Thinking that a synthetic pitch requires no maintenance is a common mistake. The message to get over to the committee, head teacher or club officials is that while the maintenance does not need to be complex or costly, it must be consistent and effective — and that is the case whether the surface is sand-dressed, sand-filled or 3G.
An artificial surface is an investment and it is not uncommon for pitches to be used all day, every day — nine-to-five by school players then opened to the community or to private sports clubs in the early evening with floodlights allowing action until 10pm.
"The footfall over a synthetic surface will compact the infill and flatten the fibres," explains Charterhouse Turf Machinery synthetic specialist Curtis Allen. The surface will become hard under foot, drainage ability will be reduced and if the fibres are no longer supported they will lay horizontal. If left like that, and play continues, the most vulnerable part of the fibre is exposed to loading and UV, causing premature wear and breakage to reduce the overall expected life.
"The groundsman’s most effective yet simple tool is the brush. This will move infill around the surface, help alleviate compaction and stand fibres up. It should take no more than 45 minutes to cover a full-size surface and should be conducted at least once for every 10 hours of use. A brush like the Redexim Verti-Broom can be towed by a small tractor, ride-on buggy or ATV."
National football centre
At St George’s Park, the FA’s national football centre near Burton-on-Trent, head groundsman Alan Ferguson uses the Sisis Osca as part of his in-house maintenance programme, which secured the Institute of Groundsmanship’s Best Maintained Artificial Pitch award for its Desso I-DNA pitches.
The Sisis Osca is a tractor-mounted powered oscillating brush with a 1.9m working width for use on artificial turf with sand or rubber infill. The two oscillating brushes stand the carpet fibres up and redistribute infill to minimise compaction on the surface, provide consistent playing characteristics and prevent pile damage caused by reduced infill levels.
"There is no other machine like the Sisis Osca, which sets it apart and makes it that little bit special," says Ferguson. "It’s allowed us to keep ball roll below 10m, which isn’t easy when you consider we have around 40 hours of use on our synthetic pitches each week."
A contributory factor to reduced of compaction is that the Osca’s working width will use fewer passes than conventional drag brushes to complete a pitch. Its aggressive action agitates the upper infill level from side to side as well as brushing forward, helping to reduce surface compaction and encouraging the fibres to stand up straight, which reduces the risk of contamination and drainage problems as well as leaving a consistent playing surface.
"I have always thought its unique oscillating action was beneficial to the synthetic fibre and it has proved to be the case," adds Ferguson. "Having used it on two venues now, with equal success, it is something I would not be without where I have 3G pitches to look after."
When calculating a maintenance regime, it is important to tie it to the usage. "The idea of brushing every 10 hours refers to the entire pitch area being used in the normal fashion by, say, 22 players," Allen explains. "But this may not always be the case as the surface can sometimes accommodate up to three games of 18 players each, which increases the total pairs of feet to 54 — and then there are the staff, referees and parents."
There are calculations to help decide maintenance requirements (see table, below), with the resulting X factor determining the amount of maintenance needed. The higher the X factor, the greater the maintenance requirement.
"The calculator shows that a five-a-side site, despite its smaller area and fewer players for the same amount of hours per year, requires more maintenance than the full-size surface," says Allen. "If we do the same calculation on the full-size site, but with 54 players, we get a figure of 13.5 to make an increase in maintenance of 145 per cent to compensate for the extra footfall."
When surface cleaning, again a little-and-often approach is most effective. Most material on the surface is natural debris and detritus, which if left can get trodden on and broken down into the surface. This will migrate downwards, causing drainage problems. Machines such as the Redexim Verti-Clean can correct this.
Obviously, brushing and cleaning is not the complete solution. More intensive cleaning to remove the build-up of finer materials and particles will be required. Synthetic surfaces unintentionally work as water-purification systems, allowing water to pass through with the infill trapping dust and dirt. Equipment like the Redexim Verti-Top will aid decompaction and prevent the surface reaching saturation point by sweeping out the top layer, sieving the material to collect the large pieces of debris and collecting smaller particles via a vacuum.
Also available from Charterhouse is the X-Treme Clean, purposely designed for deep cleaning and decompaction work.
Complex carpet structures
Wiedenmann UK sales manager Chas Ayres points out that with a high-quality synthetic surface the number of artificial grass blades or filaments per square metre sometimes reaches more than 100,000. "To be effective, any maintenance machinery must be able to deal efficiently with complex carpet structures and get right in among the pile to do a good job."
The company’s Terra Clean 160 is uniquely placed. It is a sweeper, cleaner and collector based on technology used in military conditions. It has a cyclone filter system that draws and removes dust, inspired by the engineering solutions pioneered by trucks operating in sandy deserts. It also combines both a sieved separation system with a dust cyclone extraction system to filter and remove miniscule deposits.
Needing just an 18hp tractor, the Terra Clean 160’s deep-cleaning capability targets the powdered rubber crumb that can seal the playing surface and compact the yarn, compromising ball roll and playability. As a sweeper/collector, the machine lifts litter and debris from the pitch at the same time as returning infill to the playing surface, while passing the waste to a storage chamber after being progressively sieved.
Synthetic tennis courts: regular maintenance prevents problems and reduces need for remediation
Synthetic tennis courts are like all other non-natural surfaces in that they need maintenance yet are generally perceived as maintenance-free. You can prevent problems occurring by cleaning the surface on a daily or weekly basis with combinations of blowers, brushes and vacuums. Fail to do this and you must react to the resultant problems, which invariably will be more difficult, intensive and expensive to treat.
With preventive maintenance so important, contractor Replay Maintenance works with facilities to deliver a plan of maintenance that the facilities team can carry out using relatively inexpensive equipment.
Insufficient cleaning allows contamination to build up within the surface and starts to decompose, so clogging the surface and preventing drainage. From this, vegetation growth begins appearing on the surface — moss and algae being the biggest problems.
If caught early enough, the situation may be dealt with using chemical treatment to kill off growth and then utilising a system of rotary brushes or vacuums to remove the moss and algae.
Where the growth has proliferated and spread, Replay Maintenance offers the AquaCourt process — a type of power washing to remove detritus and vegetation — using a pedestrian machine with water jets.
At Aylesbury Tennis Club, Replay’s Rejuvenation process, using compressed air to extract the sand and redress with clean sand, was used to restore a playing surface that had become slippery after being contaminated with detritus.
Five top tips to maintain your synthetic surfaces
1 - Be especially alert to high-traffic areas. Two separate half-size pitches with constant seven-a-side play means 28 players use the site rather than the traditional 22 on a full-size area. That is 27 per cent more player usage than normal. In any game, goalmouths and centre areas get higher traffic than the sidelines, so factor these congestion areas into maintenance and make them the focus of your attention.
2 - Pick up litter/leaves if not on a daily basis then certainly as regularly as you can. It seems obvious but litter and windfall debris can become embedded in the pile and cause moss or fungus, especially through autumn and winter.
3 - Cleaning your surface is not just about litter picking. Powdered rubber crumb particles can cause havoc because they seal the playing surface and compact the yarn. Deep cleaning on a fortnightly basis is recommended, particularly for elite surfaces. Some manufacturers offer cyclone filter technology that draws and removes dust.
4 - Check the size of your access doors before ordering machinery.
5 - Some entry-level machines are land driven, such as the 1.2m-wide Wiedenmann Terra Clean 100 sweeper/collector, which can be towed behind a wide range of utility vehicles from 12hp without the need for a power take-off. An RRP of £5,350 + VAT makes it a useful investment for a small operation, especially as no hydraulics or electrics are required.