Erwin explains: planning maintenance
Erwin Beltman was the head groundsman for stadium De Kuip in the Netherlands between 2013 and 2022. In that period, the field was elected voted the best stadium field in the Dutch Eredivisie eight times in a row. These days, he works as a consultant and shares his experiences about achieving good turf pitches on Sportsfields.info. Today he discusses the planning of maintenance.
The weather this year is pushing groundsmen to the limit. We started with the warmest turn of the year on record in the Netherlands, with temperatures well above 10⁰ Celsius, before temperatures dropped to an average of 5.8⁰ Celsius. That is still higher than the 3.6⁰ Celsius that meteorologists use as the ‘normal average’ for January. January was, in addition, exceptionally wet. Only four times before was more rainfall measured. February, on the other hand, was exceptionally dry. Only February 2003 was drier this century. With 5.7⁰ Celsius, February was also warmer on average than the 3.9⁰ Celsius that is actually the norm. And just when you think spring is about to start, the weather gods throw a spanner in the works. This year it can truly be said that “March has come in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” and that poses challenges for groundsmen and greenkeepers. For the clubs and teams, the next 10 weeks are crucial in terms of the final result of the competition. More than ever, the groundsman will be required to pull out every option to hand players a good playing surface, both in the stadium and at the training facility.
The dominating maintenance activity in the coming weeks will be overseeding. Overseeding introduces new grass DNA into the soil and stimulates the growth of new roots by cutting the existing root system. In recent years, grass seed breeders have succeeded in developing grasses that make it possible to overseed at temperatures of 8⁰ Celsius. Think of Tetraploid grass or coated grass seeds that have a stimulating or protective effect. Almost every breeder has a solution, but I suggest you’ll be careful when selecting them. I know from experience how some grasses help to achieve a beautiful green turf, but one where the grass plant is not as strong. It will look nice on television, but time and time again, this will result in a lot of extra work because it forces you to repair the damage from the game. Early overseeding offers opportunities, especially for amateur fields, because a regular repetition of those activities is the best method to achieve full, firm turf. Not only the players will appreciate that; a full turf is the best guarantee to keep diseases and pests out. The fuller and better the condition of the turf, the less need to use plant protection products.
While the temperature is still a bit too low to continue sowing, you can start with the preparatory work. In fields with an algae problem, the algae layer must be broken through. This can be done by itching or sweeping the field, but you could also use a nail sower. In addition, the layer of thatch that has built up between the grass plants must be removed. You do that by weeding the field. In itself, that is a straightforward activity, but look closely at the grass stock and adjust the weeding accordingly. Particularly on fields with relatively little grass or where the grass is fragile, aggressive weeding can do more damage than good.
Make sure to aerate fields. This is standard practice in professional leagues but it is also necessary for the fields for amateur matches, certainly because many municipalities in this period tend to (frequently) use a land roll. That land roll is certainly useful when players complain about a bumpy field, but rolling a field frequently will also cause it to compact. That will cause problems when precipitation increases. That period will certainly come, although we cannot predict how intense it will be. However, figures from the various meteorological institutes show that the precipitation pattern has become more erratic in recent years and that the amount of precipitation is only increasing.
Exactly when the work can be carried out depends strongly on how the weather will develop in the coming weeks. The first two weeks of March started cold and even brought snow. But if the predictions are correct, those temperatures will rise to more than 15⁰ Celsius later in the month. Hybrid pitches can still be aerated for a shorter time on match days, but where complete grass pitches are concerned, I recommend doing this a few days before the match. Players don’t like seeing the holes that are left after verti-draining a field, while the sand that was spread during the sanding takes time to work itself into the top layer.
The coming weeks will be very demanding on the groundsmen and greenkeepers. The weather remains fickle, while the pressure on good game and training fields increases, especially when clubs will have to play decisive cup games, international games or promotion/relegation games in addition to league matches. Fortunately, the number of hours of sunshine that we will receive daily is also increasing. That gives us a little bit more time and space to play with the grass plant. With more hours of sunshine, the soil temperatures also rises, which also gives us more space to work with fertilizers.
How things will develop remains to be seen. We depend on climatic developments, and, hopefully, will also find some luck on our side. Groundsman and greenkeepers will have to explore and play with the conditions in the coming weeks to find a good combination of the various maintenance aspects.
Erwin Beltman is a former groundsman of Stadium De Kuip in Rotterdam. Between 2013 and 2022, the stadium field was voted the best stadium field in the Dutch Eredivisie eight times in a row. Today, he is director of Master in Grass and consults and advises fellow groundsmen.
The views or information he shares in his articles are not necessarily the views of the publisher.
In April I will talk about aerating, sanding and fertilizing a field.