For a great playing surface you need to spend a lot of time on the football pitch. It’s about a lot more than getting the sprinklers out on a hot day, and there’s a real art to growing grass quickly enough to avoid it getting destroyed on the next match day.
A lot of the work is manual – digging seeds in deep enough to germinate and be safe from birds, but close enough to the surface to be able to grow quickly. That’s where the sprinklers do come in – seeds need a lot of moisture to start to spring into life, but not so much that they’re trying to gain traction in a swamp.
How then is it that the professional groundsmen manage to keep the country’s best pitches in shape throughout the season?
A big part of keeping a pitch perfect is proactive care for the turf. Grass always wears away most in areas that have the most footfall. That means that areas like the centre circle and especially penalty areas need the most care and attention, which is achieved in a myriad of ways.
Just like your garden lawn at home, football pitches are susceptible to weeds popping up after birds drop seeds from above. It’s an irritating reality of lawn care that weeds appear to germinate much more easily and reliably than the grass seeds, and once they catch, spread more quickly too. Whether that’s an illusion or not I don’t know, but I always make it my business to treat them as soon as I find them in order to keep the outbreak under control. That can be done either with a mix of lawn feed and weed killer – your typical weed and feed combo product will be just fine on a home lawn. Just be sure not to let children or pets onto the surface until it’s rained or been well watered in.
The more routine lawn care is mainly about mowing. We now use technology rather than blood, sweat and tears to get the job done. That technology is like a mini version of the long promised driverless car, known as the robotic lawnmower. These autonomous devices work on their own schedule to mow very regularly, allowing the grass to be kept at a very specifically controlled length. What’s more, mowing as often as daily means the clippings are very fine, and can be left on the surface. That allows the nutrients to return to the ground rather than being continually mowed and taken away each time.
Our mower choice is the Worx Landroids, which you can see at https://www.robotlawnmowers.org/reviews/worx/. You’ll instantly notice that they share the same not-so-subtle hue as the popular Flymos you probably have at home, but they have a lot more technical ‘geekery’ under the hood. They are able to plot their own mowing course, and if you’re using them at home, that allows them to navigate flower beds, garden ornaments and washing line poles. That’s not so much of an issue in your average football stadium – the appeal here is much more to do with the man hours they save. For every hour I’m not cutting grass, I can spend an hour on other pitch improvements like thickening the blade density.
At home, that’s why you will usually need to feed the grass a lot more regularly than groundsmen to in stadiums, which equates to a big saving in treatments! Generally speaking, for domestic lawns, you should be treating at least twice a year, at a minimum once in the spring and once in the autumn.