Key tasks this month
You should now be into the full swing of pitch preparations, mowing and marking. Follow the 10-12 day guidelines to try to produce a consistent wicket that generates fast medium pace. Get your lines accurate and straight. Begin the month by irrigating the square well - if you haven't done so already.
Follow any feedback from your soil analysis if you are applying any liquid or ganular fertilisers. As the month goes on, mow the square regularly at 10-12mm while you are preparing pitches. Box off the outfield or gang mow at 15-18mm but be careful to avoid scalping.
Repair and renovate used pitches as soon as they stop being used. Pay close attention to any foot holes as more intense work may be needed to sort these out.
You can fertilise the square if you haven't done so already, remembering that granular feeds need to be well watered in.
Also, don't neglect your outfield, as this is the largest area you have to maintain and requires careful management.
Irrigation is a massively important part of maintenance so water as little and often as you can, preferably at night so water can get to the root. Rates of evapotranspiration should increase this month which means you will need to start syringing the square. Combined water from plant and soil surfaces will also be on the rise, thanks to that warmer weather. Watering is essential for repairing and renovating wickets. Water uniformly and make sure to apply the right amount. It is less effective to to water in the day when temperatures are high and this could actually result in shallow rooting if the water does not manage to get down far enough and reach the roots.
If your club does not hav a supply of water, this can make things very difficult. Covers and groundsheets can protect pitches and retain moisture, but only if they are not left on for too long. Any facilities that don't have or use pitch covers are also at risk of changeable climate and environment. Get an action plan in place to make the best of the weather conditions after a good shower or a engthy spell of rain.
Make sure the water gets down to the root zone as this encourages deep rooting, using a probe to check. If you let surfaces stay dry for a long time then this can lead to problems with dry patch, a condition which prevents water from infiltrating the soil, resulting in areas of non-uniform turf quality.
Covers, whether they are flat or raised, are invaluable when preparing wickets but take care when removing them to make sure no surface water runs onto the pitch.
Keep some additional grass cover which will help retain some soil moisture and slow down the soil's capability of drying out. Think about raising the height of cut by one or two mm on the square to keep some grass cover.
If you've had any spells of rain, this will have caused the Poa grass species to be stimuated in the square, increasing thatch and procumbent growth. Verticut on a regular basis to ease thatch build-up as well as standing up the sward ready for mowing.
As dry weather is now expected, bounce and pace of the wickets should start to increase. Don't miss the opportunity to measure and monitor how your pitches are performing. A better understanding of your pitch will help you decide exactly what sort of maintenance is required.
Use the ECB's excellent TS4 booklet, which provides loads of great information about construction, preparation and maintenance of cricket pitches.
Take a number of soil samples on a regular basis as this helps you monitor your soil profile so you can see for yourself if any problems are occurring, and if so, what they are, for example root breaks, poor root growth, soil layering and depth of thatch. These issues can all be rectified by correct action and digital cameras now enable us to accurately record what we see.
Record-keeping is vital. That ECB document promotes the use of Performance Quality Standards (PQS) as a key part of your management strategy and there are three categories of measurement relating to the overall quality of a facility. They are:
Please refer to the 10-12 day preparation method detailed earlier in the year here.
After care of the wicket
You should already have seen around a month or two's worth of cricket on your squares already so after-care is as important as preparation. Carry out renovation and repairs as soon as possible following matches.
This begins with brushing and sweeping up of any debris on the surface, soaking the wicket, scarifying, spiking, topdressing and overseeding. More work may be required to repair foot hole damage. Carry out your repairs well as you could well need this pitch again later in the season.
You can continue to seed the ends where the grass is weak, sparse or bare and as temperatures rise this will help germination. Use germination sheets to help, but regularly remove the sheets to check for any signs of disease. The golden rule is that without good seed to soil contact, the operation is a waste of time. Use new seed as old material ight not germinate as well as you would like.
Don't neglect the outfield as it also plays a huge role in any game, particularly if it is not tended too. Treat it the same as you would any other natural grass pitch. Mow regularly, rake or verti-cut, aerate and apply feeding programmes to maintain a healthy sward. You can also do some light harrowing or raking to restore surface levels and keep surfaces open.
Apply a balanced fertiliser like 9-7-7 as part of your annual maintenance programme as this will stimulate growth and recovery. Aerate the outfield to increase aerobic activity and get some vital 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 ideally regularly mow the outfield to encourage sward density and reduce weed infestation. Keep your cutting height around 10-14mm as this will encourage a fast, smooth surface, although many outfields tend to be undulating and uneven, which makes mowing at this height difficult, so most are probably mown between 12-25mm.
The type of mower you have will also dictate what height of cut can be achieved. Outfields that are also used for winter sports and overseeded with perennial ryegrasses can be stressed if they are mown too short. Fescues and Smooth stalked meadow grasses, however can tolerate close mowing, and are more tolerant to stress.
Monitoring the performance of your playing surface is an important skill that all groundscare professionals should now be working towards adopting. Modern technology, tools and a camera can greatly help in this vital process and help you attain those PQSs described above.
Survey and measure the performance of your playing surfaces and facilities. Now we can measure all sorts of aspects of the pitch thanks to modern technology to ensure it meets guidelines.
That can include measuring composition of grass species, hardness and infiltration rates (porosity) of the soil rootzone, levels over a 3m level, soil temperature, sward height, and weed content.
Recently, GPS mapping devices have been developed that can measure chlorophyll, moisture content and deviation in levels. Soil tests can help determine soil type, nutrient status of the soil, organic matter content, CEC capacity and soil pH.
Keep a record of these parameters and it will give you a great deal of knowledge about what is happening within your playing surface, which in turn will give you the tools you need to make informed decisions about maintaining your playing surfaces.
Weeds, pests and diseases
This is a very prominent time for weeds, and they are very active. These include dandelions, daisies and plantains that must be treated accordingly. Otherwise they will restrict grass growth and maturity by reducing light and air around the leaf blade. Spray with a selected weed killer to control them. All personnel must be suitable qualified in the use of chemicals.
Worms could be active following a wet winter so carry out treatments if needed. Carbendazim is the only active ingredient for controlling worms. If worms are active, then so too may moles be and these need to be treated as they can cause enormous damage to the surface.
Keep a watchful eye out for any turf disease and remember: prevention is always preferable to trying to find a cure. Moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf is a combination that can make the leaf blade prone to disease attack. Turf grass diseases such as Fusarium and Red Thread may be active this month.
Symptoms of Fusarium (Microdochium nival), which is the most common and damaging disease, are orange/brown patches 2.5-5cm across which increase in size under suitable conditions as the disease progresses. Acrive patches have a 'ginger' appearance if you see them in the early morning. Creamy white mycelium that looks like cotton wool in the centre and outside of the patch are other symptoms.
Grass in the active patches can often be slimy and even once the disease is controlled, there will be scarring that will stay until sufficient grass growth fills it in. Brush regularly, switching or drag matting in the mornings to remove dew from the playing surfaces can reduce the likelihood of its appearance.
Red Thread is poorly defined bleached grass with Pink mycelium that can be seen in early morning dew. Looking more closely you will see red needle-like structures attached to the leaf blades. These become brittle upon death and easily detach allowing the fragments to spread the disease.
Outbreaks can be controlled by using systematic curatives and protective fungicides such as Chloranathil and Iprodione. These are applied in liquid form with water as the carrier. Mix two or more products in the same tank because this reduces the potential for disease resistance to build up. Fungicides selected with different modes of action will attack the disease on two or more fronts, making it hard for the pathogens to develop resistance to treatments.
Machinery and materials
Any machinery you have recently had serviced should be back with you now, but make sure you continue to clean and inspect after each use.
Keep your workshop in good order - a tidy workshop reflects a tidy worker!
And finally, keep a good supply of materials such as loam and seed at hand for pitch repairs and maintenance.