Maintenance this month
Your pitch preparations, mowing and marking will now be in full swing as the season starts to get very busy. Follow the 10-12 day guidelines and try to produce a wicket that is consistent and offers fast medium pace. Make sure those lines are accurate and straight and begin the month by fully irrigating the square if you haven't done so already.
If you have received any feedback from your soil analysis, then follow its recommendations if you are applying liquid or granular fertilisers. Mow the square at 10-12mm as the month goes on and keep mowing while preparing pitches. For the outfield, box it off or use gang mowers to mow at 15-18mm but make sure you don't scalp. Repair and renovate used pitches as soon as possible and pay close attention to foot holes as they can need intense work to repair.
You can carry out fertilisation of the square but remember that granular feeds need to be watered in properly.
Irrigation is hugely important so water as little and often as you can, and if you can do so, water at night so the water can get to the root system. Rates of evapotranspiration will increase in June which will lead to the need to regular syringe the square. The combination of water loss from both plant and soil surfaces will also increase as the weather warms up. Watering is essential for both repairing and preparing wickets. Water uniformly and make sure to apply the right amount. If you water in the daytime when temperatures are high, this will not be hugely effective and could lead to shallow rooting if the water fails to get far enough down into the rootzone.
If your club does not have a water supply then this can make your job incredibly difficult. Covers and groundsheets can be used to protect pitches and keep the moisture in but you must ensure they are not left on for too long. If you don't have covers or sheets then your problems compound and you are vulnerable to changeable weather. Make sure you have a plan in place to take advantage of weather conditions after a shower or prolonged downpour.
Make sure the water gets down to the rootzone where it can stimulate the roots and encourage deep rooting; check thi using a probe. If you let your surfaces stay dry for a long period of time this can lead to the onset of dry patch, which prevents water from infiltrating into the soil and forms areas of non-uniform turf quality.
The use of covers, be they flat ones or raised ones, will greatly assist you as you prepare wickets but be careful when removing them as you do not want any water runing onto the protected pitch.
Keep some additional grass cover on the pitch as this will help retain some moisture and reduce the soil's capacity to dry out. Perhaps raise the height of cut on the square by 1-2mm to achieve this.
If it has rained for any length of time, this will have stimulated the Poa grass species in the square and as a result increased thatch and procumbent growth. Verticut regularly to alleviate thatch build-up and this will also stand up the sward before mowing.
The pace of wickets should now increase as the weather gets warmer and drier and more and more groundsmen are now monitoring the performance of their pitches. Any more undestanding you can glean about your pitch will help when deciding how to maintain it.
There is an excellent booklet produced by the ECB, TS4, which includes an enormous amount of information about construction, preparation and maintenance of cricket pitches.
Take plenty of soil samples regularly to monitor your soil profile's condition which will give you a very clear indication of whether any problems are occurring. Such problems may include root breaks, poor root growth, soil layering and depth of thatch. Fortunately, these problems can all be solved. Digital cameras are another great tool for monitoring.
Record-keeping is vital. That ECB booklet promotes the use of Performance Quality Standards (PQS) as part of any management strategy and there are the following three categories of measurement relating to the overall quality of any facility: the physical structure (profile make up), the presentational quailty (visual impact), and the playing quality (performance ratings).
Use the 10-12 day guide we prepared earlier in the year as your guide. Click here to view it.
Most groundsmen will now have had a month or more of cricket on their pitches now and it is important to note that caring for the pitches after play is just as important as preparing them well beforehand. Make sure you get onto the pitch to carry out repairs and renovation as soon as you can once the game has finished.
This will include brushing and sweeping to remove any debris, soaking the wicket, scarification, spiking, applying topdressing and overseeding. Foot holes can require more work to repair and it is important make the best possible repair job you can as you might need this wicket again later in the season.
Seed the ends where the grass is weak, sparse or bare and germination will be assisted by the higher temperatures. Germination sheets can be used to assist the process but remember to remove them on a regular basis to check for disease. Good soil to seed contact is vital and make sure to use new seed as older material may not germinate as well.
Don't neglect your outfield as it can play just as important a part in the game as the pitch or square, particularly if left alone. Treat it the same as any other natural grass pitch so regularly mow, rake, or verticut, aerate, and apply a feeding programme to keep that sward healthy.
Lightly harrowing or raking will restore levels and it will keep surfaces open. A balanced fertiliser such as a 9-7-7 as part of your annual maintenance programme will assist stimulation of growth and recovery. By aerating the outfield you will increase aerobic activity and get much-needed oxygen around the plant's root system.
Spike regularly and if you can apply sand dressings to the profile as this will improve surface levels and soil water movement in the top 100mm. You want to regularly mow the outfield if you can to encourage sward density and reduce any weed infestations.
Keep a cutting height of between 10-14mm if you can but as many outfields are uneven and undulating, this can be difficult, so in reality a height of cut of between 12-25mm is more achievable.
Also be aware that outfields which are used in the winter for other sports and overseeded with perennial rye grasses can be susceptible to stress if mown too short. Fescues and Smooth stalked meadow grasses are more tolerant to being mown close and are less likely to succumb to stress.
One key skill of a groundsman is monitoring the performance of your playing surface and with modern technology, tools and a camera this is becoming more commonplace and essential.
Those PQSs mentioned above have been promoted by the turf industry for several years now.
Surveying and measuring the performance of your facilities is essential and the modern technologies and tools available mean we can measure all sorts of aspects very precisely to check whether standards are being met, from measuring sward height to composition of grass species and weed content.
Recently the development of GPS mapping devices have come on leaps and bounds and these can measure chlorophyll, moisture content, and deviation in levels. Soil test analysis will give you information on soil type, nutrient status, organic matter content, CEC and soil pH.
Keep a record of these parameters because the more knowledge you have about your playing surface, the better prepared you are to make the right decision when it comes to maintenance.
Weeds, pest and disease
Weeds are very prominent now, and may not be as prominent again this year. They can include dandelions, daisies and platain and need to be treated accordingly because they will restrict grass growth and maturity by reducing the amount of light and air available to the leaf blade. Spray with weed killer to control the weeds and remember all personnel must be suitably qualified in applying chemicals.
Worms can be active following a wet winter and if you need to carry out treatment, then Carbendazim is the only active ingredient that controls them. Moles may also be prevalent if worm activity is high and they will need to be treated as they can cause plenty of damage.
Keep an eye out for turf disease and remember prevention is always better than curing. Moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade are a combination that can make the plant susceiptible to disease. Turf grass diseases such as Fusarium and Red Thread are active at this time.
Fusarium (Microdochium nival) is the most common and damaging disease. Symptoms are orange/brown patches 2.5-5cm across which increase in size as the disease is allowed to develop. Active patches can be distinguished by a ginger appearance if they are seen early in the morning. In the centre and towards the outside of the patch, creamy white mycelium that looks like cotton wool can be viewed.
Any grass in the active patch is slimy and even when the disease is under control the scars will remain until the grass has grown sufficiently to fill in. Brushing, switching or drag matting regularly to remove the dew in the morning will reduce the chances of it appearing.
Red Thread is ill-defined bleached grass and you may see pink mycelium in early morning dew. Looking closer will reveal red needle-like structures attached to the leaf blades. These become brittle when they die and easily detach to allow the disease to spread.
Any outbreaks can be controlled by the use of systematic curative and protective fungicides containing Chlorathalonil and Iprodione. Apply them in liquid form with water as a carrier. Mix two or more products in one tank to increase the effectiveness and prevent the disease pathogens from developing resistance as they are being attacked on more than one front.
Machinery and materials
You should now have all of your machinery back from any servicing ready for use but keep inspecting and cleaning each time you use any machinery.
Keep the workshop in good working order - a tidy workshop reflects a tidy worker.
Keep supplies of materials such as loam and seed close by ready for whenever you need them for pitch repairs and maintenance.