A groundsman’s job is often a thankless one. When an immaculate pitch is unveiled on match day, it will often go unnoticed. Yet, if a divot on the pitch causes a player to miss-kick the ball or injure themselves, the criticism is deafening. Groundsmen know that player safety is the most important thing to a club and a safe pitch is crucial. A safe pitch has an even surface with no bumps or crinkles and will ideally have 100% grass cover.
During a competitive game, especially on a wet day when the soil is soft, it is inevitable that divots of surface turf will be torn up. The most important job for the grounds team is to replace divots and repair pitch damage as soon as possible. In a country where pitches have high levels of usage and are required to be playable virtually all year round, divot repair is a really important part of sports pitch maintenance. The match day divoting teams should be trained and clearly shown exactly what is required as poorly repaired divots can be a safety hazard.
Not all divots are created equally
The root-zone of the pitch will have an effect on the volume and severity of the divots ripped up during play. A sand-based pitch won’t have the shear strength in the soil that a natural pitch would so it would be more prone to surface damage.
A sand-based pitch won’t have the shear strength in the soil that a natural pitch would so it would be more prone to surface damage.
With bunch grasses like lolium perenne (perennial ryegrass), the divots ripped up are usually quite small. The wear resistance is derived from the extremely tough, fibrous vascular bundles in the leaves. Whereas grasses with shallow rooting, for example poa annua (annual meadow grass), can pull up large divots of the pitch due to an interlocking network of rhizomes and roots within the soil.
During the growing season, ryegrasses will usually regenerate and colonise the space again. In the cold winter months, its all about damage control as it becomes important to save every blade of grass that’s on the pitch and that means replacing divots and doing everything you can to help them establish.
If the ground is very compact, there can’t be any good growth or coverage. The grass roots need air to grow and to create a good root zone, which in turn makes the grass tougher and will be able to withstand more wear. Make sure all the sound customary practices like deep tining, spiking and verti-cutting are getting done in the spring and autumn. This will keep the playing surface free from compaction and break up the underlying soil layers.
The grass roots need air to grow and to create a good root zone, which in turn makes the grass tougher and will be able to withstand more wear.
Topdressing is your pitch is essential and the first step of topdressing is to aerate. By allowing air to get to the roots, you can make sure that the topdressing will penetrate the surface and the turf will then use the nutrients from the soil to improve its health. A turf sward with a deep, healthy root and rhizome system is less prone to divots than a thin, unhealthy sward. These practices are the foundation of any turf management program.
In addition to the customary practices, the application of the plant growth regulator trinexapac-ethyl (Primo Maxx), applied prior to the beginning of the playing season, has been proven to help prevent divots. Growth regulators like Primo Maxx inhibit the vertical of your grass and produces a thicker, healthier sward that is better equipped to handle wear and tear.
Repairing your divot
Divots have a better chance of establishing themselves when they are fresh and should be repaired as soon as possible after the damage occurs. When it comes to divoting while a competitive match is being played, it is an essential practice to get out on the pitch at half time and straight after the final whistle. These are the best/only opportunities to replace divots and repair damage to the pitch during the game.
The soil base should be loosened and then the removed divot can be pressed into place, back into the hole from which it came. Large divots can sometimes be replaced but time is of the essence.
Where there are tears and scars created by boots shearing the turf from the surface, a fork can be used to lift the turf slightly and tap the surrounding grasses to help fill the gap. Where the divots are still available, providing they are not too large or deep, they can be reset with the use of a small Hand Fork or Pitchfork. The soil base should be loosened and then the removed divot can be pressed into place, back into the hole from which it came. Large divots can sometimes be replaced but time is of the essence.
Once a divot has been replaced. Firm the area gently to help the grass re-root, use your foot and a divoting fork to maximise the contact between the divot and the soil. Re-establishment is going to depend on how quickly the divot was repaired and keeping the re-patched turf irrigated. Moisture is key, if the divot is allowed to dry out it will die.
In the hotter months, divots will dry out quickly and may not survive before being put back. Use your forks to gently lift the surface and surrounding area and create a soil tilth, then fill in with some root zone mixed with a small amount of seed (Divot Mix) and firm into place. This retains the integrity of the surface and allows the seed to germinate and colonise the space. It is important to keep these areas of repair damp to enable germination and help establishment.
The Groundsman Divot Fork is a purpose designed fork that allows the careful and precise repair work of uplifted turf.
With larger deeper divots and where the divots are missing, removing the divot and filling the bald spot with a previously prepared divot mix is the best practice. Once the divot and all other thatch has been removed, the bare area may be filled with a mix of soil, sand and seed. The mix should also be supplemented with some pre-germinated grass seed.
For both sand based and natural soil pitches, a 50/50 mix of 50% sports sand, 50% moist top soil is best
When preparing your divot mix, the base soil material in your mix should be a good match for the root-zone of your pitch. For both sand based and natural soil pitches, a 50/50 mix of 50% sports sand, 50% moist top soil is best. When the soil in the divot mix is moist, it gives the resulting mix more binding strength and body, so repairs are less likely to be kicked out and newly established grass is given the best chance to survive.
After you choose your base soil material, you need to add a suitable seed to the divot mix. Obviously it’s a good idea to have a species that’s a good match for the existing sward, but a fast establishing species is just as important. For sports pitches in Ireland, dwarf perennial ryegrass is typically recommended by most experts. The key here is to get the pitch ready for the next game as quick as possible and most species of ryegrass, with a bit of fertiliser and constant irrigating, will begin to germinate in just three days.
Another plus for perennial ryegrass is that can also begin to grow in colder temperatures, from around 5o Celsius. Seed mixtures that contain the variety Matrix, germinates and grows at lower temperatures than other grasses, providing groundsmen with an opportunity to restore ground cover on pitches and racecourses, earlier in the season.
The premium, all in one Divot Repair Mix is formulated to retain moisture allowing seed to germinate quicker, without affecting the percolation rates.
In the colder months of the season, when growth has slowed right down and your divots are taking longer to recover, a good practice is to give your divot mix a boost by adding some pre-germinated seed to it. This exercise can really speed up recovery time.
A tried and tested practice of pre-germination, is to use an old wheelie bin to make the seed mix. Punch some holes in the base and body of the bin to allow the water drain, add the grass seed and the spray hot water over the seed at least once a day, keeping the lid closed. If you do not have access to hot or warm water, add cold water and then store the container in a warm area. The seed needs to be soaked for about 3 days, certainly over 24 hours, before being used and once the seed has been doused, it will die if allowed to dry out again.
This pre-germinated seed is perfect for over-seeding, bare spots that need attention quickly and for putting down on pitch-scars straight after a game. Another option for speeding up the recovery time of your divots is to coat the seed with liquid fertiliser, seaweed or another bio-stimulant that can provide a boost nutrition, to help the new seed develop.
So, again, keeping your repaired divot irrigated is so important. Recovery failure usually comes down to a lack of moisture in the divot. Get out and dampen the area several times per day to encourage successful establishment. If you need to speed up establishment for an impending game, you can fertilise the repaired patch.
Recovery failure usually comes down to a lack of moisture in the divot. Get out and dampen the area several times per day to encourage successful establishment
Divots should be repaired before mowing after games as the divots may cause the mower to scalp the grass as well as causing damage to the mower. Mowing can dictate the appearance, health and vigour of the grass sward. Regular cutting will produce a denser sward by encouraging root and tiller development.
Ground staff will rake and fork the pitch before, during and after a game because it aerates the pitch and improves drainage, making the turf softer, constantly closing up gouges and stamping divots down. The use of heavy rollers to level out the playing surface is not recommended. Heavy rolling causes soil compaction and this stunts subsequent grass growth. Aerating with solid tines retain a permeable turf surface receptive to watering and to contain the degree of compaction building up.
Parts of the pitch that have a lot of divots, bare spots and thin turf can be covered with growth blankets or seed germination covers. If it is viable, using turf covers retains the natural heat and moisture in the soil that speeds up seed germination and promotes deep root development.
On top of all this advice, just remember to box smart when it comes to looking after your pitch repairs. Limit foot traffic on the pitch after games and talk to the management about keeping training sessions off the pitch or at the very least, off the parts of the pitch that are under repair.