Brush regularly every morning to remove dew from the playing surface and reduce the likelihood of disease breaking out - turf grass diseases like Fusarium and Red Thread are active at the moment. Spray accordingly to eliminate any disease or worm activity. Get your soil tested, and make sure to fertilise the square using low nitrogen, higher potassium feed. This hardens the sward - NPK 6:5:10 +6% Fe is recommended for most grounds.
Make sure your machinery has been serviced and sharpened. Give the square a light verti-cut, mowing at 15-18mm to boost sward density. Square off the square as soon as you can, and make sure to renovate any bare areas (ends, foot holes).
It is now time to start pre-season rolling, although you may already have gotten your regime underway.
Don't neglect your outfield(s), as they will need some work; use a light harrow, mow at 25mm and aerate. Check your covers, sight screens and other equiment is in good condition and remember to keep records of the work that has been done, from core samples to rolling and mowing.
It is also a essential to recommission your irrigation system and make sure winter frosts have not caused any damage.
Square: 'Square off' the square. Use semi-permanent markings and the operation can be simplified by using the 3,4,5 system to produce your right angles. Push fixed plastic points into the ground at the four corners and sink them just below the surface to prevent them damaging machinery. Fix a point for the stump line and return crease to give an accurate measurement from stump to stump (22 yards). Spend time getting this accurate as it will save time in the future.
Keep brushing daily to keep the grass surface dry as this will give you a much better standard of cut. Every two weeks, carry out light scarification or verticutting. Remove horizontal and stoloniferous growing grasses and surface organic matter to give you a better standard of cut.
Lower the height of cut to 15mm-18mm by the end of the month and don't ever remove more than two thirds of total grass height each time you cut. Stress the grass as little as you can at this time and reap the benefits later in the season.
As temperatures begin to rise and this stimulates germination, you can seed ends with perennial rye grass where the grass is weak, sparse or bare. Check for disease regularly by removing the sheets and remember that without good seed to soil contact, this is a waste of time. Perennial rye grass is ideal thanks to its fine leaves, which combines excellent close mowing with good wear tolerances and looking good. In addition, it tolerates the shade, establishes quickly and produces very little thatch.
Continue with fertiliser treatments and turf tonic in line with your regular programme. If possible, get your soil sampled and analysed so you know what you are working with and exactly what you need to to do. Get it tested soon if you haven't done so, or if you haven't got a fertiliser programme in place. To get the grass growing, you could start to apply some low Nitrogen based fertilisers.
Pre-season rolling: It is vital that you now get your pre-season rolling programme underway. First of all, make sure you can get your roller onto the square without damaging the outfield. What you are aiming for is a surface that is dry but will feel moist if you press your thumb down on it. When you get to that stage, it is time to start rolling. Build up the weight gradually.
If you use the weight of your mower to consolidate the ground, remember to disengage the cutting blades - this reduces friction and unnecessary wear. Use the "Union Flag" system: roll in as many directions as you can, always finishing in the direction of play. When this is done is crucial.
Build up the weight of the roller in stages - move onto the next size of cylinder mower, and add weights to the grass box, for example. You may need to build this up over a number of weeks and allow the soils to dry before starting the next roll.
Then, as the month draws towards a close, having serviced it and got it ready to go, the roller can be brought out of the shed ready for the season. Once your soil is like plasticine, you have ideal rolling conditions. Consolidation is what you are looking for and how well you roll in pre-season will be evident your first pitches of the season are prepared.
Consolidate throughout to a depth of no less than 100mm, and this can only be done by gradually building up the weight of the roller, maintaining the same speed over the square and measuring soil density. The maximum achievement for soil density is the function of its clay content - as it increases so too does the soil density. If your pitch has a high clay content (28-35 per cent), it will require a more intense working regime.
Outfields: Following the winter, outfields can end up looking forlorn and need some attention - some may not have been cut this year. Try to make progress and perform a uniform cut, aerate it and feed it. Aeration will increase aerobic activity get some much-needed oxygen around the grass plant's root system. Spike regularly and if you can introduce sand dressings to improve soil water movement in the top 100mm. You could hollow core outfields and follow this up by brushing the cores back into the surface and replace the existing material. This will help restore levels.
There may be damage to the outfield, so check thoroughly before any maintenance is performed. Damage can range from vehicle wheel tracks, pests or even vandals. Rabbits can cause severe damage once they emerge and start looking for food - repair and overseed their scrapes and holes.
As April approaches, reduce the height of cut on the outfield to around 20-25mm. Harrow or rake lightly to to restore levels and keep surfaces open. If your cricket outfield is one that is used in the winter for other sports such as football or rugby, then this will determine how much work you need to do.
If your outfield is purely used for cricket, then aerate (deep slitting, solid tine by vertidraining or hollow coring) to improve surface drainage. Dragbrushing the cores in creates a top dressing for surface levels.
Overseed any bare areas - if budgets allow - and apply balanced fertilisers such as a 9-7-7 as part of your annual maintenance programme to stimulate both growth and recovery.
If you can access a core sampler, take a core between the edges of two pitcheson a length. You are looking for the profile to show good root development, white and about 100mm long, a consistent layer of soils compatible with one another, no thatch and a lack of root break. Repeat for different areas of the square and make notes so you can monitor pitch performance throughout the course of the season. This process can help your end-of-season renovation programme and mean you won't be guessing.
Weeds, pests & diseases
Disease control: Your eyes should always be open to turf disease and prevention is always better than a cure. Moist soils combined with surface moisture on the leaf blade can make the plant susceptible to disease so be extra vigilant. Turf grass diseases such as Fusarium and Red Thread can be active at this time.
Symptoms of Fusarium (Microdochium nival) is the most common and damaging disease. Its symptoms are orange-brown patches, 2.5cm-5cm across which increase in size when conditions allow as the disease progresses. Active patches look ginger in appearance in the early morning.
In the centre and towards the outside edge of the patch you will see creamy white mycelium which looks like cotton wool. Grass in the active patches will likely be slimy and even after the disease is brought under control, the scars will remain until the grass has grown sufficiently to fill them in. To try to prevent the onset of Fusarium, brush regularly to get dew off the playing surfaces.
Red Thread is characterised by ill defined bleached grass and you will see pink mycelium in the early morning dew. On closer inspection, red needle like structures will become apparent, attached to the leaf blades. These become brittle when they die and break off easily, allowing fragments to spread the disease.
Systematic curatives and protective fungicides such as Chlorothalonil and Iprodione, which are applied in liquid form with water as the carrier, are recommended to control any outbreaks. You can mix two or more products in the same tank to reduce the potential for the diseases to develop resistance. These mixtures attack the target disease on many fronts, making it more difficult for pathogens to evolve and resist future treatments.
Pests: Worms are still active so carry out treatments if you need to. Carbendazim is the only active ingredient that controls them.
Remember, that all personnel applying chemicals must be suitable qualified.
Machinery & Materials
Now that you machinery has been serviced, it should be back with you and ready for use. Nevertheless, inspection and cleaning your equipment after use must be an ongoing process. Looking after your equipment goes a long way to preventing breakdowns and the associated costs and impact on your work.
Keep the workshop in good working order - remember that a tidy workshop reflects a tidy worker.
Make sure you have a good supply of materials like loam and seed in stock ready for any repairs and maintenance. Book any materials you will need for spring remedial works now to avoid any delays.