With floods having devastated many areas of the country this winter, total-play Ltd’s David Bates shares advice on what to do it your natural square has been affected
The old saying ‘come hell or high water’ pretty much summarises the attitude of most groundsmen when it comes to ensuring their square is ready for the season ahead, but this year many are facing this in the most literal sense. If you club has been affected by the recent floods, safety comes first and foremost. Don’t be tempted to approach the site until the water has completely subsided – so no pulling on the waders or getting out the kids’ dinghy in your eagerness to inspect the carnage!
Once the waters have dispersed, the initial clean-up is where a club task force can really come into its own – clearing the site of larger items of debris before calling in the experts to assess the situation. Don’t be tempted to do anything further until you’ve sought advice – not only can it assist your bid to the insurance company, but the major risk to the square is from tiny particles of silt that can ‘cap’ off the soil surface; reducing porosity and therefore the drainage.
This inhibits grass growth and, in turn, reduces the durability of the surface. pH testing will show whether silt or pollutants have affected a square, and, if an issue is detected, it is likely that the pitch will need to be fraize mown, scarified, re-seeded and cultivated to provide the optimum conditions to encourage grass growth. In some cases – depending on the source of the floodwater – a suitable disinfectant may need to be applied to the site prior to major works commencing.
In his latest column total-play.co.uk groundsman David Bates explains how to prepare for the season ahead.
Now is the time to get ready for the big push. There’s no point in doing any work on the square until the weather has turned and the ground temperature is up to about 5 or 6 degrees Celcius, which is when the grass plants start working. Until then you should do the odd inspection and maybe test the soil if the square is looking a bit weak and yellow.
Most of your work this month should be done in the shed. The start of the season will arrive very quickly, so make sure your mowers are serviced and all the blades sharpened. Have the mice been chewing your covers? Have you got enough seed and loam for the season ahead? It’s all about basic housekeeping so that you don’t lost a single day when it comes to get out and prepare your wickets.
There’s no set date for that moment. Last season was one of the latest ever – the weather was cold and damp until the beginning of May when in previous years it might have been perfect conditiond from the first week of March.
In his latest column, total-play.co.uk groundsman David Bates explains how to perfect your pre-season rolling
The aim of rolling is to consolidate your pitch’s profile after the winter. The most important factor to consider is the weather on your chosen day. You will get more benefit from an afternoon’s work on the square one dry day with a good breeze than a fortnight of work in damp and overcast conditions.
The thing to remember is what is going on below the surface level. When water evaporates it leaves behind pore spaces in the soil, and the act of rolling pushes these gaps back together. If the soil is saturated, it’s like trying to compress a glass of water. It will simply squeeze out to the sides. And you are liable to damage your grass plants by smearing them in the process.
When the weather is right and the soil is warm enough, roll your pitches in a Union Jack pattern but ensure the last roll is always wicket to wicket. You should spend anything up to two hours on each pitch but make sure you set aside enough time to roll your square as a whole.
In his latest column, total-play.co.uk groundsman David Bates explains how to prepare your square for action
Mark out the four corners of your square so that you know your dimensions. Each pitch has to be 10ft wide but the length is allowed to vary. In my opinion you should allow 80ft, with 7ft behind the stumps at either end for take-off and landing points. Also, if you like to stripe your outfield like Lord’s, you’ll have four equal bays of 20ft in which to align your mower.
Once all your weeding and feeding has been done, the grass height on the square needs to be reduced to a maintenance height of 12mm – 13mm, but do this gradually so that you don’t scare the grass plant in the process. Then, once you’ve identified the pitch you wish to prepare, use a different mower to take the height down no shorter than 5-6mm for this time of year. Number your pitches when you start the season so you can avoid using adjacent pitches for consecutive games.
It’s not just about height of grass, it’s about the density too. Use a brush to stand it up before cutting and use a light rake to thin out any dead grass. It’ll make a big playing difference if your sward is consistent, rather than lumpy and bumpy. As a general rule of thumb, pitches take longer to dry out at this time of year, so give yourself 10-14 days to dry a pitch before your first match.
After-care: The key to a perfect finish…
In his latest column, total-play.co.uk groundsman David Bates explains what to do after play…
End of season works and pre-season prep are all well and good – however, if you’re aiming for peak pitch performance a sound approach to post-match maintenance is key.
It all starts with the planning. Ideally, you want to give your pitch at least eight weeks between matches, so will need to plan each game so that any pitches you want to keep dry for future matches won’t get affected by the recovery process.
So, what to do at the end of each game? The basic principle is the same as at the end of the season, only not as vigorous. It might be necessary to repair the pitch by clearing off any dead leaves and debris, then add 2mm or 3mm of top dressing before levelling the pitch back out again, particularly around the bowling creases. Mix some loam and seed in a wheelbarrow, give it a light roll when it’s dry and level it out, ready for the seed to start germinating again as quickly as possible.
The surface will already have been but short for the match so, if you’ve got a scarification machine and a brush to hand, you’re looking at a morning’s work. The nest part is key – and also where your match play planning as adjacent pitches will also get a soaking: Flood the surface to rehydrate those grass plants whose roots are still alive, then overseed it with a dimple seeder to get a good seed-soil connection.
Follow this advice and you’ll have natural turf cricket pitches fit to see you though the season.
But there’s no point rolling the square unless the grass is working and sucking moisture out of the profile. So sit tight and be prepared.
The festive period can be something of a holiday for groundsmen, too – it’s really a case of keeping an eye on things…
Heading into midwinter, the majority of your work will have been done for the year. You’ll have will scarified, re-seeded, top-dressed and hopefully carried out aeriation by the time Christmas rolls around.
It is worth keeping an eye out for disease during the holidays – monitor the colour and quality of the grass plant and look out for worm casts. If the sward looks discoloured or the plants look weak, get your soil ph level tested as the right levels are critical to allow the plants to unlock the nutrients they need. It’s also a good idea to test the soil for nutrient levels and prepare for the application of the right balance of festiliser in the New Year.
Should we be ‘lucky’ enough to enjoy a white Christmas, the best thing you can do is leave the pitch well alone under its snowy blanket – allowing it to melt and the surface dry out naturally before carrying out any works. Meanwhile, should you be based in an area that regularly gets inundated by flood water and your square gets flooded, it’s essential that you call in the experts once the water has subsided to assess the situation and advise on the best course of remedial action. Often, it’s things you can’t see – like tiny particles of silt that ‘cap’ off the soil surface – that cause the most damage.
Enjoy your ‘break’, soon we’ll be moving into pre-season prep – and remember, don’t drink & ‘roll’!