Key Tasks for March
Mowing frequencies will gradually be more frequent as the grass begins to grow, going from a weekly cut into a 2-3 cuts per week in April. This increased mowing regime helps stimulate the grass plant and help thicken up the sward.
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.
Usually, these renovation revolve around some light scarification work, which helps remove any dead moss and unwanted thatch, aeration, topdressing and overseeding.
Moss is generally the main problem at this time of year. Mosses are primitive non-flowering plants that have no root structure and rely on there being sufficient moisture in the environment for reproduction and survival. The majority of mosses are tolerant of acidic conditions and are stimulated by wet humid conditions. Rapid colonisation of moss and algaes usually occur during autumn and winter months when turf surfaces are lying wet and saturated for long periods of time, particularly when little or no aeration has been undertaken.
Remember, moss is the symptom of poor grass growth, and not the cause of it. If you make sure you have a tightly knit sward next year, and have maximised drainage with plenty of regular aeration, you should not have to deal with moss at all.
IDaily brushing will help disperse early morning dews and help dry out the sward, thus reducing the amount of surface leaf moisture content that can initiate an outbreak of fungal disease. Brushing also helps stand the sward upright and increase air flow around the grass plant.
It is also important to try and keep the the top 50mm of the soil profile free draining, this is achieved by keeping the surface open to allow gaseous exchange, thus preventing anaerobic conditions prevailing. The surface is kept open by a programme of aeration techniques, varying the type and size of tines used.
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 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.
Sarel 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.
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.
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: Now 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. You should use approved chemical products when treating algae problems - Moss and Algae treatment
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.
As we leave what is likely to prove one of the warmest Februarys on record, we face the oncoming spring with the opportunity for recovery growth from the rigours of winter and a strong start to the growing season. However, the general lack of rainfall over the winter should be of grave concern to turf managers at all levels. The notorious drought of 1976 was a summer statistically not as dry as the summer we experienced in 2018. However, what made summer1976 so difficult was the fact that it followed a previous year's dry summer and a dry winter. As we move towards summer 2019, water reserves in the reservoirs are as low as the water reserves in the soil. If this continues, then there will be intense drought pressure on grass plants, much faster than in 2018, as soils which are already relatively dry lose their moisture content sooner.
March is the month to start applying polymer wetting agents, such that you have enough time for the chemistry to build up in the soil ahead of summer. Prevention is absolutely better than cure when it comes to dry patch, and planning and preparation now prevents poor surfaces later in the year. This is especially important against the context of soils which are already dry. Maximising the absorption of any rainfall which does occur, via a combination of aeration and penetrant wetting agents, is a very wise tactic to employ.
It is worth considering the principles which drive growth during the spring, with respect to temperature; and whilst February has already initiated good growth across most of the country, March and April may yet prove to live up to recent expectations of cold and wet, and cold and dry respectively.
Forcing growth in such conditions, however, is simply not feasible nor sensible. The plant and soil biology know what they need, and no amount of fertiliser will force them to respond when they are not ready and warm enough.
The onset of colder weather is, of course, often accompanied by sunshine, which will provide two benefits on areas which receive direct sunlight. Firstly, photosynthesis and, secondly, localised warming. Plants will use the combination of solar energy and localised warming from the sunlight to produce sugars and start metabolic function. However, the problem with cool air at this time of the year is twofold:
- Warming and photosynthesis happen in short lived concentrated blocks of time.
- Cold night-time temperatures mean the daily base-line soil temperature drops as the soil does not build up any warming momentum.
The result is patchy and inconsistent growth. A useful analogy is to think of it rather like a cyclist trying to get up to sprinting speed as quickly as possible, when every tenth rotation of the pedals his foot slips off.
In relation to inputs, it is a time to concentrate on maximising the opportunities when the plant and soil biology is active, as well as assisting the plant to withstand desiccation and drought from cold winds or a lack of adequate water. The means to do that is with little and often liquid or soluble applications aimed at the leaf, with the intention of maximising rapid uptake and assimilation. Tools to achieve this outcome are:
Nitrate nitrogen – research shows it is absorbed into the leaf over 48 hours, where it then resides in the spaces between cells ready and waiting to be assimilated when the plant requests it.
Ammonium nitrogen – the prime nitrogen source of many fertilisers; ammonium will stay in the soil for longer than nitrate. It is utilised more during warmer periods.
Urea nitrogen – Absorbed quickly into plant leaves; urea applied as a foliar is the faster source to be converted into free nitrogen atoms in the plant. However, a large proportion of its nitrogen content will volatilise into the atmosphere as ammonium gas when applied during dry conditions.
Humic Substances – in particular, micronised formulations containing a percentage of Fulvic Acid, which acts to pull fertilisers into the plant more efficiently.
Carbon – the foundation energy source of plant and soil life; providing carbon increases utilisation efficiency of fertilisers and props up the soil food web.
Seaweed – plant stress hormones prime the plant by eliciting metabolic functions which allow it to better withstand environmental (abiotic) and pathogenic (biotic) stress.
Calcium – strengthens cell walls, creating a more resilient plant.
Micro nutrients – anyone looking to make informed decisions on their soil health will have had a full chemical analysis undertaken. Foliar applications of deficient nutrients in the tank mix will allow you to overcome a lack of supply from the soil, and provide the plant with everything it needs to maximise those concentrated blocks of light energy and warmth.
Two other important factors with regards to nutrition in spring are:
Patience – understand what the plant needs and when; don’t be tempted to input nutrient that cannot be consumed. It will either leach into water courses or sit, slowly degrading, forcing a disease-susceptible and mower-demanding flush when conditions turn warm and wet.
Preparation – store a conventional release ammonium sulphate based granular fertiliser on the shelf, ready to go down as soon as you see and hear the forecasters confidently predicting a consistent upturn in temperatures and available moisture. Preferably, one containing a little calcium for cell division and magnesium for chlorophyll production.
March is an excellent time to treat moss; however, beware of applying too much sulphate of iron if desiccating winds are prevalent, and most certainly hold back scarifying unless strong consistent grass growth is there to repair the sward.
Aeration, as always, provides the bedrock of good turf surfaces. Little and often in multiple different ways is a good mantra, but beware of desiccating winds leading to too much drying of the surface; especially on poa annua dominated swards. As with everything; timing and consideration of local conditions is paramount.
March is a good time to prevent the effects from type two fairy rings in the summer. A combination of aeration, surfactants and azoxystrobin fungicide will allow water and active ingredient to move into hydrophobic regions occupied by the fungal mycelium.
2018 highlighted the weaknesses in many irrigation systems. Prioritising repairs, efficiency and calibration of coverage and timing is a key requirement to prioritise, with an eye to maintaining plant health in the summer. Remember, watering volume should be thought about as a replacement for daily readings of millimetres evaporated from the soil, not in an arbitrary amount of minutes watered. Take the opportunity to engage with irrigation specialists to help implementing this, if required.
Formulating plans of how you intend to monitor and deal with a range of challenges through the year, from leather jackets and chafer grubs to anthracnose, microdochium nivale and leaf spot, enables you to work in a best practice, proactive, preventative manner. As we continue to face the challenges of tightening legislation and climate change, doing what it takes to create and follow a plan becomes more and more essential.
- Check and service floodlighting systems; ensuring they are ready for the new playing season.
- It also important to replace any worn tines on your aeration equipment.
- Clean out the shed, sell off any old machinery and dispose of any junk that’s clogging up the shed.