Sports Pitches; The AGS Renovation Agronomic Principles
Over the past twenty years, technological and agronomic advances have seen vast improvements to the way we manage our turf surfaces and shows no signs of slowing down!
Professional clubs, through to grass roots sport, are now seeing the benefit of the evolution of the sports turf industry, which has enabled standards to continue to rise beyond expectation.
This increase in quality is being observed across a range of sports turf surfaces which brings an element of pressure to the modern-day turf manager, as this rise in standards sees an increase in expectation from both the viewing public and the participants up and down the country. With turf surfaces now coming under immense scrutiny, due to social media and an increase in TV coverage, it has never been more important for the turf manager to receive correct and comprehensive advice from their suppliers.
At AGS we pride ourselves on being at the cutting edge of industry trends and advances, with a highly trained in field team and portfolio of market leading product technologies, AGS is extremely well positioned to help all end users with whatever their requirements may be.
Over the past five years Phil Garrod, our UK Sports Turf Manager, has developed a specialised national department specifically designed to cater for all Sports Pitch Managers to include Professional Sports Clubs, Independent Schools and localised facilities.
This department first-hand has helped to ‘raise the bar’ on a variety of surfaces regardless on budgetary limitations. The consultancy level advice that end users receive has enabled all AGS customers to enhance the playability and aesthetics on all surfaces. With the advances in pitch construction over the past few years there is little doubt that standards on both professional stadia and training facilities are at an all time high. I have worked with various sites who have either hybrid, carpet, air fibre or just ameliorated sand and soil constructions. Although they perform wonderfully well, they are not always the most conducive surfaces when it comes to nutrition/water retention and plant health. There is no written rule on what is right or wrong when it comes to product selection but one of my favourite words when it comes to the management of high sand content constructions is ‘balance’. Balance can take many facets but my philosophy on sports pitch nutrition is to use a combination of synthetic nutrition with some well-placed organics at various times throughout the season.
There are obviously many options to be discussed under the banner of sports pitch nutrition, however, this article should be seen as a guide to the products that are central to our recommendations at key stages of the renovation.
Renovation = Your Key Window
This is the most crucial time of any sports pitch managers year. An opportunity to hit the reset button and plan any changes from the previous year. However, with the added pressure of ever shortening renovation windows, mistakes can easily be made that can have long lasting effects of the surface performance. Now is the time to get it right!
At AGS we believe that the combination of mycorrhizae and organic fertiliser will support the establishment of a well anchored plant. Good rooting is central to the success of a sports pitch, as it enables the plant to withstand stress, disease incidence and be more tolerant of plant parasitic nematode attack, which has become prevalent in recent years with the increase in sand dominated profiles. Research has shown that mycorrhizae can increase the root surface area up to 1000 times against untreated controls, improve germination rates and inoculated plants may require up to 30% less water. This AGS strategy has been utilised on a number of high-profile stadia and training grounds over the past five years and has provided some superb services that have been able to cope with adverse climatic conditions.
Here we provide a brief update on our renovation agronomic principles:
- Vital to get renovations and grow-in correct. Take the time to plan the whole process.
- Remove as much surface build-up and thatch as you can.
- Do a soil test and add in soil amendments while soil is exposed – e.g. lime for pH adjustment, zeolite/organic soil amendment for moisture/nutrient control.
- Use 100% Perennial Ryegrass, selecting high performing cultivars from the BSPB Turf Grass Seed booklet.
- When you see green, take it slow if you can. There is often a limited window to restore playing surfaces but going to fast can be a mistake
- Utilise unique technologies with proven benefits such as Sustane natural organic fertilisers.
- Phosphorus… Take it or leave it?
Phosphorus is undoubtedly important for early establishment of turfgrass. However, Phosphorus is rarely deficient but is often over applied. Therefore, take the time to find out exactly what your soil needs with a soil test. Chances are you may be over doing the P! Remember, over application of ANY nutrient isn’t only bad for the environment but can also cause phytotoxic plant effects, lock up other nutrients and ultimately is a waste of money.
- pH adjustments
Renovation is a great time to take a soil pH measurement and apply any amendments required. Due to the reliance on low pH fertilisers, we often have low pH soils, particularly in older pitches. pH directly effects the availability of other nutrients, such as Phosphorus and can slow soil microbial activity further decreasing fertiliser efficacy. If your soil is in between 6.5 and 7.5 then P is readily available, but if not, and pH 5.5 is not that uncommon, then a large chunk of your pre-seeder will be unavailable in a short time anyway.
- Use of Mycorrhizae Inoculant
AMF is one thing we’ve been recommending for a few years and for good reason! I’m sure most of you know that AMF is a fungi that forms a beneficial relationship with the grass plant. It goes into the plant roots and sends hyphae out into the soil and effectively massively increases the plants root system. In return the plant feeds the fungi with carbon-based exudates as it’s food source. AMF is very good at going into the soil and getting hold of P for the plant – even when there is limited availability in the soil, the AMF can bring it to the plant.
It’s also been established through years of research that mycorrhizae bring a number of benefits to plant health including enhanced nutrient uptake, reduced disease, reduced drought symptoms and an increase in shoot and root mass. It is also a lifetime association between the plant and the fungi – not just a benefit of grow-in, AMF will be helping the plant as long as it’s in the ground.
- Organic Pre-Seed Nutrition
When it comes to pre-seed nutrition, the best results are only ever achieved with Sustane 4.6.4.
It is a complete package containing slow-release nitrogen (SRN), chelated micronutrients, organic phosphorous, and humic substances. Suståne 4-6-4 has been demonstrated time and again to surpass synthetic turf starter fertilizers and other sources of humates and plant biostimulants. Using fully composted natural fertilizers increases the levels of beneficial microbial activity, which in turn converts nutrients into plant-available forms.
Benefits of Natural and Organic 4.6.4
- Adds approximately 5% humates by volume, increasing cation exchange and organic matter
- Increases nutrient and water holding capacity of the soil, strengthening plant tolerance to hot or dry stressful conditions
- Promotes healthy root development
- Improves buffering against changes in soil pH
- Increases the soil’s ability to suppress plant pathogens
- Plant Emergence. What next?
What we try to do at this stage is flatten the curve if you like in this dip in carbohydrates. What we want to do at this stage is as soon as the first leaf emerges, is to bridge the gap and keep the carbohydrates level as high as possible within the plant. At this point we recommend hitting the plant with a high sugar content liquid which gives freely available carbohydrates to the plant. We’ve found this to be a really key part of the grow-in – if you can keep the plant pushing on at this stage rather than its natural dip in development, we can get a really good response.
We also like to add in our low-salt nutritional feeds at this stage to make sure the plant has the option of available nutrition via shoot and root.
- The First Big Hit
About 4 weeks after seeding, we’re looking at our first granular application. If time allows, we like to go with an organic-base slow-release product at this stage. The plant is still a bit fragile and if we really try to push too hard with bare synthetics, we can knock back plant development. You can also take the opportunity to give the soil a little boost as well in the form of a nice composted carbon-rich organic Sustane feed.
- Adopt Regular Use of Sustane Organic Nutrition
Why are we suggesting organic products? Well what we’re looking to do is get the soil as healthy as possible. A lot of grounds managers probably think a soil (rather than a rootzone) as something of a problem rather than a solution. What we want is to get the soil functioning in a more natural fashion to help the plant. The plant and the soil to work together – the plant takes in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release a large part of that carbon that it absorbs through its roots in the form of exudates to feed soil microbes and attract them to their roots – they work in harmony together in a mutually beneficial relationship. Soil microbes are reliant on the plant photosynthesising and pushing out exudates to feed them and in return, microbes will aid the plant in nutrient uptake and disease and stress management. Sustane supports this function.
Our grow-in methods haven’t just popped up out of thin air – it’s based on good industry research combined with a bit of seeing what happens in the field – research can only tell you part of the picture. The real world is different to the lab, so we’re constantly learning and any feedback we get is important in helping us move forward as an industry.
When we do add nutrition, let’s try to be considerate to the young plant and make sure the plant can use the majority of what we apply – it saves money and is less damaging to the environment.
Let’s use the soil engine helped along with organic nutrition – create a suppressive system. Once you done all you can, it’s still sometimes in the lap of the Gods, so good luck!