Hopefully you have already conducted a soil analysis of your soil profile enabling you to find out the nutrient status you are working with. This can assist your decisions about what fertiliser to to buy and use. You now want to be applynig a spring/summer fertiliser to bost top growth - remember to use manufacturer's recommended rates.
Rye grasses are more tolerant to wear if they are fed correctly. Continue with fertiliser treatment and turf tonic in line with your annual programme of maintenance. Don't have a fertiliser programme? Get your soil tested - you could use an independent soil analysis company to guarantee impartial results.
Start your pitch prepration 10-12 days prior to the first match of the season and following the guidelines laid out in April's maintenance calendar will result in a good standard of pitch.
In addition, make sure you have plenty of water available for irrigation. This is needed for pitch preparation, repairs and the health of the plant. Irrigation must be uniform and ensure the right amount is applied and that the water penetrates into the rootzone to a minimum of 100-150mm as this encourages deeper rooting.
After checking with a probe, allow the aera to dry and then repeat irrigation. If you let surfaces dry this can cause problems including dry patch, scorching and even death of the plant.
Start and finish rolling in line with the direction of play and after the game, begin the repair process by brusing and sweeping up any surface debris. Then soak scarify and spike the wicket, remembering that additional work may be required to deal with any footholes.
You can continue to seed the ends where the grass is weak, sparse or bare - the rise in temperature will help the grass germinate. Germination sheets are a good tool but remember to remove them regularly to check for disease. Without good seed to soil contact, this process will be a waste of time. Use new seed because old seed may not give you the germination rates you require.
Never neglect your outfield as it still plays a part in the game, and an even bigger part if ignored. Treat it as you would any other natural grass pitch. Mow, rake or verticut, aerate and feed regularly so you maintain a healthy sward.
If you can, now is the time to get on the outfield and give it a uniform cut, following it up with aeration and feeding. Some cricket outfields are used in winter for other sports so how much work you have to do will be determined by whether this is the case. If your pitch is only used for cricket, then lightly harrow or rake to restore levels and keep surfaces open.
Apply a balanced fertiliser like a 9-7-7 as part of your annual maintenance programme and this will stimulate growth and recovery. By aerating the outfield, you will help increase aerobic activity and give the grass plants root system some much-needed oxygen.
Spike regularly and if you can apply sand dressings to the profile regularly as this will improve soil water movement in the top 100mm. You could also hollow core your outfield and brush the cores back into the surface, thereby recycling the existing material and restoring levels, reducing thatch and speeding up the surface.
Your ideal height of cut to maintain is between 10-14mm but as most outfields have several undulations and are uneven, mowing to such a precise height may prove impossible, in which case aim for 12-25mm. The type of mower you are using will also impact on the height of cut.
If your outfield has been predominantly over seeded with rye grasses can become stressed if they are mown too short. However, fescues and smooth stalked meadow grasses can be more tolerant to close mowing.
All groundcare professionals should adopt the key skill of monitoring the performance of your playing surfaces. Modern technology, tools and cameras can greatly help you monitor the performance and condition of your sward in many different ways.
The industry has for many years promoted the use of Performance Quality Standards (PQS) to measure the standard of sport pitch maintenance.
Ways to survey and monitor your surfaces include measuring sward height, composition of grass species soil temperature, weed content, levels over a 3m level, hardness and infiltration rates or porosity of the soil rootzone.
Recently, the development of GPS mapping devices has progressed to the stage where they now measure chlorophyll, moisture content and deviation in levels. Soil tests to determine soil type, nutrient status, organic matter content, CEC capacity and soil pH are all useful.
Keep a record of these so you can better understanding of your playing surface and how it behaves as well as giving you all the information you need to make better decisions and keep the pitch in the best possible condition.
Weeds, pests and diseases
Keep your eyes open at all times for any sign of turf disease and remember that prevention is always better than a cure. A combination of moist soils and surface moisture on the leaf blade can mean plants will be susceptible to attacks of disease. Fusarium and Red Thread are just two turf grass diseases that are active at this time of year.
The most common disease is Fusarium (Microdochium nival) and its symptoms include orange/brown patches 2.5-5cm across which get bigger when conditions are favourable and the disease really takes hold. Active patches look distinctly ginger early in the morning. You will also see creamy white mycelium which looks like cotton wool in the centre and towards the outside of the patch.
Grass in the active patches will likely be slimy and even when the disease is controlled, scars remain until the grass has grown enough to fill them in. By brushing, switching or dragmatting regularly in the morning to remove dew from the playing surface you can help prevent the disease striking.
What is Red Thread? It is ill-defined bleached grass with pink mycelium on view in early morning dew. Look closer and red needle-like structures become apparent and these are attached to the leaf blades. These become brittle upon death and easily detach as the disease's way of spreading.
Chlorothalonil and Iprodione are two types of systematic curatives and fungicides that can control outbreaks, when applied with water as a carrier. You can mix two or more products to reduce the potential for disease resistance to develop. By mixing fungicides, they attack the disease on more than one front.
Worms may be very active at the moment so carry out treatments if needed with the only active ingredient available - Carbendazim. Anybody applying chemicals must be suitably qualified to do so. Worm activity can lead to moles causing damage and they need to be treated so they don't cause significant problems.
Leather jackets and chafers are currently prevalent. You can still apply Merit if you have it in stock but it is not easy to get a good kill when the grubs are at this stage of development.
As the soil begins to warm up you may notice symptoms of plant parasitic nematode activity. Two categories of nematode will infect grass plants - Ectoparasitic (these migrate along the outside of roots and feed on root cells) and Endoparasitic (these enter the root tissue and feed on the plants in these areas).
Look out for the following symptoms: yellowing and thinning of turf, reduced levels of vigour in the turf, premature wilt, turfgrass that recovers from stress slowly, and turfgrass not responding to fertilisation.
Biomass sugar is an effective way of returning balance to the soil and reducing plant stress caused by parasitic nematode attack.
Materials and machinery
You should now have all your machinery back with you following servicing, ready for use. Make sure you regularly inspect and clean all machinery following use.
Breakdowns can be expensive to fix as well as causing delays and inconvenience to pitch preparation. Keep your workshop in good order.
Maintain a healthy stock of supplies such as loam and seed ready for any repair and maintenance.