Q: I look after a number of sports pitches in the north-west of England. We have had a dismal winter, with snow and rain meaning that many matches have been postponed. There will be a rush to pull games in before the end of the season and I want to know whether there is anything I can do to help the pitches cope with the heavy wear that they are going to get. Winter maintenance has been a bit hit and miss, so the ground is currently saturated. I am keen to get on with aeration as soon as possible because every time it rains it results in standing water on two pitches. But I am worried that the ground is too soft and I will do even more damage if I put a big tractor and machine on it.

A: If there is standing water, it means that the roots are being starved of oxygen. That's not good. You need to get the water away as quickly as possible and introduce some fresh air.

First, you should check the drainage outlet, assuming the pitches are drained, and clear any debris that may be hindering the flow of water away from the site. Also, check the level of thatch build up in the sward - thatch can impede drainage more than most people think.

Undrained playing surfaces and relatively thatch-free pitches are likely to have standing water where there is compaction, so thinking about aeration is the right way to go. However, caution is the watchword if the ground is as wet as you suggest.

You need to let the water move through the profile if possible, so that the surface can dry a little before putting any heavy kit on it. A way to speed this up could be by using water management products. There is also a new soil stimulant on the market called Oxy-Rush that helps introduce oxygen into the soil. It is available from Agronomics of Ripon, Yorkshire.

I think it would be well worth giving this new product a try in the first instance because it can be tank-mixed with the penetrant Pervade - so you would be helping to push the water away through the soil profile at the same time as increasing the oxygen levels in the root zone to reduce black layer, algae and anaerobic conditions.

You can spray the tank mix onto your waterlogged turf using a lightweight spray rig. Then, once the weather improves and ground conditions dry a little, you can take the aeration equipment onto the pitches and continue to apply Oxy-Rush as part of your regular aeration programme.

You should also consider feeding the grass, but be careful of using fertiliser types that will be wasted as the draining water washes it out of the system. When conditions are suitable, you might also want to look at the amount of grass cover and consider renovation work with overseeding.

It would be worth looking at Barenbrug's BAR 50 SOS for this purpose. This ryegrass blend is said to establish well in cool soil temperatures - down to 3 degsC - and is recommended for winter repairs as well as for summer renovation. It has excellent wear tolerance and gives rapid soil stabilisation.

The other thing that you need to think about is disease. With the turf under stress, diseases such as fusarium and dollar spot could take a hold as soon as the weather turns a little warmer. So keep an eye out for any health problems. Finally, talk to the teams. Explain the turf is stressed and needs to recover.

- Sally Drury has reported for HW and its forerunner GC&HTJ for 27 years and has spent more than five years testing machinery for HW and What Kit? The advice in this helpline is independent.


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