Given the wet spring, many groundsmen are no doubt starring at an expanse of compacted, forlorn-looking turf as they prepare to renovate their pitches. Campey Turf Care Systems UK and Ireland sales manager Ian Campbell confirms: "Usually the pitches are quite dry coming into May but because we’ve had such a wet spring they have been damper than normal."
Fortunately, groundsmen have a range of state-of-the-art machinery to help bring their pitches back to life. Campbell recommends the Imants Shockwave, a linear decompactor that relieves soil compaction, improves aeration and removes surface water. Since introducing it to his maintenance programme, Glasgow High School head groundsman David Miller has not had to cancel a single rugby fixture due to waterlogging.
"We’d had a real problem with flooding and it was frustrating to have to call off matches, particularly for hockey," he recalls. "We run the only two remaining grass pitches in Scotland used for hockey and I don’t want to lose them. It’s so important to keep them in play."
He adds: "For heavy-use sites like the scrummage areas where compaction is at its worst I may go over at a few different angles to maximise the effect. After sandbanding our main pitch last year we ‘shockwaved’ from touchline to touchline to encourage drainage to the lateral drains. It’s very easy to operate and if you take your time and don’t rush it the results are brilliant. It has made an enormous difference to our rate and level of play. We no longer have to cancel games and the players are competing on excellent surfaces that recover well."
The right kit can work wonders on tired pitches. This was the case when Campey Turf Care Systems worked alongside Staffordshire FA last June to implement its pitch improvement programme across the county. The initial plan was to buy an aeration machine from Campey, but when Campey’s advisers inspected the poor condition of the grounds at Stafford Rangers FC they said that type of investment would make little difference. Instead, they used the "Koro-ing" method whereby the Koro by Imants Field Top Maker was used to fraise mow the pitch.
Staffordshire FA adult football development officer Gareth Thomas says: "Playing in the national league system they have a slightly bigger budget than most grass-roots football clubs and decided to invest in a modern end-of-season renovation, which has resulted in a fantastic playing surface."
The job was used as an educational opportunity for local groundsmen who watched the revamp taking place. In a similar vein, this spring’s Campey UK and Ireland pitch renovation tour involved hundreds of groundsmen from councils, schools, contractors and football and rugby clubs seeing the latest kit in action. "The tour is aimed at grass-roots clubs," says Campbell. "Obviously all of the premier clubs are Koro-ing off but people don’t always realise that it can also be done at grass-roots level."
Educating grass-roots groundsmen using the latest machinery and techniques can dramatically increase the standard of local pitches, he notes, adding: "There are many grants available from all the different associations as well as finance packages designed to help spread the cost of machinery."
Daten FC, for example, has this season replaced its 20-year-old tractor at Culcheth Sports Club in Warrington with a New Holland Boomer 25 Tractor with a Trimax Striker 150 and a Sisis Quadraplay —all supplied by Campey.
The purchase was made possible thanks to a £10,000 grant from the Premier League and the FA Facilities Fund. Groundsman Ian Trantum says: "This new equipment is going to make my job a lot easier and it’s also going to improve the pitches a lot. Up until now all we had for working on football pitches was a set of old spikers and a drag chain, so the tractor and attachments will make a massive difference."
When the opportunity to replace old kit does arise, groundsmen are often pleasantly surprised with just how economical, lightweight and efficient the latest equipment can be. Ollie Ward of Surrey-based contractor Southern Sportsground Services is "continually surprised" by just how much thatch he can remove from cricket squares using the Graden GBS1200 verticutter.
"You will never really be able to get all of the thatch out of a cricket square without completely taking the top off, but I’m continually surprised by the amount we remove using the Graden equipment," he says. "Its incredible compared to the old Autorake we used to use. Also, with the tractor-mounted GBS1200 we can now scarify a cricket square in three different sections in about an hour, completing almost two full cricket square renovations a day."
Dougie Archibald, northern territory manager for Charterhouse Turf Machinery — the UK supplier of Graden verticutters — adds that football pitches can also be covered quickly and efficiently using the GBS1200. "It has a 1.2m working width and is a straight-reeled tractor-mounted scarification unit that can be towed by a 20hp tractor," he notes. "It works to a depth of 45mm but the speed at which the unit operates does not compromise the quality of the result."
Neil Yarham, head groundsman at Langley School in Loddon, Norfolk, was also impressed with his new kit — a fleet of John Deere tractors purchased through dealer Ben Burgess in Norwich. It includes the compact 66hp 4066R with diesel particulate filter technology to reduce exhaust emissions. The Hitch Assist system ensures fast and safe coupling up of implements and a trailer to the rear hitch or three-point linkage.
"The power of both tractors has allowed us to introduce the 2.4m-wide Quadraplay system, which enables us to aerate, scarify, roll and brush the surface in one pass and increase the width of the slitter from 1.8m to 2.5m," says Yarham. "The 4066R’s front loader also improves timeliness as it enables us to carry out our own top dressings and winter pitch renovation."
As groundsmen seek to remove dead material from the turf sward, they have a wide range of kit from which to choose. Ransomes Jacobsen’s Mounted 214 Verticut can be attached to tractors of 30hp or more and is ideal for removing thatch and organic matter. It is available with a choice of Magna cutting cylinders for longer grass, Sportcutter floating heads for finer sports turf and the verticutting units.
Allett Lawnmowers offers a choice of aeration and other aids as part of its Complete Lawncare System — a collection of six cartridges, including scarifier, each of which interchanges with the cutting cylinder on the Allett Classic and Kensington petrol cylinder lawnmowers. Other cylinders in the range include a lawn brush, a verticutter, an aerator, a de-thatcher and a 10-blade cylinder.
Advanced Turf Technology’s INFiNiSystem can cover all cricket ground maintenance activity with its range of interchangeable SMART cassettes, enabling groundsmen to scarify, aerate, mow brush, de-thatch, groom, level and top dress. The SMARTUltraGroomer cassette is specifically designed to reduce overly dense swards and prevent thatch accumulation, while the SMARTScarifier can be used when the accumulation of thatch is much greater.
When aerating soil to improve drainage and promote growth, groundsmen can use the Redexim Verti-Drain range of machines (left) supplied by Charterhouse Turf Machinery.
For renovating smaller areas of wear on pitches, the Jacobsen GA-24 self-propelled aerator is also an option. The unit’s manoeuvrability allows for tight turns and it is available with four tine sizes.
Designed to work at depths of up to around 100mm, but more typically in the 25-75mm range, groundsmen should also note that the Toro ProCore wide aerator 1298 can be fitted with a broad choice of Toro solid and hollow Titan tines, making it suitable for use from spring to late autumn.
Meanwhile, Plugr aerators from Billy Goat available through Henton & Chattell dealers also offer a solution for groundsmen. The range includes the PL1800 (with a 205cc Briggs & Stratton engine or an 118cc Honda engine), the PL2500 (with a 163cc Honda engine and the 196cc Honda/Hydro Drive.
For top dressing nutrient-thirsty lawns, Turfco has a wide range of mounted, self-propelled and trailed top dressers. Distributed in Europe by Ransomes Jacobsen, the range includes the self-propelled Turfco F15B Mete-R-Matic, Turfco F12D Mete-R-Matic, Turfco Mete-R-Matic XL, Turfco CR-10 and Turfco WideSpin 1550.
All groundsmen know that seeding is vitally important in any turf renovation project. Turfco has therefore developed the TriWave 60 overseeder, also supplied by Ransomes Jacobsen. Its 40mm seed spacing, combined with three independent floating heads, increases germination by providing a consistent seed depth.
It is worth noting that the Graden Contour Sand Injector, which reduces organic matter (thatch) and is supplied by Charterhouse Turf Machinery, can also double up as an overseeder. This works by using 1mm-thick blades rather than the sand-injection function.
Rigby Taylor’s Optim-8 rotary spreader range, which is used to apply granular fertilisers, also doubles up as a seeder. This is because it can be fitted with optional low- or high-output trays that allow the spreaders to apply grass/flower seed. The range can also be used to spread some chemicals, salt, sand and top dressings.
Rigby Taylor’s iGO Advance (left) and Glider pitch line-marking machines are now equipped with a "traffic light" feature to indicate the battery’s charge level.
Groundsmen can also use Rigby Taylor’s Preline paint product for their initial marking — a pre-mix formulation with a small quantity of the herbicide glyphosate. Applied through a transfer wheel marker, it will put down an initial white line and suppress grass growth, lasting for up to 12 weeks even during