Pitch renovation and preparation

Repair work should be planned well in advance and a growing number of products are available to help get the job done, Sally Drury reports.

Derbyshire’s Clay Cross Town FC - image: Pan Publicity
Derbyshire’s Clay Cross Town FC - image: Pan Publicity

Pitches really go through it. They spend much of the winter feeling cold and wet, with the occasional covering of snow, not to mention painful frosts. All the time dozens of studded boots pound up and down, training or playing. No wonder that by spring, sports grounds can look battered.

Now is the time to plan for the renovation of damaged and worn out pitches. Carrying out the work early gives time for the facility to recover, although it might be necessary if the ground has to accommodate summer events or perhaps cricket.

Renovation involves a variety of tasks from decompaction and aeration to seeding and feeding. The range of products available for pitch renovation and improvement continues to grow, including new grass cultivars that can make a difference when overseeding.

Formulated mixtures

Whichever seed house you favour, there will be mixtures formulated for renovation and overseeding. Germinal offers A8 Pitch Renovator and A30 Rapid Sports Renovator Plus. Barenbrug supplies BAR 50 SOS and SOS 100. Many seed houses now also offer tetraploid cultivars for rapid germination and seed coatings to aid early establishment and growth.

For 2017 Rigby Taylor has introduced eight grass seed mixtures featuring Tetraploid Technology Ryegrasses and all benefiting from Germin-8 liquid seed treatment. Having twice the number of chromosomes compared to diploid perennial ryegrasses means the tetraploid plants have more cellular chloroplasts, boosting chlorophyll production for energy absorption. In turn, this provides a more robust plant with stronger and deeper roots, excellent colour and greater drought and disease tolerance.

"Particular benefits during the main renovation and transitional sowing are seen in the plant’s ability to provide faster germination at temperatures from 4°C and superior winter colour. Tetraploids are also the ideal selection for cold temperature divotting," explains Rigby Taylor director Richard Fry.

All of the grass seeds in the eight new mixtures are pre-applied with Germin-8, a potent cocktail of penetrating surfactants, nutrients, stimulants and micronised mycorrhizae. "The benefits are activated when the seed comes in contact with moisture in the root zone, stimulating cell division for faster germination and emergence and earlier root mass development," adds Fry. Independent trials have shown up to 100% increase in germination after just 10 days.

Tetraploid selection

FA group head of grounds and estates Alan Ferguson has first-hand experience of tetraploid grasses. "Tetraploid Technology mixtures R140 and R14CR were selected to be used on England’s Euro 2016 training pitches to replicate surfaces that the players are used to when training at St George’s Park or playing at Wembley," he says.

"Both seed mixtures rapidly outcompeted the existing grasses to bring the surfaces up to the standard we required." Both mixtures were treated with Germin-8. Rigby Taylor offers a mixture for every grass surface for construction, renovation, transitional seeding and repairs.

Celebrating its 65th anniversary this year, seed and fertiliser supplier Hurrells has introduced what it calls the "ultimate overseeding mix" in the form of CSI Restart. Suitable for any hard-wearing sports surface, it contains 30% CSI Corsica creeping dwarf perennial ryegrass. This key cultivar not only offers high visual merit but produces strong creeping side tillers in its first winter, making it capable of self-regeneration and self-repair in damaged areas.

CSI Corsica, rated highly in both European and American turf lists, is joined in the mixture by Colosseum winter active dwarf perennial ryegrass and Eurocordus and Beckham dwarf perennial ryegrasses. The overseeding rate is 20-35g per square metre.

Limagrain has new formulations of its MM mixtures for sports fields. MM25 contains Nagano, Cyrena and Eurosport perennial ryegrasses plus Corrida slender creeping red fescue. With Headstart Gold seed treatment, MM25 offers fast germination for a dense sward with high disease resistance and wear tolerance.

Targeting renovations, MM60 is a 100% ryegrass blend made up of Eurosport, Eurocordus, Columbine and Cyrena. It also offers fast germination and establishment to give a dense, hard-wearing sward that recovers quickly from damage while also offering a high level of disease resistance.

For winter and early-spring repairs to pitches, especially wear areas, Limagrain offers a new formulation of MM75R — a mixture of annual and tetraploid ryegrasses plus Matrix enhanced ryegrass to give rapid and successful germination in cool conditions.

Rapid establishment

Fabian 4turf, a tetraploid ryegrass from the DLF stable of Johnsons Sports Seed, is a key element of J-Pitch. Rapid establishment can see the sward ready to mow in three-to-six weeks and it promotes disease resistance, stress tolerance and deeper rooting. Johnsons supplies ProNitro seed coating.

There are also new fertilisers available for the turf manager to consider this year. The APEX range from Rigby Taylor has been given a significant makeover. With a high organic content, the fertilisers now include low salt analysis and are rich in humic acid to encourage root development and stimulate
soil microbial activity. Phased nutrient release feeds the turf for six-to-eight weeks.

"The homogenous mini-granule formulations provide conventional and slow release of nutrients that offer flexible, accurate and uniform application," says Fry. "Many of the products contain Polyhalite — an organic source of nitrogen, calcium and magnesium to help strengthen cell walls, so making plant tissues less susceptible to disease damage."

Rigby Taylor’s Microfine range, containing slow- and conventional-release forms of nitrogen, has also been reformulated and now has low sulphur analysis. Fry says: "Sulphur is an important nutrient for plant health but it has been shown that constant applications of products high in this nutrient can lower pH levels and also exacerbate black-layer formation."

Also added to Rigby Taylor’s catalogue this year are two Polypro SK analyses. With Polymer Coating Urea technology, both provide several months controlled-release nutrition in conjunction with added seaweed, organic potassium and biostimulants. This micro-granule range includes a conventional compound granule blended with coated nutrients so the plant receives an early boost. Calcium and magnesium have been added for improved tolerance to turf diseases.

Seaweed is recognised as aiding seed establishment and the next generation of Excel fertilisers from HumberPalmers builds on the original formulations with advanced engineered, phase-release nutrients.
ICL’s range of liquid biostimulants and turf conditioners has been expanded with the introduction of Vitalnova Stressbuster to precondition turf against stress and help generate a quick recovery; Vitalnova Amino Boost to support plant health and stimulate growth in early summer; and Vitalnova SILK to increase leaf and stem strength and help produce a cleaner cut.

Help from FA Pitch Improvement

One groundsman who recognises the importance of renovation, and has seen the benefits of what it can bring, is Lee Watson, who has looked after the Mill Lane ground of Derbyshire’s Clay Cross Town FC (main picture) for nine years. Despite having a full-time job, Watson dedicates 25-30 hours a week to the club.

He has won FA and Institute of Groundsmanship awards for his work — on a budget of just £1,000 a year. "We face so many challenges, the main one being bringing money into the club," says Watson. "We have a tote, café and the gate money, which really only covers overheads and fees." By applying for the FA Pitch Improvement Programme, Watson secured Delta and Fine Turf fertiliser, R14 ryegrass seed, a spreader and chemicals from Rigby Taylor, plus an Allet C34 mower and Redexim Multi-sport from approved supplier Charterhouse Turf Machinery. As well as gaining access to a wealth of advice and support, Watson has seen improvements in the Mill Lane surface. "Considering before the programme we didn’t conduct renovations or even apply fertiliser because we couldn’t afford to, the players now call the surface a carpet," he says. The improved facilities have seen the pitch in use more frequently, which Watson hopes will kick-start improvements at the club — which in turn will bring in more of that much needed money.

Product update: upgraded Dakota control panel, new GA600 aerator and 1.8m Multi-Sport

1 - Dakota 310 and 410 spreaders from Campey Turf Care Systems now feature a new upgraded control panel enabling the operator to take full control of the brakes, vibrator, stop/start and throttle up/down on the engine units fitted with a power pack. The 10cm LCD display also offers four memory presets and boasts variable belt and spinner speeds among its features.

2 - The highly anticipated GA600 aerator [above] is now available from Ransomes Jacobsen. A versatile unit and the first in a range of aeration kit expected from the company, this deep-tine unit can work at 3.4kmh at a depth of 30cm and over a width of 1.8m. If used with the AerStrike 4-Tine attachment system, productivity is further enhanced with deep and conventional aeration in the same pass. Spacing on the AerStrike system creates a tight 7.5cm pattern and eliminates the need for a turf guard. PerfectStrike tine arm motion provides accurate entry and exit of tines, with the crankshaft geometry giving vertical entry.

3 - A combination implement tool from Charterhouse Turf Machinery, the 1.8m Multi-sport [picture 3] comes equipped with slitter, rake, roller and brush to allow multiple tasks in a single pass. It weighs 325kg to aid penetration and there are additional weight trays on the slitter and roller sections, but all the tools can be independently adjusted for pressure and control.

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