Basic Steps to Better Turf
Healthy turf is essential in providing athletes with a safe playing surface. Because of the various climates and types of grasses throughout the country, please consult with your Turface® distributor to tailor a specific turf maintenance program for you.
Work with your Turface distributor to obtain a soil test and to help you interpret the results. It is important to establish a base line and to monitor how well your fertilizer and amendments have been added are working for you.
The following procedures are to help establish and maintain healthy turf and safe playing conditions for the upcoming seasons. It takes hard work, dedication and constant attention to the weather and field conditions to maintain excellent athletic turf. Such efforts are demanding, but by doing so, athletes are provided with the safest, most playable turf surface.
Depending on your region, March is usually the best time to start turf maintenance.
Prior to any turf establishment or maintenance program, it is recommended that you take a soil test and take any corrective measures to ensure nutrient an pH levels in your soil are properly balanced. These soil tests should typically be completed every couple of years.
Step 1: Aerification
Soil compaction is one of the most common causes of weak turf on athletic fields. It is caused by soil particles being squeezed together by high traffic. Compaction reduces the rate of movement of air and water through the soil. This prevents grass roots from functioning normally, so they become shallow and eventually die. The result is weak turf with little density and is more subject to injury. Aerification on a regular basis will help combat such problems.
The DryJect® service is an excellent tool for aerification as it will aerate, topdress and amend in one pass. It injects high volumes of Profile™ Field & Fairway™ so you also receive the benefits of compaction resistance, nutrient holding and water management. As it is a service, trained professionals perform on-site, allowing you to focus on other maintenance issues while the soil and turf is being improved. To learn more about this service, visit www.DryJect.com.
Core aerification is another option once the field is dry enough. The process for core aerification includes:
- Core aerify with 5/8 inches tines at least 3 inches deep in two directions—diagonally, creating an "X" pattern. Ideally, the aerification holes should be 2 inches apart. If it takes three passes with your aerator, then make three passes.
- Allow the plugs to dry about half a day, but do not remove them. On days with high heat, the cores can dry out within a few hours. So, pay close attention. It is recommended to avoid aerifying on days over 80 degrees. This is because of the intense evaporation when so many "plugs" are pulled from the ground. If it is unavoidable, irrigate immediately after these steps are completed.
- Because broken up cores or "plugs" are excellent topdressing materials and help control thatch, cores are not removed from the field. Break up cores with the use of a vertical mower or a mat drag.
Step 2: Topdressing
Aerification should be followed by topdressing. Topdressing will help smooth out the surface, but more importantly it fills the aerification holes with amendments to keep these channels open for air and water to move into the root zone. Topdressing with Profile Field and Fairway, Turface MVP, or Profile Greens Grade™ (for sand-based turf) also keeps surfaces drier during rain events. There are many schools of thought on which topdressings to use.
- Sand is a common topdressing material, but only provides porosity where the sand particles bridge to create pockets of air.
- Profile Field & Fairway, Turface MVP and Profile Greens Grade provide internal pore space, reduce compaction and hold moisture and nutrients that benefit the turf. These are the recommended materials for topdressing.
- The benefits of topdressing with these calcined clay conditioners are that they leave channels in the filled aerification holes, permitting an excellent exchange of water and air at the root level. This promotes a deep, strong root structure, which is necessary to handle the day-to-day abuse of athletic turf. Due to the long degradation time for Turface, it also prevents future compaction.
Topdress turf areas with conditioner at a rate of 500 pounds per 1000 square feet. This should be accomplished by the use of a hopper-type topdresser, a properly calibrated rotary spreader, or the bucket of a tractor. If a large hopper-type topdresser is out of the budget, one can often be borrowed from a local golf course, or one could be rented. This is true for almost all the large equipment mentioned here. One year later, repeat the application of 500 pounds of the recommended Turface conditioner.
Pricing Topdressing Materials
Always price topdressing materials by cubic yard, not by the ton. You need volume to fill aerification holes. Learn "How to Select a Sports Field Conditioner" and how bulk density of conditioners affect performance.
Step 3: Overseeding
After the topdressing is applied, overseeding should follow. Don't skimp on grass seed, make sure it is certified. Your distributor or local extension agent will recommend the best blends for your area. In most regions, excluding warm climate regions, bluegrass is the base grass for athletic fields. In warm regions, bermuda grasses are more predominant. When seeding in any region, it is wise not to use just one grass variety.
For example, it works well to blend a variety of bluegrasses and ryegrasses. The blend reduces the risk of a disease damaging an entire field of turf. If a disease infests one variety of bluegrass, the other varieties may not be affected and flourish. Application rates vary by grass species (bluegrass is tiny and tall fescue seeds are large). Check with your distributor or extension agent for rates, but in general spread seed mix at a rate of 3 to 6 pounds per 1000 square feet. This should be done with a slit seeder. This machine can also be borrowed or rented. If this machine is unobtainable, an aerifier and a properly calibrated rotary spreader can be used. It is essential to replenish the turf with proper seeding. In heavy traffic areas, an extra 1 to 2 pounds per 1000 square feet can be added to promote thicker grass growth in a shorter amount of time.
It is important to realize that seed will not germinate if the soil temperature is less than 55 degrees. Expect germination in about a week for ryegrass and up to 3 weeks for bluegrass.
Step 4: Fertilization
After the above process has been completed, it is necessary to fertilize. As previously mentioned, you should have your soil tested to determine proper types and amounts of fertilizer and let your distributor help with the fertilizer program.
There are three major components to fertilizer. The amount of each component varies by region, season, etc.
Nitrogen - For color and growth
Phosphorous - For root growth
Potassium - To make plants hardier
In this case, a starter fertilizer is recommended to get the seed to start growing faster.
Step 5: Dragging
Now that the field has been aerated, the cores have been broken up, a topdressing application has been completed and seeding has been done, these materials must be blended and forced into the aerification holes for maximum benefits. This is best accomplished by dragging the field.
Slowly drag the entire field with a mat drag. Again, this forces the materials into the aerification holes and the turf.
Step 6: Irrigation
Irrigation must immediately follow. To water, wet the entire field, but do not soak the field to where puddling may occur. New seed must be kept moist without puddling. If puddling occurs, the seed will form rings and cause inconsistent growth.
We recommend using Seed Aide® in bare soil seeding to improve germination, reduce erosion and to keep the seed moist. It can be applied with a push spreader. It is only important to keep the soil damp with light frequent watering 2 to 3 times per day. Once seeds germinate and become established, start cutting back and watering longer and less frequent.
Step 7: Spot Seeding
Spot seeding is important after the germination of the seed. After 1 to 3 weeks (depending on the variety), the seed should be germinating. It is essential to spot seed any areas where there is thin growth caused by inconsistent watering patterns or thunderstorms.
- Lightly rake any area with thin growth to loosen the soil.
- Spread seed to areas of thin growth.
- Apply Seed Aide or lightly topdress with a mixture of Turface, sand and native soil.
Step 8: Mowing
Once the turf has grown to 2 to 3 inches, it is time to mow. No more than 1/3 of the grass blades should be removed by mowing. The recommended maintained height of the bluegrass type athletic turf is 2 to 2½ inches, while bermuda type grasses is 1 to 1¼ inches. This will allow the turf to ward off insects and disease. It will also require less water and maintenance. In most cases, the outfield and infield grass can be kept at the same height.
- It is important to sharpen the mower blades as often as possible, optimally once per week. This cannot be overlooked. Poorly sharpened mower blades can be extremely damaging to the turf, causing the grass to be ripped instead of being sheered. The jagged edges of ripped turf attract disease and insects.
- Another important mowing factor is the direction of the cut. At every mowing, the cutting pattern should be alternated. This allows for consistent mowing height for all grass blades and prevents the mower from creating ruts in the turf. It is also aesthetically pleasing.
- It is also important never to mow when the field is wet. This causes compaction of the field, which is damaging to the plant. If it is unavoidable to mow your field when it is wet, it is essential that the field be aerified once it dries.
HINT: Always keep your players off wet turf if it is possible.
Step 9: Strengthening Turf
After 6 to 8 weeks of growth, it is important to feed the plant again with an appropriate fertilizer recommended by your distributor. This will help turf withstand drought, heat and heavy traffic. The result will be stronger and more rigid turf. It is important to fill in bare or thin areas by spot seeding. This can be done by hand or with a rotary spreader.
Step 10: Herbicide Application
After your turf is established and you have mowed several times, it is a good time to give your turf an application of a post emergent herbicide if weeds are present. Follow label directions. A post emergent herbicide treatment will kill growing weeds and prevent weeds from competing with your new turf areas. Contact your distributor or a local extension agent for recommendations.
Step 11: Irrigation
At this point the irrigation pattern should be long, infrequent watering. Light frequent watering will not soak the soil and causes roots to stay near the surface and vulnerable to drought stress. IRRIGATING IN THE MORNING IS TYPICALLY MORE EFFECTIVE. YOU WILL HAVE LESS EVAPORATION, A BETTER SPRAY PATTERN DUE TO LESS WIND AND THE TURF DRIES IN THE MORNING SUN REDUCING THE INCIDENCE OF DISEASE.
During the months of June and July it is important to water and mow the turf consistently. PAY ATTENTION TO THE WEATHER SO YOU CAN MOW BEFORE RAIN PREVENTS YOU FROM CUTTING THE TURF AT THE APPROPRIATE TIME.
It is now time to prepare the turf for the most strenuous part of the year. Football, soccer and many other sports are starting at this time. Therefore, it is important to "beef up" the turf with an aerification and fertilization.
Step 1: Aerification
On the first of August it is necessary to aerify your field again in preparation for fertilization. The DryJect service may be used at higher temperatures than other aeration methods. Do not core aerify during high heat. Break up cores with a vertical mower or a mat drag.
Step 2: Fertilization
Consult your distributor for recommendations, but it is common to fertilize with a fertilizer high in potash (an example is 16-4-20). Cut down on the phosphorous at this point.
Step 3: Topdressing
- If budget permits, now is the time to do another topdressing with a recommended Profile or Turface conditioner. If the entire turf area cannot be topdressed, at least topdress the high traffic areas.
- Drag the field with a mat drag to force materials into the aerification holes.
- Water immediately after dragging conditioner into the aerification holes to prevent the turf from drying out too much.
Step 4: Fungicide and Insecticide Application
At this time of the year, turf is most vulnerable to fungus and insects. It is important to look for signs of fungus and react as quickly as possible.
- Apply a fungicide to protect your turf from any fungus.
- As a preventative step, an insecticide should be applied to ward off unwelcome insects that can greatly damage the turf.
Step 1: Aerification
(This is an aggressive aerification program. If you cannot aerify as often as recommended, do so as often as you can.)
Now that practices and games have started, aerification and fertilization becomes essential. Throughout the season, it is best to aerify every 2-3 weeks. This will help fight compaction caused by the tremendous traffic the field receives at this time. The DryJect service is valuable at this time because the large volume of Profile Field & Fairway helps fight the compaction, reducing the number of aerations needed. Also, it is less intrusive to the turf and your scheduling.
Step 2: Fertilization
CONSULT YOUR TURFACE DISTRIBUTOR FOR RECOMMENDATIONS, BUT TYPICALLY BY the second or third week in September, your field is ready for another application of fertilizer that is high in potash (or potassium). Fertilize turf in conjunction with one of your frequent aerifications. This will help keep the turf strong under constant abuse.