The Groundsman

November 2015

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AHEAD OF THE GAME 34 the Groundsman November 2015 Visit for more information and digital editions hen Maurice Minns joined Wilmslow Rugby Club 10 years ago, the club's two pitches were in a poor state with barely a blade of grass on the fi rst pitch and the second pitch regularly condemned as too wet to play on. Today, the pitches are among the best in the North 1 West League thanks to a simple and cost-effective turf management programme - which suits the club's limited budget. "It took a lot of hard work and dedication to get the pitches back into their current condition, but what we've done has cost relatively little," Maurice explains. The fi rst course of action was to topdress each pitch with 100 tonnes of sand. Another 100 tonnes were applied to both pitches 12 months later, then each received 50 tonnes in years three and four. "By using a lot of sand in the early years we created the right balance of sand and soil so that the rootzone was free-draining but still contained enough organic matter for the roots to bind to," Maurice continues. He also chain-harrowed the fi rst team pitch in year one and has subsequently harrowed that pitch 35 times over the last decade. "This has helped to break up the compacted surface layer and created a fi ne tilth in which seeds can germinate and establish easily," he adds. Both pitches are over-seeded on an annual basis with a bespoke seed mixture from Germinal. The Wilmslow Special mix is a variant of Germinal's A30 Rapid Sports Renovator Plus mixture and contains three perennial ryegrasses (Vitellius 30per cent, Vesuvius 20 per cent, Eugenius 30 per cent) as well as a Festuca (Corail 20 per cent). "I use 10 bags of seed per pitch, with over-seeding taking place as close to May 17 as possible," Maurice describes. "By selecting top quality cultivars I typically see W Hard work and patience pay dividends Encouraging strong root development through regular mowing is key to a robust and durable rugby pitch, according Wilmslow Rugby Club's groundsman Maurice Minns By: Paul Jennings the fi rst signs of germination within fi ve to 10 days after sowing. That gives the sward plenty of time to mature ahead of the new season." A wagtail fertiliser spreader is used to broadcast the seed mixture with a 25g/m 2 treatment of Floranid Turf 20-5-8 fertiliser applied on the same or next day. "I moved away from conventional fertilisers in favour of a long-acting slow release product last year and wish I'd made the change a lot sooner," Maurice continues. "Previously I'd have to apply fertiliser several times during the spring and summer months because the club's free-draining soils are susceptible to leaching, especially as Wilmslow shares nearby Manchester's notoriously wet climate." Applying fertiliser several times during the growing season meant that Maurice had to contend with several bursts of intense grass growth. Now though, one application provides enough nutrients to last the entire growing season and gives a steady, even- paced growth throughout the summer. "The Floranid fertiliser binds to the soil much more effectively so we're hardly losing any nutrients," Maurice says. "The sward is noticeably thicker and each plant has stronger roots which make for a more robust and durable playing surface. I still cut the grass as often as possible during the summer and autumn (using a TriMax rotary mower) to suppress leaf growth and retain energy in the roots, with cuts regularly made at 90 degrees to add strength to the sward." A second application of fertiliser, using Floranid Permanent 16-7-15, is then made in September when the sward is still growing. This provides boron, copper, iron, manganese and zinc as well as N, P and K at a ratio of 16-7-15, with IBDU Nitrogen available for uptake over a period of 16 weeks. "This is the most important fertiliser treatment we make," Maurice states. "The autumn nutrients really thicken the grass and add further strength to the rootzone so that the pitch is ready to cope with the onset of a busy fi xture list which regularly extends to 65 or more competitive matches per season." The switch to a slow-release fertiliser was made after soil samples on both pitches revealed high levels of phosphates but a lacking of other key nutrients – the continual use of predominantly sulphate ammonia based products has a long- term detrimental effect on soil pH values, sometimes down to 4.9. For clubs with a limited budget, investing in quality grass seed and a slow release fertiliser programme can cost as little as £1,500 per pitch per year according to Maurice's estimations. "Factor in another £200 to hire a contractor to verti-drain the soil once per year and the pitch should remain in good condition," he states. "It's a strategy that has worked well for us at Wilmslow," he continues, "and the club's players, coaches and supporters all appreciate the difference a good playing surface makes." Paul Jennings is client director for ABC, l "I wish I'd changed to slow-release fertilisers sooner," says Maurice

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