August Maintenance

Key Tasks

You will need to continue regularly mowing and scarifying pitches throughout August as you prepare pitches, so make sure your machinery is properly serviced and up to the job.

Continue to carry out after care of the wicket, repairing and renovating them even though the end of the season is not far away now. Player safety is critically important so pay close attention to foot holes as these can need plenty of work.

Dont forget about the outfield either - this is the largest area of maintenance and needs careful management.

Continue with fertiliser treatment and turf tonics in line with your annual programme. Outfields can become dry and parched - almost to the point of wilting - at this time of year. If you let surfaces get too dry this can lead to dry patch, a condition that prevents water infiltrating the soil and leading to areas of non-uniform turf quality.

Using wetting agents (outfields only) are now an important part of the maintenance regime with monthly applications going on throughout the summer.

Schools and colleges will now be shutting for summer so groundsmen will be taking the opportunity to carry out wicket renovations while the weather is good in August. This will lead to the establishment of good grass growth while soil and air temperatures are consistent.

Most clubs, however, won't start their end-of-season renovation work for another month at least so use this time now to plan ahead and order consumables. Don't be caught short of loam or grass seed when you are ready to start your autumn renovations and ensure any hired equipment is readily available and booked in.

How much seed and topdressing you need will be dependent on the condition and size of your square. Recently, the amount of seed being used for overseeding has been on the increase. Groundsmen are now sowing at rates of 50 grams per square metre which increases the amount of grass cover ahead of the winter period.

At the same time, there is often now a reduction in the amount of loam being applied to the square. Aim for between seven and ten bags per strip as this prevents the saddles building up at the ends and stops existing grass cover on the square from being smothered.

General Maintenance

Keep mowing the square regularly to control growth and thicken up the sward, maintaining the square between 6mm and 14mm, and the outfield between 12mm and 25mm. Keep verticutting as this trains the grass to grow vertically. You can use a drag brush to stand up the grass prior to mowing as an alternative if vertucutting is not available to you. Be careful not to mark or scar the surface when verticutting as they can be very hard to remove when the square dries out.

Portable or roll-on covers can be a great benefit when protecting the surfaces during hot, dry and inclement weather. Use the covers to control the soil moisture content of cricket wickets, especially when preparing for play.

Heavy ballast rollers can be used for match prepration, making sure to do it at the right time, when the pitch is moist but not too wet. Carry out a Proctor soil test to find out if these conditions are met. You can alternatively stick a knife or slit tine into the soil profile and see if it comes out clean. If it is clean, then proceed to roll.

Start and finish your rolling in line with the direction of play and ideal conditions will see the soil in a state of plasticity or "plastercine". You are still always looking to consolidate throughout the season and you must consolidate pitches to a depth of no less than 100mm.

Proctor testing evaluates the soil's compaction characteristics. This particular test measures the maximum density the soil can be compacted to and at what moisture content the soil is most prone to compaction. It is very useful to determine how compacted a soil is in the field.

Be careful when applying fertiliser if ground conditions are dry and arid - this is not viable and the plant will be unable to use the nutrients. Dry soils prevent nutrients being transported effectively into the grass plant. Irrigate your square well so efficient transfer of nurtients to the plant can be assured. Take care when fertilising the square as initiating green lush growth on a wicket you are about to prepare is the precise opposite of what you want, because it will affect the pitch's performance.

Pitch Preparation: Refer to the 12-day pitch preparation plan as a guide - which you can read here.

After Care of the wicket

By now you will have had a month or more of cricket on your squares and after care is just as important as preparation. Remember to carry them out as soon as possible after games finish.

As soon as you can, sweep and remove as much debris as you can from the pitch to prevent any damage to your machinery. Mow the whole of the pitch at final cut height and then use your hands to thoroughly soak the pitch and penetrate the surface, making sure you don't pass the 5 foot marks as the ends need to kept dry at this stage.

When the surface has partially dried off, sarrel roll or spike to offset compaction created by the heavy rolling process described above. This will also aerate the surface and produce a good bed of seed. Using perennial rye grass, overseed the pitch and apply a low nitrogen fertiliser at the manufacturer's recommended rate.

You can use germination sheets to speed up the pitch's recovery. Just scattering seed, overseeding the pitch and leaving it is not sufficient. The seed needs to be properly worked in or brushed into the holes so the soil can make contact with the seed.

The next important step is to repair the footmarks made by batsmen and bowlers. This was covered in a previous maintenance guide, which you can read here.

Outfields

Don't ignore maintenance of your outfield because it can have a major impact on the game, particularly if it is neglected. It should be treated the same as any other natural grass pitch so needs to be mowed, raked/verticut, aerated and fed so the sward remains healthy.

Give it a uniform cut, then aerate and feed. Some cricket outfields are used as winter pitches for other sports so this can determine what work is required. If this isn't the case, then light harrowing or raking helps to restore levels and keep surfaces open. Application of a balanced fertiliser such as a 9-7-7 as part of your annual programme will stimulate growth and recovery. Aeration will increase aerobic activity to get much-needed oxygen around the grass plant's root system.

Spike regularly and if you can, apply sand dressings to the profile as this will improve soil water movement in the top 100mm. One option is to hollow core your outfields and then brush those cores back into the surface, thereby recycling the existing material. This assists the restoration of levels, reduces thatch and helps speed up the surface.

Your ideal cutting height to maintain is between 10 and 14mm but many outfields tend to be undulating and uneven which makes this height of cut unrealistic or impossible, so most will be mow between 12 and 25mm. The type of mower used will also play a part in the height of cut. Rotary mowers can scalp undulating ground while boxing off with a cylinder or gange mower with floating heads can be a better option. If an outfield has been predominantly overseeded with rye grasses it can become stressed if mown too short. On the other hand, fescues and smooth stalked meadow grasses are quite tolerant to close mowing and are less likely to suffer stress.

Agronomy

This is a good time of month to apply organic fertiliser that will last two months and take you through until October, when it will be time for a winter feed. Maxwell Turf Food Myco2 4-6-12+4%MgO gives a nice boost of phosphorous, potassium and magnesium to aid plant resilience and colour, but without much nitrogen. This discourages excessive soft lush growth. A combination of mycorrhizal fungi and the phosphorous content means it is excellent as a fertiliser when sowing seed.

The new Lebanon Proscape 16-25-12 pre-seed fertiliser is great for renovated cricket squares as this product is delivering fantastic results when the establishmentof newly sown areas is maximised.

Any severe drought stress is now unlikely and we generally see substantial rainfall in August. Moisture plus warmth and humidity will place stress on the plant from different directions, so aeration is important to keep the soil oxygen ratio in balance. Use 8mm or 12mm standard tines down to a depth of 200-300m with a vertical aerator, which will be hugely beneficial and allow the soil to breathe. Combining this with a weekly Sarrel or star tine aerator pass will provide the sward and thatch layer with lots of aeration.

Continue to use polymer and wetting agents can also help effectively manage soil water percolation and retention as rainfall will be moved away from the surface and held further down in the profile so it is readily available when it gets hot and sunny again.

This July we have seen disease pressure being unseasonably high and we expect more of the same this month - microdochium patch and anthracnose are forecast to cause problems. Heritage Maxxfungicide is a good option as a preventative and early curative due to its systematic action. This makes it a sensible choice during the growing season and as a preventative ahead of turf renovations. If it is humid, red thread will also thrive so it is essential to switch and brush as this is your first line of defence to minimise disease activity keeping the leaf blade dry.

Seaweed can be wonderful for boosting soil slora, priming the plant to resist environmental stress and extending the longevity of fertilisers. However, bear in mind that is also an outstanding fungal food and stimulator so apply it at the right time so it boosts good fungi and not pathogenic cones. Keep an eye on weather trends and don't apply when fungal disease is active - apply around a week following fungicide application along with some Chelated Iron to make sure the plant cell walls are strengthened.

Weeds, pests and disease

Remain vigilant at all times for any sign of turf disease and remember that prevention is always better than a cure. Moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade combine to leave the plant susceptible to attack while turf diseases like Fusarium and Red Thread may be active at this time of year.

Fusarium (Microdochium nival) is the most common and damaging disease and symptomsare orange/brown patches 2.5cm-5cm in diameter which get bigger when conditions allow as the disease develops. Active patches are distinguished by a 'ginger' appearance when they are viewed early in the morning. Creamy white mycelium which looks like cotton wool can also be seen in the centre and towards the outer edge of the patch.

In the active patches, the grass is often slimy and even when the disease is under control, scars will remain until sufficient grass growth fills them in. Brushing, switching or drag matting regularly in the mornings to remove dew from the playing surface will help reduce the likelihood of an outbreak.

Red Thread is ill-defined bleached grass with visible Pink mycelium in the early morning dew. Looking more closely will reveal red needle-like structures attached to the leaf blades. These become brittle upon death and detach and in this way the disease can spread.

Chlorathalonil and Iprodione are two protective fungicides and examples of systematic curatives that can be used to control outbreaks. Mixing one or more products in the same tank can reduce the potential for the development of disease resistance developing. Fungicides with different modes of action will effectively attack the disease on two or more fronts to make it harder for the pathogens to develop resistance.

 
 
Dennis Mowers