Football Pitch Maintenance - What do I need to know?
Football pitch standards at all levels have steadily increased over and over during the last 10 years. You certainly don’t see a muddy pitch at professional level anymore, or even re-turfing mid-season which was common even at major venues such as Old Trafford. So why have pitches improved? this is down to several factors...
Firstly, most of the top flight pitches are Hybrid grass which is a combination of synthetic reinforced fibres mixed with natural grass. Two examples are Desso or Sis grass. Desso grassmaster was the first system which has been around since 1989, and fibres are injected into the turf 20 centimetres deep with a laser guided sewing machine which covers roughly 3% of the entire surface of the pitch. As the natural grass grows, its roots intertwine with the artificial fibres which gives the surface its stability and less chance of divoting or scarring.
The next main factor is lighting rigs which keep grass pitches in summer conditions even in the depths of the winter months. The lighting rig uses glass house technology to provide the ideal spectrum of light needed to grow grass when natural day light is limited which has become more of an issue over the last 10 years due to the shading of the pitch from the ever-increasing height of the stadiums built today.
So, this brings us on to how do we maintain the plant and soil health to give us the top surface required?
Mowing regularly, little and often whilst removing no more than one third of the leaf at any one time will improve the density of the turf and help keep weeds under control. When mowing this must be done with a sharp blade so as not to bruise the plant leaf, therefore regular back lapping and grinding is essential. Due to the make-up of pitches today, mowing is generally done by 34-inch walk behind mowers to keep the weight to a minimum. In professional equipment such as the comprehensive range from leading manufacturer Dennis, these also often can take different cassettes such as scarifiers or verti cutters for thinning any lateral grasses throughout the playing season.
Hybrid pitches are often said to be too hard and are causing a lot of impact injuries to players so aerating is essential. Often called verti draining, again often done by pedestrian machines to cut down on weight and compaction, this needs to be done at the right time giving roots space to grow in and also allowing water to move through the profile and break down thatch levels. Managing water levels above ground is also key to prevent disease spread which is done by brushing the plant leaf and then fertilizing is carried out to replace nutrients that have been removed whilst cutting the pitch.
This brings us to the end of season maintenance where the poa (poa annua meadow grass) and thatch which has built up throughout the playing season must be removed. This is done by a machine called the Koro, invented by a dutchman called Ko Rodenberg, in simple terms this planes off the surface down to 25mm leaving the synthetic fibres in the soil profile. The surface is then re top-dressed with a free draining sand, levelled and seeded using a disc seeder and dimple seeder and within six weeks you will have a new pitch that’s poa free as all the weak rooted grasses have been removed.
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