If we thought last year was a good test for a grounsman's skills then I guess that this year has been equally so, particularly with the levels of rain, sleet and snow giving this winter a very grey feel, and no surprise that the grass on most pitches will be looking a little thin in places.
March will often herald a steady rise in ground temperatures leading to grass being stimulated into growth, albeit sporadic, though I expect that ground temperatures are likely be slower to recover due to soils this year remaining saturated.
This is without doubt going to cause some headaches for some groundsmen struggling already on low budgets, and having to find extra money to increase the rate of their over-sown grass seed. Another consequence of a very thin and patchy sward will be that it provides ideal sites for weed colonisation, leading to an increased need this year to apply a selective weed killer.
For this reason, it will be important to think about the possibility, after completing your renovation, that you may need to complement it with a further smaller seeding programme later in the year to strengthen any weak areas of the pitch.
Early in the Month 1st - 15th March
Hopefully you will be well under way with your planning and material acquisitions for your pitch renovation programme, and equally giving thought to how you may be tackling the possibility of an extended season over the need to get onto the pitches to carry out the work.
Pitch presentation at this time of the year remains important. Well striped pitches with lines that are both bright and straight, and goalposts that are both upright with nets that are tidy, will help to take the eye off some of the thinner areas of grass.
Keep a look out for the visible signs of nutrient deficiency and compaction which may lead to the ingress of Anthracnose. Not often a devastating diesease, but it may become a noticeable issue when encouraged by both conditions found often in pitches at this time of the season.
Getting your soil test carried out is now a priority to ensure that your nutrient programme can be mapped out for the summer leading into the start of your next season.
Later in the Month 16th March - onwards
Later this month you will need to start seriously thinking about and gearing up for you renovation programme, and tying up any loose ends to ensure that you programme runs smoothly.
If you have irrigation reels or equipment, then look at them and check that they are working ok and complete any service requirements.
March is the month where extra pressure can be placed on the groundsman to get the games on at any cost, with the idea that pitches will recover under better growing conditions and a renovation programme.
The pressure comes from then not having the resources to complete the renovation required by the extra wear. Keep up with the ongoing maintenance, as this will encourage the grass as it comes out of dormancy.
Key Tasks for March
Planning your renovation
Some thoughts on planning your Renovation Programme:
Surface cleaning: However you achieve it, you will need to clean out the surface and get rid of the build up of dead organic matter that will have built up, particularly on the wings of the pitch, and the remnants of old divots etc.
A tractor drawn rake followed by a box mower is probably the most traditional method, and most likely within the means of most clubs and schools.
You may also have use of a pick up flail mower, in which case you may find that scarifying tines can be fitted and the job will be completed in one operation.
This method can be advantageous as the scarifying tines may leave a grooved surface, ideal for ensuring over sown grass seed is buried just beneath the soil surface and in contact with the soil.
An operation that is becoming popular to those that can afford it (mostly premiership clubs fall into this bracket), fraise mowing is extremely efficient at removing the top organic layer of the pitch however, you will effectively be starting again with a newly sown surface, so your seeding rates will need be higher.
Spiking: Spiking to relieve compaction and getting air back into the soil is important. If you have a spiker that will allow some heave, such as a vertidrain or weiderman etc., you may find this beneficial, otherwise you may do well to hire one in or employ the services of a local sports ground contractor.
Over sowing: Get a good quality grass seed for your renovation, and also fresh seed is important as old seed will not germinate as greatly or as well as new. Look at the STRI list for the list of recommended cultivars.
Topdressing: Get it ordered ready. Choose wisely for compatibility with your current rootzone. If you employ the services of an agronomist, then he will advise you of the best topdressing for your situation. If you cannot afford to topdress, you may consider hollow coring, recycling them by breaking them up and dragmatting them back into the surface.
Raising/restoring surface levels and getting rid of those compacted areas in front of the goal is everyone's obvious, but don't forget the linesman's run-up. Sometimes forgotten, but easily incorporated into your programme and, while your about it, the area beside the pitch that everyone stands to watch the game will need attention.
Fertilising: A good pre-seeding fertiliser, low in nitrogen and high in phosphate and potash (P:K), to provide the young seedling with the essential nutrients that will be deficient in a soil washed through by winter rains.
Turf treatments: Some turf treatments work well for some, and there are a number of them to choose from, such as organic based micronutrients, seaweed treatments, clay flocculants, amino acids and plant growth regulators such as Primo Maxx. It can sometimes be difficult to assess the benefits of such treatments, but most managers will notice if it has been effective or not. If you are unsure, then ask you supplier for a trial amount and test it for yourself. I'm sure they would be pleased to accommodate you.
Useful Information for Planning your renovation
A turn of fraise
Football Pitch / Rugby Pitch Grass Seed
Dragmatting / Brushing
Dragmatting and brushing: Continue the work of brushing to keep the air circulating around the base of the plant, particularly important for removing early morning dew and controlling disease. Pay particular attention also to the goalmouth areas and centre circles, post match, to lift the grass back up out of muddy areas. This is also important in keeping surface levels.
Useful Information for Dragmatting / Brushing
Movers and Shakers
Divoting: This is important work and should be completed after each match. Arm yourself with a border fork and a bucket of topdressing with a little seed mixed in. Not every one can afford the necessary time to go divoting on the scale of some of the premiership grounds, but even if you could afford just a couple of hours post match divoting sorting out some of the worst, I can guarantee that you will notice the difference over time. If you cannot afford a full divoting programme, then you could equally tackle the worst and clean the rest off with a mower or pick up sweeper.
Useful Information for Divoting
The modern stadium pitch manager
Line Marking Machines
If required. You may find, along with a lot of grounds, that there has been little movement in grass growth compared to previous years. If you find the need to cut, keep your height of cut as near as possible to the high end of a winter cutting height. This will ensure the grass has the optimum leaf area for photosynthesis.
Useful Information for Mowing
Facts about mowing
Spring & Summer Fertilisers
Other Tasks for the Month
Spiking: Continue spiking when the conditions are right. Keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting. Hand fork goal mouth and centre circle areas if difficult to get onto with machinery.
Goal nets and posts: Check these after each game. Make sure they are upright and the nets are tidy and tied in properly.
Marking Out: Keep you lines looking bright by over marking before each match, and string them when you start to see them wander.
Football Pitch Maintenance Training Courses are available from Pitchcare - our next courses is taking place at East Molesey, Surrey - for more information visit www.groundsmantraining.co.uk/courses