The day after the last game of the season is the first day of the new season for cricket squares. Here, we're going to look at what you want to be achieving with your end of season works, the why, and the how.
Making a start, shaving the square as soon after the end of the season is vital. Every day following the end of the season is a good day for new growth, and your works could be delayed by the weather. It's advisable to have your works completed by the end of September, early October at the very latest.
It's important to remember that no two cricket squares are the same. They will have differing playing characteristics causes by local conditions, maintenance practices, historical work, construction and loam type. However, we are able to generalise the objectives of your end of season works:
1) Thatch removal / seed bed creation 2) Restoring grass coverage 3) Restoring surface levels
Thatch is naturally produced organic matter - waste found at the base of the grass plant made up of dead leaves, stems and roots. Many factors influence the rate of thatch production. It is vital that this build up is removed prior to integrating materials into the surface. Excess thatch will impact the health of the sward and impact ball bounce. A cricket pitch should be thatch free when it is brought into use - so your end of season work is the perfect opportunity to be aggressive with this detrimental matter with fixtures several months away.
Thatch should be removed via the process of scarification. For a cricket square, high in clay and firm from recent fixtures, a specialist machine will be required in order to get into the surface. For most clubs, this will require outsourced help or the hire of a suitable machine. After mowing the square to pitch height, 2-5 passes of increasing depth will be required to remove this debris from the square. Wicket ends will likely be worn from play where very little matter will be present, but it is vital that the areas on a 'good length' are worked aggressively. Not only will this operation be removing thatch from the square, but leaving behind a seed bed which will later aid that all important seed to soil contact.
It is vital that debris from these works is cleared from the pitches with detail. This could be achieved with blowers and sweepers, and with a final mow. We do not want this organic matter to be worked back into the soil profile.
Restoring Grass Coverage
Following the vigours of scarification, the square should now be clean with grooves cut by the final two passes of scarification making for an ideal home for new grass plants. Cricket squares are overseeded with 100% dwarf ryegrass largely due to it's drought tolerance, hardiness and limited thatch production. This typically will be carried out at 50 grams per square metre. Wickets that have had in-season renovation work or ends repairs may require slightly less, very thin wickets a little more. Allowing for a wicket to be 80m2, overseeding a ten pitch square will require approximately 40kg of seed.
Applying seed uniformly is a starting point, but the key is seed to soil contact. This seed for the best germination rates needs to be in the soil - and this is where sound scarification grooves aid renovation works. This is why newly sown grass plants can often be seen growing in lines in the first few weeks from renovation, sometimes for longer.
Restoring Surface Levels
Cricket squares are top-dressed with a compatible clay loam at the end of the season. This aids germination, but also provides a smooth pitch for the following season.
It is vital that a compatible clay loam is used. Cricket squares will be constructed using a loam, and unless great thought is given, this loam should not be changed. This soils have differing clay content and motty strengths, and thereby can separate during pitch preparation and struggle to bind. Back to scarification work - but these grooves are a key for new material so wickets can bind.
A light top-dressing allows indentations from the ball and bowlers foot marks to be smoothed out. Additional attention will be required on used wicket ends that have had little in-season repairs. It's important that levels of wicket ends are restored for the safety of quick bowlers. Additional repairs can be made in October / early November, but it's important to get this right during the autumn before the square is put through pre-season rolling in March-April.
Typically, eight 20kg bags of loam are used per pitch (200kg), much like with overseeding, dependent on what is needed where. A ten pitch square will require approximately two tonnes of loam for annual end of season works.
In terms of application, this can all be done by hand, but ideally requires a drop spreader or powered spreader, with just wicket ends to be hand luted for as close to a flat finish as reasonably possible. Some will prefer a drag matted finish.
1) If your ground is a shared facility with winter sports, it is likely that the square will require roping off. A great deal of damage can be caused throughout the winter on a surface which have had hours and thousands of pounds spend on it. Often from football boots in our experience!
2) It's important that there is a suitable fertiliser plan in place. The square may be given a pre-seed fertiliser prior to overseeding, such as a 6-9-6 at 30g/m2. It could be that the preference is to allow the grass to establish, and apply a slow release feed following the first cut. Giving the newly restored pitches their best possible chance now while soil temperatures are still good in October + November is vital. Having your soil tested is advisable.
3) Irrigation! Being clay based, your square will hold water what rain does arrive. If the weather is dry, it is likely that the first few days of rain will need to be provided artificially. Wicket ends and recently used wickets are likely to still be very hard and will need to soften up before hey prove attractive for germination.
4) Machinery and servicing. With only limited work required for 3-4 weeks, now is the best time for the regrinding of machinery. Raise cutting heights - ideally a sharp rotary mower will be required for your first cut at around 25mm, and a cylinder mower to maintain the square at 16-20mm throughout the winter. Be sure to mow frequently enough, never removing more than a third of the plant with any one cut. It may surprise you the warmth and moisture that the clay loam will hold throughout early winter.
5) Aeration. November - February is the most suitable time to aerate a cricket square. Consider aerating to a depth of 100-150mm with pencil tines monthly. At least once is required in order to improve root depth and mass.