Archive for the ‘Sports Pitches’ Category

Irrigating sports pitches during summer stress

Monday, July 29th, 2013

With evapo-transpiration rates up about 4mm/day and the need to get water penetration into the soil it makes sense to apply at least 8mm in a single cycle. Applying less daily barely covers the days water loss and so does not get in to any depth where it will not be lost quickly. Two applications a week would give 16mm which is about 50% of evapo-transpiration losses. Where possible irrigation should be during the night. Any aerating to improve water penetration should be avoided until there are good moisture levels in the soil – opening dry soil only increases the water losses putting grass under greater stress.

Managing sports pitches in this heat

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Unless you have irrigation there is no benefit in trying to water with hoses or isolated sprinklers. Shallow rooted meadow grass could succomb but ryegrass will die back at the surface and recover as soon as the temperatures drop and moisture builds up again. Mowing should be as infrequent as posssible lifting the mowiing height just to maintain presentable cover. Aerating by spiking and vertidraining will only increase the water loss from a de-compacted surface. Any form of nutition without irrigation is of no avail – in fact nothing should be applied to the ailing grass cover at this time. Covers will help reduce evapo-transpiration and so will sand dressing – but if grass cover is wilting this should be avoided now.

Six weeks is a relatively short drought period and within a month we could wonder what all the panic was about. If meadow grass was dominant over-seeding with ryegrass may be worth considering.

Fertilising sports pitches at this time

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Ryegrass grows well into November – particularly the root growth. Now a little late for the best return from controlled release formulations, seaweed with low nitrogen and high potassium can stimulate the grass cover making it more durable for the winter season ahead. At this time grass cover should be at its best if it is take heavy wear over the next few months.

Vital treatments to the winter grass pitch in the off season

Friday, June 15th, 2012

There is insufficient time available to undertake major drainage works between the end of one season and the start of the next. Nevertheless, it is essential that between the end of the season in May and the start of the next in July/August attention should have been given to all or most of the following – even if it means use of the pitch must be deferred for a few weeks:

1. After heavy winter use the pitch should be de-compacted with the vertidrain and/or the earthquake to promote good growth.

2. It is essential to level out significant depressions using compatible topsoil – this should have been done before any seeding is undertaken.

3. Over-seeding is essential if weeds are to be prevented from encroaching and dense grass cover is to be restored for the season ahead.

4. Special attention must be given to badly worn areas. These could need thorough loosening, harrowing and possibly levelling before being seeded.

5. Weed control is necessary when grass cover is restricted. However, special care is needed in the choice of chemical and interval applied after seeding.

6. A good balanced fertiliser should be applied – preferably a coated control release formulation to promote active growth into the playing season.

7. If slit drains are installed the annual sand dressing is needed at the rate of at least 120t/ha in one or two visits – ensuring good penetration into the sward.

8. Ensure the mowing regime is in place – with frequency depending on rate of growth to avoid clippings collecting and lifting the height of cut in hot dry weather.

Managing sports pitches in a drought

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

In the South East UK we are now officially in drought. For more information see
So what does this mean for your sports pitch? In short, grass seldom dies in drought conditions within the UK. However, the longer the drought, the more you need to do in order to conserve the best quality of grass cover. Tips for you are:
• Deep spike/vertidrain to lessen cracking open in slit drains and ensure better water penetration in the soil when it rains
• Maintain an adequate degree of nutrition – though not applying excess nitrogen
• Lift the cutting height of mowers
• Reduce the frequency of mowing
• Maintain grass cover free of weeds – spray if necessary
• In spring renovation only scarify if the ground is moist and grass cover is vigorous – and not too severely
• When over-seeding ryegrass ensure seed is drilled to at least 10 to 15mm below the soil surface
• Sand dressing as a surface layer restricts evaporation from clay soils.
• Do not roll pitches
Where grey water or stored water is available conservation is still vital in times of drought.
• Ensure water penetration to at least 70mm to reduce water loss.
• Avoid light watering that does not amount to water lost by evapotranspiration
Whether you are irrigating or not I would be happy to offer free advice as we go through this drought? Just email me any queries and I would be glad to assist.

Low priority given to maintaining sports pitches

Monday, November 21st, 2011

It is sad to see how often local authorities, schools and sports clubs fail to budget for the essential treatments needed to sustain acceptable playing conditions on sports pitches. While up-grading structural facilities, somehow the importance of the playing fields are side-lined. Besides limiting attention to irregular and untidy mowing, the vital need to nourish the grass cover and control weeds – apart from other treatments – is scarcely considered.

Sport can be a microcosm of life and develop in our youth much-needed discipline and respect for others – hence in the unsettled world today, maintenance of playing fields warrants far greater consideration.

A vital dimension to summer maintenance

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Maintaining grass in the summer is a matter of common sense – so many of the uninformed believe.  It simply incorporates a combination of mowing, aerating, soil conditioning, fertilisation, top dressing, pest control and irrigation – all standard operations.  However, with today’s exacting demands of grassed sporting surfaces, the planning and execution of general maintenance has become so exacting that many competent greenkeepers and groundsmen fail where others succeed.  So where is the complexity?  Is there more to cost-effective maintenance than carrying out a sequence of standard set of treatments when felt to be necessary?


While treatments and applications may appear to be standard undertakings they need to be specific in planning to achieve what is desired.  The objective must be clear.

The condition of the equipment, its capability, the settings and the actual application determines the success of the undertaking – not to mention the proficiency of the operator. 
Understandably, the operation must achieve what is intended.  Scarifying means the removal of significant top growth and thatch and yet so often the result is little more than a light verticutting.  Aeration objectives must be clearly defined before selection of equipment.   Close spaced deep pencil tines, shallow solid tining, star slitting, use of the sarrel roller, earthquake and vertidrain all create a degree of aeration but to different depth and intensity.

Applying chemicals whether fertilisers, biotic stimulants, soil conditioners or pesticides is a precise task.  Success with an application depends on the right equipment, proper calibration and competent application as well as the choice of the correct product for the task.  Preparing a seedbed whether on bare ground or into weakened grass cover demands special attention.  Distributing seed without adequate soil cover or not into clean or sufficiently set-back grass cover has little chance of success.

In all, however simple the operation, a sensibly thought out plan of action is vital if an application or treatment is to achieve in a single effort the objective envisaged from the start.


What is done in soon forgotten – yet the treatment or application is an integral part of year-round maintenance needed to create the best grass cover possible.  So many factors determine the success or failure of the operation.  Recording can be painful but tabulated essential information is as important in a scarifying or fertilising operation as it is in a COSHH controlled application of a pesticide.  Apart from the date, type of equipment and name of operator, the settings however basic become essential if future treatments are to be repeated or adjusted.

Prevailing grass, soil and weather conditions


Every treatment or application, however well planned and executed is influenced by the prevailing environmental conditions.  Few seem to realise the importance of regularly measuring rainfall, maximum and minimum temperatures, the soil temperature, humidity and wind.  Yet all have a profound effect on the treatments and applications made to grass cover.  Whether scarifying, fertilising or applying a pesticide, all these measurements will to a degree influence the result.The condition of the grass cover too can strongly influence the result.  Grass cover under stress suffers when an added shock is given – whereas strong vigorous growth is stimulated and responds to even drastic cultural treatment.  The soil condition, particularly the upper depth in which roots are active, further sets the stage for success or failure in many instances.  The moisture content and health of the top 100mm should be recorded facts.  Knowing and recording the soil and weather conditions along with the grass cover and pertinent details of the application all form a sound base on which to later judge the result.



Monitoring results


Seldom is inference made to the outcome is recorded information of a treatment.  Simple and unnecessary as it sounds, a few comments provide valuable information for further application of the treatment.  Judging the time in which the objective is achieved and particularly the degree of effectiveness that resulted becomes vital for future planning.


Tabled treatments in chronological order allows easy reference.  Mixed notes in a diary, often without the pertinent facts, offers little help when it comes to diagnosing the failure of a treatment or application.  Thought should be given to the setting out of the details of the application and prevailing conditions in a way that monitoring can be comparative.  The judgement of one treatment over another can only be properly assessed when all the facts are clearly tabulated in an easy-to-read format.


Monitoring essential criteria such as thatch depth, root growth, vigour, shoot density, root zone condition and moisture content at least four times a year gives a good indication of progress made.  Hence, being able to quickly assess the reasons for success or failure of treatments carried out provides a final ‘tool’in judging the maintenance performance.



Maintaining grass cover can be a simple undertaking but to be cost-effective, planning, recording and judging are three vital considerations that should always be made if desired progress is to follow.

Sports pitch renovation – the narrow spring window

Monday, April 26th, 2010

At last the weather has changed though now into April the soil temperatures are only now rising above 10ºc.  Anyway, after a wet winter and the recent dry spell there is much to be done.  We have a short spell when good growing conditions with the increased warmth are still accompanied by moist soil conditions when the gains from rainfall exceed the losses from evapotranspriration. 


Into May and the reverse happens when the losses in moisture begin to become greater than the gains.  On standard coarse turf areas such as football and rugby pitches, normally not equipped with irrigation much will depend on the rainfall over the next six weeks.  The period between stopping play at the end of the season and the beginning of the following one is very short.


The narrow window makes the outcome of this immediate task on sports pitches a very difficult one.  Initially, scarification is needed to remove accumulated debris and as much of the annual meadow grass that has invaded during the season.  It is also vital to prepare the surface for over-seeding.  Decompaction with the earthquake or vertidrain is also essential to loosen the top 200mm after heavy use.  The seed must be drilled to at least 8 to 10mm to ensure good warm moist conditions vital for germination and establishment.  Most over-seeding implements capable of drilling the seed satisfactorily are limited to 50 to 70 mm row spacing and the density of grass cover can just not be obtained unless there are at least two passes in two directions to reduce the effective spacing. 


To create any density of grass sward, plants need to tiller and harden before full use and in the case of football and rugby, this renovation treatment determines the grass cover that can be expected in the autumn.  Records show that May warms significantly and unless there is sporadic rainfall during the month, over-seeding remains a lottery.  This is a major concern and the delay in this treatment also influences spring fertilisation.  Ideally, nutrition should be available once active growth begins in April.  However, with over-seeding only possible in May it is preferable to knock back the competition and gain successful germination before applying fertilisers.  It is a case of one or the other.  Favourable conditions before it becomes too warm favour the earlier application but there can be no real gain before soil temperatures rise above 10ºc.


To summarise one thing is clear – the need to concentrate all expertise available for the renovation procedures as soon as possible during this narrow window.  Secondly, where scarification is carried out, every effort should be made to carry out the operations properly with adequate opening of the surface for over-seeding.  Thirdly, the proper placement of the seed after reducing the competition is vital.  Finally, judicious mowing and the use of controlled release fertilisers will help to attain the most dense cover possible for the new season.

Sports pitch agronomy report

Friday, March 26th, 2010

There are some basic requirements in a report that seeks approval in applications for funding :

1. The standard and intensity of use envisaged

2. The level of drainage eg drain immediately, 24hours, a few days

3. Topographical survey at least to 100mm contours

4. Soil survey of top 1m – for earthworks and drainage planning

5. Drainage strategy with approval from the Environment Agency

6. Concept design layout and recommended scope of works

7. Estimated construction and professional costs

8. Maintenance programme

Football pitch drainage – is it an underground or surface proplem?

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Water standing, causing ponds and consequent muddy conditions on pitches is a common problem on English clay loam soils. Invariably the problem arises from water not being able to penetrate the surface and undulations or lack of adequate gradient preventing any surface drainage. Before installing any form of drainage installation, the three initial most important concerns must be the evenness of the grade, the gradient and the control of surface or underground water gaining access to the pitch from surrounding areas. The only long-term solution to puddling is to regrade the surface and if possible create a cross-fall gradient of at least 1:70 or if possible 1:50. In confined areas within built-up surroundings this may not be feasible and in order to create adequate cross-fall gradient the alternative solution is to grade the surface to form a central camber with slopes to both sides. Graded to form a central crown players will scarcely notice the side gradients while playing up and down the pitch. Only from the touchline will the central camber be noticeable.

With the removal of surface water attention can then be given to slit drainage installation to enable the quick removal of surplus water so as to ensure the topsoil surface remains firm. To ensure satisfactory playing conditions during the winter and avoiding puddles forming, a firm surface must be retained.