on Combined Turf Care Equipment; Tractors and Trailers; All Mowers (Ride-on and Pedestrian)
Machinery Courses on ATVs; Tractors: Brushcutters/Strimmers; Mowers (ride-on and Pedestrian)
Pesticide Application (PA courses)
Stem Injection of Invasive Species (Japanese Knotweed etc.)
Basic Trees Survey and Inspection
Drainage: Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working. Renew or repair any damaged or problematic drainage systems.
Tennis structures: Inspect stored posts, nets, seating and notice/score boards. Replace with new equipment if required. Repair any damaged fencing.
Litter: Inspect and remove debris from playing surface - litter or any wind blown tree debris, twigs and leaves. Leaf debris can be a problem during the winter months. It is important to sweep and clear the leaves off the courts as an accumulation of wet leaves will damage the grass surface.