How to manage your sports pitch

Maintaining rugby and football fields can be a difficult task, especially with playing seasons stretching for long periods of the year, leaving limited time to address the wear and tear during the off-season.

To assist with this, we’ve put together a useful guide to help tackle these problems in a quick cost-effective and time-effective way, so your local team / club can get back to doing what they do best on a high-quality sports pitch.

To repair or reseed?

Unless a pitch has seen unprecedented or unrepairable damage, regular overseeding where required, aeration, drainage preparation and fertilising should help to maintain a superior playing surface all year round.

Preparation and drainage

A typical pitch might have drains formed on a grid type system at a depth of 450-900mm deep (to avoid machinery damage). The distance between drains will vary from 2.5m on heavy soils to 12.5m on sands. A fall of 100-200mm is considered ideal.

Surface Drainage

An open, well-textured topsoil will help to remove surface water. A mixture ratio of three parts sand to one-part topsoil (with the option of adding peat at 5% if necessary) is ideal.

Slit drains at 300-600mm centres, back-filled with sand, to a depth to suit underlying soil layers will give rapid movement of surface water. Slit drains should run at right angles to the existing drainage system.

Management during the playing season

The main problem associated with winter sport is the level of compaction which can lead to drainage issues. Compaction can be relieved by spiking or aerating the ground; however, care should be taken so that heavy equipment does not cause further damage to the soil.

Closed season renovation

Immediately after the last game of the season, renovation work should start with spiking to improve aeration, root development and drainage. Scrum damaged areas, goal mouths and hollows should be levelled with loam or sand. A fertiliser application will help grass recover from winter damage and help encourage newly sown grasses, a slow release fertiliser with a high nitrogen content should also be applied.

Sowing

With the interests of groundskeepers in mind, our amenity grass seed experts have specially developed PERFORM: Sports - A blend of three perennial ryegrasses perfect for either sowing a new field or renovating damaged sections of an already existing pitch.

New pitch

Sowing a new rugby or football field is a large task and may require the use of a contractor to get the field fit for sowing. The soil needs to be of good depth 150mm uniform and level to allow a good bed for the seed, it needs to be well flattened, aerated and moistened to create the best conditions for growth.

When sowing a new field, we recommend a rate of 35g per square metre. Allow the first growth of grass to establish to a height of approximately 75mm before the first cut. At this stage aim the cut should trim the new grass to 50mm. Moving forward reduce height with each mow until the recommended height of 25-35mm.

Overseeding an existing pitch

When renovating the damaged or bare patches in an existing rugby or football field the PERFORM: Sport mixture will allow groundsmen to rejuvenate damaged grass quickly. To ensure the best possible surface for your field make sure to irrigate prior to overseeding, this will have your field game ready in no time. We recommend a sowing rate of 25g per square metre when overseeding.

Mowing

Regular mowing encourages strong tillering and produces a dense sward which should be topped at a height of 25-30mm for football pitches and 25-35mm for rugby pitches. As the playing season approaches, the turf can be left to grow to approximately 75mm.

Ideally, cuttings should be boxed, but in most cases, this is not practical. Where the collection of cuttings is not possible care should be taken to ensure that the dead material does not smother the grasses beneath.

Fertiliser

The recommended amounts of fertiliser for a football or rugby pitch per hectare / per annum are:

Soil based pitch:

  • Nitrogen 160Kg
  • Phosphorus 0-20kg
  • Potassium 120-150kg

Sand based pitch:

  • Nitrogen 250kg
  • Phosphorus 50kg
  • Potassium 120-150kg

Groundskeepers spend significant time and money producing a high-quality grass pitch that can withstand the rigorous demands of a playing season. This makes maintenance vital, as it ensure none of the inputs go to waste and pitches are of a high standard all year round.

Maintenance Calendar

September - October

At the start of the season regularly mow the pitch, maintaining a height between 50mm-70mm. Try to repair any damage and if possible, chain harrowing the pitch after a weekend’s games. Chain harrowing the morning when the grass is a little moist will help create grass patterns. During late October consider applying a winter fertiliser, as with all fertilising ensure the grass can be washed off afterwards or apply just before the rain. On match days hand fork off any surface water from the field. It is also a good idea to aerate the grass during this period.

November - December

As the weather deteriorates the field will require more attention. Begin by aerating on a dry day and when possible chain harrow. When it is particularly cold, roll the grass as this will keep the surface flat. Try to keep machinery off the pitches as much as possible. Don’t go on the pitch when it is particularly frosty.

January - February

As January can be extremely cold ensure your pitch is used as little as possible particularly in very wet or very cold conditions. To avoid the pitch freezing hand fork any standing water and only use the roller and harrow when essential. Try to aerate the field as often as possible. Towards the end of February consider buying a fertiliser for end of season preparations.

March - April

Begin end of season preparations by fertilising the grass in early March. Grass will be ready for mowing by the end of the month, try to maintain the 25-35mm length.

May

Now that the season has ended, repair work can begin. After seeding keep the surface as moist as possible to allow the best growing conditions. During dry spells irrigate as well as possible. Keep off the pitch for at least a fortnight. When cutting begins, maintain a height of 50mm and try to mow in different directions with each cut. Applying a slow release fertiliser over the summer months will also assist pitch recovery.

June - August

Maintain regular watering and mowing but during this period allow the grass to grow to around 50-75mm. If there is a dry spell, try and keep the areas irrigated. Pre-season will commence in these months so traffic will increase and a fertiliser should be applied to strengthen the pitch.

During particularly dry spells:

  • Continue to mow the field but less frequently and increase the height of the cut to 75mm.
  • Aerate to prevent run off when it does rain.
  • Stop verticutting or scarification as this will cause further drying.
  • Do not apply chemicals or fertilizers as they will scorch the grass.

 

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