May Maintenance

As the football and rugby seasons come to an end, it is time to prepare for spring renovation so be ready to scarify, spike, fertilise, seed and top dress - and that is a good order to stick to, although remember that goalmouths, in-goal areas, and the centre of the pitch may need further attention.

Scarifying: This needs to be carried out to clean out the surface, remove any remaining divots and take out dead organic matter that will have built up over the winter.

Before you scarify, reduce the height of cut. Not only will this help the grass establish better but it will help your machinery carry out the work without struggling.

Whatever your chosen (or readily available) method of scarification, try to achieve a surface that is short and clean with a finished mown height of between 13mm and 20mm. This will give your grass seedlings time to grow and establish without much competition from existing grasses.

Spiking: Spike in order to relieve compaction, which is vitally important and it is advisable to spike as deep as you can - perhaps to 250 or even 300mm. Several SISIS machines can help you achieve this depth but before carrying out any deep spiking make sure you check the depth of existing under soil drainage or under soil heating.

Pay attention to heavily worn areas, including those areas run by assistant referees, touch judges and any spectator areas.

Fertilising: Provide the young seedling with essential nutrients it needs to root quickly and resist disease with a good pre-seeding fertiliser, such as one low in nitrogen and high in phosphorous and potash. Work it into the surface with a brush or dragmat. Water it in if the weather is dry.

Seeding: Good quality rye grass seed mixture is essential. New seed is important because old seed will not germinate as quickly or lushly as new seed.

Apply an early start fertiliser with the new seed to help grass recovery and help the new seed establish - try something similar to a 9-7-7, but make sure whatever use fits with your soil analysis.

It is advisable to oversow at the rate of 20 to 35 g/square metre. Make sure to keep some seed in reserve so you can oversow any thin areas at a later date. The key thing here is to ensure good seed to soil contact as this is the right path to good germination.

Monitor the progress and success of your renovations and oversow any thin areas as this will give you the best opportunity of making sure the grass is strong and has good coverage in time for next season.

Apply a slow-release fertiliser later in the month which will help the grass through June and July.

Topdressing: Your choice of top dressing must be governed by your current rootzone - make sure it is compatible. You may find this is a medium to fine sand and you may need around 60 to 80 tonnes per pitch.

If you are using a general topdressing of 70/30 remember that this has a high clay content - despite the high percentage of sand - and this could cause you problems in the future. Make sure you know exactly what you are being supplied with.

You may not be able to afford to top dress, in which case consider the option of hollow coring, recycling them by breaking them up and dragmatting them back into the surface. If your pitch is of a sand-silt construction then regularly topdressing with compatible sand will be essential to make sure the slits do not become capped over.

Two important functions are performed by topdressing. First, it covers the grass seed to provide good soil to seed contact and ensures good germination of seed - which is an expensive resource. Second, it helps restoration of surface levels.

You can concentrate on low areas of the pitch. Small dips and hollows that collect water in the winter can be spiked more than other areas. Use a heavier topdressing to raise levels but take care to work the topdressing into the holes and base of the sward. Don' leave the topdressing too thick and covering the edge of the grass as this will weaken the sward. Repeat this operation as required, checking with a straight edge.

High wear areas: The range of wear on any pitch can be significant, from minimal and little loss of grass in the goalmouths, to whole strips the length of the pitch where the grass cover is gone.

Some may even have lost grass cover and soil, because the soil has migrated out of the area. Here, it is vital to work hard on relieving compaction and to bring back the surface levels. Do this by importing and incorporating new materials which are compatible with your soil.

If the situation requires it, you may consider turfing but this is expensive. Give yourself time for the turf to establish so it doesn't get kicked out.

Goal/rugby post safety: All goalposts and rugby posts must meet health and safety standards. Now is a good time to check them over thoroughly. It is not enough to just take them down and store them away as you must make sure they are fit for purpose ready for next season.

Remember to check other areas including fences and dugouts and now is a good time to get machinery serviced. If you must store machinery away for lengthy periods, empty the petrol tank!

Weeds, pests and diseases

At this time of year, leatherjackets and chafers are active and in some numbers. You can apply Merit if you have some in stock, but with them in this particular stage of their life cycle, a good kill can be hard to carry out.

Because soil is warming up, there is more chance of plant parasitic nematode activity happening. Two categories of nematode infect grass plants: Ectoparasitic and Endoparasitic. Ectoparasitic nematodes migrate along the outside or roots and feed on root cells while Endoparasitic nematodes entre the root tissue and feed on the plants from there.

Look out for the following symptoms: yellow and thin turf, less turf vigour than usual, premature wilting, turfgrass that does not respond to fertilisation or recover from stress and your best solution is BioMass Sugar.

Look out also for Microdochium Patch which may appear as the temperature rises and is more likely if the weather is humid and there is moisture on the leaf for any length of time. Think about systematic fungicides but only use them as a last resort. If the grass is growing well the disease may just bubble under the surface and the grass could outgrow it.

Dennis Mowers