Transition from winter to spring/summer take will help you prepare the cricket square ready for the season, with top advice on fertilisation, verticutting and mowing heights and much more. Taken with permission from a spring/summer training day notes compiled by Andy Mackay back in 2019.
Transition from winter to spring/summer During winter the square will have been allowed to grow a little longer than usual, although mowing should still take place as and when needed, making sure that never more than one third of the total length of grass is removed at any one time. Ideally the square will have been renovated successfully so that there is an excellent grass cover, no outstanding worn ends (or worse, footholes), the effects of casting worms will have been controlled, low nitrogen fertilisers applied every five to six weeks as conditions dictate, a cautious eye will have been kept on disease outbreaks, drag brushed frequently, solid tine spiked and generally loved almost as much it is during the cricket season.
The Easy Transition
The easy transition: If you have a square where these things have been done, the transition into spring is relatively pain free and easy. As the days lengthen and more light is available to the plant then mowing heights can be gradually reduced, arriving at the summer mowing height by the start of the season. As activities on the square increase, especially rolling traffic, fertilisation will be required in order to ensure that the grass stays healthy and can recover from the wear. As temperatures begin to rise approaching spring nitrogen input will increase, being careful not to over apply nitrogen or too soon least lush growth leaves the grass susceptible to disease. Ideally growth is not being forced but rather fertiliser applied to meet the swards needs as the natural spring flush of growth begins.
Some early spring fertilisers contain ammoniacal nitrogen, which is much more readily absorbed by the plant when the soil temperatures are still cool, and this is a useful tool for the first spring application of the year coming out of February and into March. If there is any moss in the square then applying iron, either as a standalone treatment or as part of a fertiliser will scorch it and make it easier to remove. The sooner this is done the better, and even better still is to have no moss at all. Regular applications of fertiliser containing 4-6% iron through winter will mean that there is no moss at all come early spring. Stand-alone iron treatments are another option, either being applied in granular form, liquid form through a sprayer or via lawnsand… although lawnsand is needed in relatively high quantities to be effective and so is not best practice on a cricket square if it can possibly be avoided.
Verticutting or very superficial scarification should take place once growth vigour has significantly increased, being careful not to touch the surface of the soil but rather to just work through the grass canopy. This is done in order to remove any leaf litter in the sward, to encourage tillering and to thin out/groom the grass canopy to assist in pitch preparation and aid surface drying. Deep aeration will have usually ceased around Christmas time since spiking of a cricket square should take place when the soil is undergoing the process of getting wetter (i.e., autumn/early winter) and spiking the soil once it undergoes the process of getting drier (i.e., heading into spring) may mean that the spike holes do not close sufficiently or contribute to increased cracking If all the above is observed, then rolling can commence when conditions allow.
The Difficult Transition
The difficult transition: Unfortunately, many squares receive a cursory renovation and are then virtually ignored through winter, and often autumn also. A square in poor condition in early spring is likely to be far inferior than if it had been properly cared for. The following are some tasks that may be needed prior to the start of the season in a suggested order: • Methodically pick over the square and remove any worm casts with boot, rake or lute, leaving a smooth surface. • At the same time repair any small holes or hollows on the business area of the square with loam and seed, packing in well to leave a level surface (perhaps consolidated with the back of a lump hammer?)
• Do not attempt to level ends yet, tempting as it is, because it will be disturbed by preseason rolling and, if wet may even seriously delay operations…far better to wait until after or towards end of pre-season rolling to level ends and seed, particularly because there is a higher chance of the seed germinating then.
• Hand-lift any weeds, repairing as necessary with loam and seed or apply a selective weedkiller once good growth is observed.
• Mow the surface as high as is needed in order to not remove more than 1/3rd of the leaf. The height of the cut will then be gradually reduced over the space of two or three weeks.
• Apply a low nitrogen fertiliser such as 4:0:8 plus 4%fe or 5:2:10 etc at a rate of between 35 to 55g/m2 depending on how malnourished it is. Wait two or three days before using any machinery on the square or walking about on it or you may harm the grass leaves. Ideally also take soil samples and send them off for nutrient analysis before the fertiliser is applied…this will inform you what sort of fertiliser you may need to use during the rest of the year.
• Square off the square using 3,4,5 triangles (or multiples of) in order to establish true stump lines and ensure that pitches are properly square. You must do a 3,4,5 triangle along both stump lines. If present, an artificial pitch is a good guide.
• Mark in individual pitch positions.
• Switch/brush any worm casts off the surface before undertaking any mowing or rolling each morning
• Once turf colour improved, begin pre-season rolling.
• Continue mowing as necessary, aiming to get the sward height down to 12-18mm by the end of March (but no lower).
• Once pre-season rolling is completed, and preferably no later than two or three weeks in advance of the first game, level any low pitch ends and seed them. If PSR is not finished then simply roll the business areas and avoid going over the ends.
Mowing Heights of Cut
Mowing heights on a cricket square: in the author’s opinion, people get too hung up on mowing heights. The aim is to choose a height that is manageable, promotes the health of the sward and the characteristics of the grass plant that are desirable for cricket, and of course provides a smooth ball roll. In summer, mowing heights on the square should be 12 to 18mm (or there abouts…the lower end of the range perhaps for the higher standard squares).
This encourages a tighter sward but still leaves plenty of leaf for growing good, deep roots and recovering from use. If the sward is cut any lower on a regular basis it may prove difficult to get rid of the green colour and there may be excess seam movement as well as making it harder for the grass to grow roots and recover as easily from stress. Cut much higher than 18mm in summer and there is a risk of a thinner sward with a ‘woody base’, which sits artificially wet. Lengths over around 18mm are perceived to be ‘long’ by players and may not provide good ball roll.
In winter, cutting heights should be raised so that the plant can make the most of reduced light levels and develop good strong root systems and so mowing can be on a less frequent basis. There is a relationship between the length of the shoot (leaf) and the length of the root, and generally speaking, the longer the shoot is allowed to grow, the longer the roots will too.
Winter mowing heights on a cricket square should be in the range of 15 to 25mm. Keeping the sward at the lower end of this figure will allow greater air movement, faster drying and hence less disease and moss. It is difficult to maintain a cricket square below 15mm in winter as the shorter the leaf, the more frequent mowing it will require, and opportunities to mow in winter may be few and far between. Maintaining a cricket square at lengths over 25mm (or not cutting at all) will lead to a less dense sward and an artificially wet, disease and moss prone surface.
Pitch (wicket) mowing heights for match day are very much a matter of personal choice. It is rarely necessary to mow below 4mm in height, and good results and better recovery can be achieved by leaving the grass around 6 or 7mm (or longer). The most important thing is not grass length but how dry the surface is (which will be hugely influenced by how well the grass has been made to stand up during pitch prep.)
Regular verticutting of the whole cricket square every two weeks (ish) makes pitch preparation a lot easier and discourages prostrate growth and large, unsightly crowns. Verticutting is when close-centred and thin blades are run vertically through the sward with the aim of pruning sideways growing leaves and/or lifting sideways growth so that the mower can find it. It will also go a long way to preventing thatch build up by removing leaf litter and helps to improve presentation. Verticutting (not to be confused with scarification) should never go into the soil, but rather work just above it.
Ryegrass has a ‘tufted’ growth habit and if left to grow in isolation or with a lot of space between it and the next plant will grow outwards. On a cricket pitch this means large, ugly crowns and a two paced pitch. The best solution is to establish a good seed pattern during renovations, but verticutting will help too.
Transition from Winter to Spring on a Cricket Square was taken from a spring training day a couple of years back from then Sussex Head Grounds Manager Andy Mackay.
Also check out the GMA Toolkit with lots of handy maintenance resources – https://resources.thegma.org.uk/cricket/cricket-home
For more help, encouragement and community why not check out our Cricket Groundsperson facebook group, with over 9000 liked mine turf types, from the test arena to the local cricket club – https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=the%20cricket%20groundsman
Still think you need a bit more guidance coming into Spring, then why not check out this annual guide to the maintenance of cricket squares – https://turfcareblog.com/annual-guide-to-the-maintenance-of-cricket-squares/
Brian on behalf of the TurfCareBlog community