February can be a very unpredictable month regarding the weather; temperatures tend to fluctuate and you may even get some snow and frost depending on which part of the country you are in. After all this rain, many will be hoping for some windy weather to help dry out the ground.
It is important, after a period of snow cover, to be on the lookout for any turf grass diseases, particularly Fusarium and snow mould. The change in temperatures and the fact that snow cover can act as an incubator is often the catalyst for disease outbreaks.
February is the time to get active again with some regular work, brushing, light spiking (sarrel roller) and cutting to maintain sward height; the weight of the mower will help firm up the soil profile.
February is also a good month to take some soil samples to check the condition of your soil profile, monitoring thatch content, root depth and, more importantly, the nutrient and pH status of the soil. This information will help you plan an effective fertiliser regime which will focus on your needs for the forthcoming growing season.
The sward should be maintained at its winter height of cut between 12-18mm. The use of a rotary mower can be ideal for topping off and, at the same time, cleaning up any surface debris.
Other beneficial cultural practices are:-
Brushing and switching to remove early dews off playing surfaces.
Programmes of aeration/spiking to help reduce anaerobic conditions.
Machines are well serviced and sharp; poor grass cutting results in leaf tissue damage that provides a good entry point for disease pathogens.
Effective feeding programmes to keep the plant strong and healthy, so it can resist any disease attacks.
Whilst the soil profile often remains quite cold and wet in February, it's best to keep off the courts, you do not want to risk damaging the surface as grass growth recovery is virtually non existent during these conditions. However, when the surface becomes drier, the opportunity to spike/aerate in February will be of some benefit.
With regard to aeration practices, any deep aeration of the courts should have been completed in January, so as not to incur problems later in the year. Deep aeration carried out in late February or March can lead to the tine holes/slits remaining in the soil profile well into the playing season, which can cause some surface deterioration when the clay soils begin to dry out.
Sarrel rollers can still be used to keep the top 20-45mm open to aid surface water drainage.
There may still be some bare or thin sward areas; these can be oversown when weather conditions improve; the use of germination sheets will greatly improve success rates.
Artificial tennis surfaces also need attention. Regular brushing is essential to keep them clean and free from contaminations. Sand filled/dressed carpet systems also require regular brushing to keep them clean and to redistribute sand infill materials.
American Fast Dry courts: Keep surface clean, rolling to consolidate surface, levelling and brushing of fast dry materials, brushing to clean lines.
Tarmac Courts: February is a good time to clean your tarmacadam playing surfaces. Ideally, it pays to power wash the courts surface to remove any debris, moss and algae that will have accumulated and deposited itself on the courts during the winter months. Be careful when washing, using a too powerful washer can result in surface damage. Keep surfaces clean, regular sweeping and brushing. Repair any hollows or damaged areas. Repaint lines. Moss and algae can be a serious problem on tarmac tennis courts, especially if the courts are situated next to trees and hedges, the shading and damp conditions create a favourable environment for moss and algae to grow. Regular brushing and cleaning of the courts helps disturb the moss preventing it from taking hold. However, once established, the best methods of control are by a combination of chemical and washing activities.
Clay courts: Keep surface clean, regular sweeping and brushing to restore playing levels using SISIS Trulute or similar equipment. Topdress any hollows or damaged areas. Repaint lines.
Algae can often be a problem at this time of the year on artificial playing surfaces. Regular brushing and fungicide treatments may be required to reduce and remove algae growth on the courts. You should use approved chemical products when treating algae problems.
February is a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis, thus enabling you to get them back in time to start your new year'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.
Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis service that enable you to get specific results for the soils you manage. Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants. There is an optimum for each plant nutrient and, when coupled with other properties such as soil structure and particle sizes, determine how vigorous your plants are. Different nutrients undertake different tasks within the plant.
Generally, no fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some groundstaff may apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant. Soil temperatures should and will begin to rise towards the end of February/early March, enabling the grass plant to make use of any fertilisers being applied. The grass plant's transpiration/respiration rates need to be active to initiate movement of soluble solutions from the soil into and through the plant's tissue.
Pests and disease may still be prevalent, especially after a period of snow or changing weather. Continue to keep the sward dry by regular brushing/caning the dew off the courts in the mornings. Preventative fungicide spraying may be necessary to control these diseases.
It often pays to use a selection of these products over time, rather than constantly using the same product year after year, as the disease can become resistant to the formulation, if continually used.
Ideally, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies should be employed to deter disease attack in turf. IPM is all about putting into place good working practices that reduce and prevent the conditions that support and initiate turf diseases; and integrating a number of cultural practices that can break up the disease cycle and promote healthy, more vigorous growing turf, which in turn promotes a healthy sward than can be more resistant to disease attack.
Increased soil moisture can often lead to an increase in worm activity. Regular switching of the greens will help disperse their casts. However, if the infestation is large, you may need to apply some Carbendazim to control the worm populations. Some Groundsmen and Greenkeepers use brushes to remove casts but, in wet conditions, this can lead to smearing.
Service and repair damaged machinery. Maintain material stocks and order any other consumables required.
Inspect stored posts, nets, seating and notice/score boards. Replace with new equipment if required.
Repair any damaged fencing.
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.