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Minimising Drought Stress on Rugby Union Pitches

Community Partners the Rugby Football Union provide tips on pitch maintenance during the summer

GENERAL ADVICE
Good maintenance practices will encourage the development of a vigorous healthy sward with a deep root system, which will be able to withstand the effects of drought better than a weak sward with shallow rooting.

IF LIMITED WATER IS STILL AVAILABLE
1. Make sure your watering system is working efficiently. Check sprinkler arcs, hoses, nozzles, etc
2. Water only the essential areas
3. Do not water during the day
4. Reduce the frequency of watering and water more thoroughly each time, to get moisture well into the soil
5. Do not allow puddles to form or surface run-off to occur
6. Improve infiltration of water by spiking (not slitting) and use of wetting agents, particularly where thatch is serious. Wetting agents are usually most effective if first applied in late spring with additional applications through the growing season, according to the severity of the problem and water availability
7. Raise the height of cut. Where appropriate, return clippings (cuttings) to help to act as a mulch

NO WATER AVAILABLE
1. If a Water Authority decides to impose a ban, clubs are recommended to look through the precise terms of the ban and assess its impact
2. Do not apply pesticide or fertiliser
3. Continue to mow, but not as frequently and when possible increase the height of cut (approx. 75mm). You need to prevent any weed grasses from growing to the height when they will produce their seeds. The grass will survive better in the long term with careful mowing rather than none at all
4. Aeration is a must, this does not have to be deep (be careful if the ground is too hard which could damage the tines) but when it does rain the water must be prevented from running off the surface. Also all endeavours must be to encouraging deep root growth
5. Any verti-cutting or scarification should stop, as the surface area for the sun to dry will only be increased
6. Be prepared to close specific problem areas to avoid long-term damage which will require costly reinstatement

AFTER THE DROUGHT
1. Reinstate any severely damaged areas as soon as conditions and water availability will allow
2. Wetting agents can be used to help with rewetting of drought-damaged or water-repellent turf
3. After the immediate problems have been dealt with it may be necessary to revise the management strategy to minimise future problems. The following points should be considered:

  • Alleviate compaction and eliminate excessive thatch to encourage deeper rooting
  • If possible, manage turf to favour drought-tolerant species
  • Update the irrigation system to improve efficiency
  • Investigate alternative water sources and increase the water storage capacity

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