Key Tasks for February
If the court is frozen or, more likely, waterlogged, keep off; you will do more harm than good.
General maintenance, dependent upon weather conditions:
- continue to cut as required, ensuring that you take no more than a third off in any one cut. Maintain a height of cut between 12-18mm
- a cylinder mower may still be used, but it is more likely that a rotary mower will serve you better
- box clippings to avoid the spread of disease
- remove leaves and other debris as soon as possible – a rotary mower does a good job
Keep surface clean with 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 surface clean, rolling to consolidate surface
- levelling and brushing of fast dry materials, brushing to clean lines
- carry out regular sweeping and brushing to restore levels
- topdress any hollows or damaged areas
- carry out regular sweeping and brushing
- repair any hollows or damaged areas
With many clubs allowing and, indeed encouraging, play on their artificial surfaces through the winters months (when weather conditions allow) it is imperative that these courts are completely free from moss, algae, leaves or anything else that might pose a slip hazard.
- repair and maintain fence lines
- cut back any hedges and trees and prune shrubs
- take down and store all tennis equipment, ensuring that it is clean and dry before doing so
- repair/update equipment as necessary
Whilst many of the above actions may appear to be common sense, it is surprising how some things can get overlooked, often due to the lack of daylight hours. The more that club members, players and officials understand what you role involves, the better. You could use any spare time to provide a members newsletter/blog detailing what problems you are experiencing (disease outbreaks, algae and moss, waterlogging etc.) and to seek additional help as required.
February, officially late winter. The 1st of February is 42 days post winter solstice (21st December) and come the 29th of the month that figure will rise to 70 days. For comparison, from the 1st February the summer solstice on the 21st June will be 141 days away and by the 29th February 113 days away.
This play of the numbers hopefully illustrates that time marches on, and that means so do the seasons. February can often be a cold month, but the planets relentless march around our home star means that the sun will be higher in the sky come the 29th February. To put this into context, day length in Leeds (to pick a central location in the British Isles) on the 1st February will be 8 hours 54 minutes and the altitude of the sun from the horizon will be 11.65°. Come the 29th February, day length will be 10 hours 47 minutes and the altitude from the horizon will be 20.46°. A difference from the 1st of the month to the 29th of the month of 1 hour 53 minutes, and an altitude difference of 8.81°. The reason for labouring this point is to illustrate that almost two hours of added day length and a 56.9% increase in the height of the sun at mid-day will impart more solar radiation on your sports turf surface at the end of the month compared to the start of the month. Now, it might not feel much warmer, because we are coming out of winter, so the bulk air temperature has not yet had time to warm up, but with more daylight means more opportunity for photosynthesis and a higher altitude for the sun means more radiative heat. How do these factors impact your sports turf surface?
Potential for increasing soil temperatures and the ability for the plant to grow and recover from winter damage.
The thing to remember however is it can’t be forced. Day length may be longer and the sun may be higher as the month progresses, but cool residual winter air means weather patterns may well provide us with cold temperatures and overcast days.
The key agronomic principle then for February is to maximising recovery from winter damage whilst also protecting against inclement weather, at a time when the plant has spent the best part of four months surviving in less than optimal growing conditions.
The way to practically achieve this is; Proactively think about and plan for opportunities and threats.
- Cold winds | cold temperatures | frozen ground | snow fall
Preparation here is key; look at forecasts and seek to protect and fortify the plant to minimise stress, lessen damage and promote faster recovery.
Silicon and calcium will help to strengthen the cell walls.
Amino acids will also help to guard against cold weather damage.
Carbon will not be in immediate requirement, but applications now can act as a power reserve into the system helping to promote faster responses from the plant-soil ecosystem once any cold weather breaks.
Microdochium nivale risk is likely to be low in these conditions, however existing scars in particular may reactivate under prolonged snow cover. Thus an application of fludioxonil to target dormant spores prior to snow cover may provide some security.
Aeration close to a cold spell can aid drying out of the soil, however it may lead to even lower soil temperatures which will place added strain on the system. The ideal time to aerate is once conditions have lifted and warmer conditions are returning.
- Mild days | warm night time temperatures | still air | prolonged dews and rain fall
Microdochium nivale risk is likely to be high in these conditions, so turf hardening packages to strengthen cell walls and promote plant resistance are sensible. Systemic fungicides will only be effective if growth is active due to higher soil temperatures.
Avoid biostimulants in these conditions as the organic compounds can promote fungal activity. Use of penetrant surfactants and dew cure products to reduce leaf blade wetness and canopy humidity will be useful as part of an integrated approach. Dews may need removing more than once a day.
Aeration will oxygenate the soil helping to lessen stress on plants in waterlogged soils.
- Sunny days | warm spells of day time temperature | air movement | reduced rain fall
Taking soil temperature readings throughout the month (and year to that matter) will allow you to see when the system has warmed up to the point that metabolic biological activity is commencing. Things will become noticeably functional at soil temperatures of 8-10°. Take temperature readings at different times of the day to learn how your soil responds to periods of warmer brighter weather. The air may still feel cold but sheltered spots exposed to the sunshine will warm nicely, especially towards the end of the month when day length and sun altitude are increased.
Gentle applications of nutrition, based upon soil test results when the system is warm enough to require it, will promote recovery growth. Biostimulants such as seaweed, amino acids, carbon and humic sources will foster a functional soil-plant ecosystem.
Aeration will provide the soil with the ability to respire, releasing waste gasses such as carbon dioxide, methane, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide and allow vital oxygen in.
Microdochium nivale risk is likely to be low and scars will begin to recover.
Of course, defining such complexities into neat little sections is somewhat of an over simplification, but it does help to think about scenarios and the cause and effect relationships those factors will have to the system. The key for February is be prepared to act defensively to the threats, but maximise the sweet spots of opportunity without getting carried away and forcing things. We still have typically cold and wet March, followed by cold and dry April to come before the soil-plant ecosystem takes off with confidence in May. Maximise February’s opportunities as best you can but don’t let a few warmer hours of sunshine in an afternoon trick you into thinking spring is in full flow. There may be a sting in the tail yet to come.
With some machines not currently being used, take the time to carry out an overhaul or send them away for a service.
- inspect and clean machinery
- replace worn and damaged parts as necessary
- empty fuel tanks as petrol will go stale over winter
- maintain a stock of consumables for your machinery
- secure machinery nightly with good storage facilities and strong locks
- record makes and models and take pictures of your equipment as additional reference
- don’t leave it to the last minute when servicing dealers will be very busy