To reduce the chance of disease outbreak try to regularly brush in the mornings to remove the dew from the playing surface. If you discover any disease or worms, spray accordingly, many diseases such as Fusarium and Red Thread can be prevalent this time of year. Have your soil tested and fertilise the square with low nitrogen, higher potassium feed to harden the sward; NPK 6:5:10 +6% Fe would be suitable in most cases.
Before mowing, make sure all machinery has been checked, serviced and sharpened ready for use. The square could use a light verti-cut and mowing, at around 15-8mm, to encourage sward density. Carry out renovation to bare areas such as ends and foot holes, and try to ‘square off’ the square as soon as possible.
If you haven’t already, start your pre-season rolling.
Mow outfields at 25mm, give them a light harrow and aeration, as you will find they need some attention - make sure to keep records of work carried out. Make sure you have not had any frost damage and re-commission your irrigation systems.
By using semi-permanent markings when ‘squaring off’, the operation can be very simple using 3, 4, 5 system to produce your right angles. Fixed plastic points pushed into the ground on the four corners are valuable in marking the correct position of the square. To ensure no damage to the machinery, make sure these are sunk slightly below the surface.
By adding a fixed point for the stump line and return crease is useful, and can provide a accurate measurement from stump to stump (22 yards). Spending more time now to assure everything is correct will save you a lot of time in the future.
Removing moisture via continued brushing will allow for a much better standard of cut. You can carry out a light scarification or verticutting fortnightly during pre-season.
Try to lower the mowing height to around 15-88mm by the end of the month, and remember to not remove more than 2/3 of total height each cut. The less stress placed on the grass at this vital time the better, and will provide better results during the season.
Where the grass is weak, sparse or bare can be seeded, as the rise in temperature along with the sheets help germination. Without good seed to soil contact this operation is useless, the use of perennial rye grass is ideal for this.
In accordance with your annual programme fertiliser treatment and turf tonic can be continued. Ideally, get your soil sampled for nutrients, organic matter content and soil pH. Having this information to hand will aid you in deciding on an appropriate course of action with regards to applying the correct NPK balance for your site.
Pre season rolling
Starting your pre-season rolling programme is important, however, you need to ensure you can get the roller on to the square without doing any damage to the outfield. The square needs to be dry, but when you press down some moisture is still present, this is a good indicator you can start rolling, then gradually build up the weight as described in February:
If you are using the weight of a mower to consolidate the ground, disengage the blades to reduce friction and unnecessary wear on the machine. Using the “Union Flag” system, roll in as many different directions as possible, but always finish in the direction of play.
Timing of this operation is vitally important. Gradually build up the rolling weight by moving onto the next size of cylinder mower and adding weights to the grass box as required. Allow time for the soils to dry before proceeding with the next roll.
This gradual build up may be over a few weeks until, at the back end of the month, the roller (serviced and raring to go) should be coming out of the shed to get consolidation right for the start of the season. Ideal rolling conditions would suggest the soil be in a state of plasticity, or "plastercine" like. Consolidation is your main aim and the quality of pre-season rolling will show when you produce your early season pitches.
Pitches, where proper construction and gradual build up has taken place, are required to be consolidated throughout to a depth of no less than 100mm. This can only be achieved with gradual build up of roller weight, a constant speed over the whole square and measuring of soil density. The maximum achievement for soil density is the function of its clay content. As the clay content increases, the soil density increases with compaction. Higher clay content pitches of 28- 35% require more intense working regimes.
Many outfield areas may not have been cut during the winter months and may look forlorn and be in need of some attention. When you can, get onto the field and give it a uniform cut, aeration and feed. Aerating the outfield will help to increase aerobic activity and get some much needed oxygen around the grass plants root system.
The introduction of sand dressings and regular spiking will help improve soil water movement. You may choose to follow core your outfield, then brush the cores back into the surface, helping restore levels.
Check the outfield before carrying out any maintenance, repair damage caused by wheel tracks, pests or vandals. Once rabbits become active looking for food rabbit holes can become quite severe. Make sure they’re repaired and over-seeded. The height of the cut should be reduced to around 20-25mm by the end of the month. A light raking/harrowing will keep the surface open and help restore levels.
Cricket outfields can often be maintained as winter pitches, so the amount of work required may be determined by whether it is being used for other sports. If not, then aerate to improve surface drainage by form of deep slitting, solid tine by verti-draining or hollow coring. The cores when dragbrushed in create a top dressing for surface levels.
Where budget allows, overseed the bare areas and apply balanced fertilisers such as a 9-7-7 as part of your maintenance programme to stimulate growth and recovery.
Take a core, if you have a core sampler, between the edges of 2 pitches. The profile should show good root development, white and about 100mm long, a consistent layer of soils compatible with each other, thatch-free and no root break.
Aim to do this on various areas of the square, and continue to monitor the pitch through out the course of the season, making sure to keep notes.
Weeds, Pests & Diseases
Prevention is always better than a cure, so keep an eye open for turf disease. Moist soil and surface moisture on the leaf blade can make it susceptible to disease attack. You will find turf grass diseases such as Red Thread and Fusarium can be active.
Knowing the symptoms of the diseases can be important in preventing them. Fusarium (Microdochium nival) is the most common and damaging disease
When viewed in the early morning active patches have a distinctive ginger appearance. White mycelium resembling cotton wool can be seen in the centre and towards the edge of the patch, and you will find the grass is often slimy. Scars will remain until there is sufficient grass growth to fill in - regularly brushing to remove dew will reduce the likelihood of disease outbreaks.
Red Thread is ill defined bleached grass with Pink mycelium visible in early morning dew. Close inspection will reveal red needle like structures which are attached to the leaf blades. The needles become brittle upon death and are easily detached, allowing fragments to spread the disease.
Systemic curatives and protective fungicides such as Chlorothalonil and Iprodione, applied in liquid form with water as a carrier, can be used to control any outbreaks. Mixing two or more products in the same tank can help reduce the potential for disease resistance developing. Fungicides are selected with different modes of action so that resulting mixture will attack the target disease on two or more fronts. This makes it more difficult for the pathogens to develop resistance to treatments.
As worms can be a problem this time of year, the use of Carbendazim is the only active ingredient to aid with controlling worms.
All personnel should be suitably qualified in the application of chemicals.
Machinery & Materials
Breakdowns cost money, as well as a huge inconvenience to pitch preparations, continue on going inspection and cleaning of used machinery.
The workshop should be kept in a good order; good housekeeping is important, a tidy workshop reflects a tidy worker.
Keep a good supply of materials, such as loam and seed at hand for repairs and maintenance. Materials for spring remedial works should be booked to avoid disappointment or delay.