Monthly Maintenance Programs
Applying fertilizer at the right time is as important as using the right fertilizer. Fertilization shouldbe determined from soil test analysis for pH, phosphorus and potassium needs. Most turfgrasses do best when fertilized with a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio fertilizer if a soil test is not available. Most turfgrasses require 3 to 7 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. per year. The nitrogen is usually applied at a rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. per month of active growth. A typical example of a fertilizer program would be to apply a complete fertilizer (one that contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) in early spring when green up begins, and again two to four weeks before the average first frost date. Between these times, only nitrogen need be applied as desired to maintain turf vigor. The more often a field is used, the more frequent fertilizer should be applied to maintain rapid growth for proper recovery from use.
It is very difficult to maintain an athletic field without irrigation. Schedule irrigation to supplementrainfall, and frequency and duration depends on environmental factors and limitations of the irrigation system. The best time to irrigate is just before wilt occurs. Most grasses have a darker or a dull bluish-green color, and the leaf blades begin to fold or roll when the grass is under water stress. Irrigation should begin when these signs are first observed. Apply enough water to soak the soil to a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches. On medium-textured soils, this usually means applying about 1 inch of water per week during the summer. Light, frequent irrigations encourage shallow, weak root systems and thatch accumulation. The best time of day to irrigate is before sunrise because there is less wind and lower temperatures, thus less water loss to evaporation. Irrigation at night is more efficient than irrigation during the day. Irrigating after dew develops or before the morning dew dries off does not increase disease problems. Irrigating 24 to 48 hours before major field use will help reduce soil compaction. On many fine-textured soils, runoff may begin before the soil is properly wet to the right depth. When runoff occurs, stop irrigating and let the water soak into the soil for one to two hours before starting again. It may be necessary to repeat this cycle several times before irrigation is complete.
Cultivation generally includes aeration, vertical mowing and topdressing. The traffic on fields produces a compacted surface layer in the top 2 to 3 inches of soil. This results in reduced pore space, reduced internal air and water movement and gradual thinning of the turf. The centers of football fields, around sideline bench areas, soccer goal mouths and baseball diamond infields are good examples of areas prone to soil compaction. Even sandy soils are prone to compaction in these areas, especially when the field is used under wet conditions. Aeration using hollow tines (coring) or open spoons are the most common means of relieving soil compaction, encouraging deep rooting and improving turf quality. Aeration is also one of the most important and most neglected practices. Coring commonly uses a machine that removes a soil core3 /4 of an inch to 1 inch in diameter to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. A core of soil should be removed and deposited on the soil surface. There are many other acceptable aeration techniques and pieces of equipment. Frequency of aeration generally depends on soil texture and frequency of field use. Fine texture soils, fields with heavy use and fields used when wet need more frequent aeration. As a general rule, the spacing between aeration holes should be 2 to 3 inches. This often means three passes in different directions with most aerators is necessary. Aerate fields a minimum of two times per year. The first should be done in the spring just before fertilization and the second in mid summer. Each aeration should involve a minimum of three passes over the playing field. If field use is heavy or the soil is compacted, aerate monthly during the growing season. After the soil cores have dried, they can be crumbled and spread over the turf by using a flexible steel drag mat or some other means. Slicing with solid blades 1 /4 to ½ inch wide cultivates the soil with minimum surface disruption. Units with offset times can be quite effective in relieving soil compaction. Aerate when soil moisture is at field capacity. This generally translate to 8 to 24 hours after rainfall or irrigation or when a spoon-type aerator would remove soil cores to the surface. If moisture were higher or lower, cores would not easily move to the surface. However, some equipment, particularly solid tines or blades, are most effective when soil moisture is drier than field capacity. Aerate when the turf is actively growing and not under stress.
Topdressing is the addition of a thin layer of soil on the turf surface. Parts of the field that are used continuously tend to become depressed from the heavy use. Topdressing with a1 /8 -inch layer (10.4 cu. ft. or 0.4 cu. yds. per 1,000 sq. ft.) can level and smooth these areas. In addition to smoothing the surface, topdressing also reduces thatch. Topdressing after fertilization and during periods of active growth is best. Light, frequent topdressings to build up lower areas are preferred over less frequent, heavier topdressings. The topdressing soil should be of similar texture to the soil on site and can be dragged into the turf with a flexible mat.
High Wear Areas
Soccer fields often create special challenges because the fields are heavily used in the fall and spring when bermudagrass is growing slowly or not at all. Obviously, proper field construction is important. One technique used to address this issue is to construct fields so sidelines can be moved 2 to 3 yards in all directions. This helps reduce wear from the linesman. Also, using movable goals helps disperse traffic. Another practice for such conditions is to use more fertilizer later in the year. This helps retain growth later in the fall and earlier in the spring. These areas also need more aeration to reduce the soil compaction. Finally, allowing the turf to grow slightly higher (up to ½ inch) in the fall should improve wear tolerance.
There is a limit to the amount of traffic even the best managed turf can stand without excessive injury. Steps that reduce management problems include the following: (1) schedule minimum use when the field is wet; (2) rotate areas of play to permit recovery of turf; (3) avoid or reduce concentrated foot traffic, such as band practice, whenever possible; (4) limit or withhold use of newly-planted areas until the turf is mature and developed; (5) allow the turf to recover from winter dormancy before using it in the spring.
Since sports fields are subjected to tremendous wear and damage within a relatively short period, turfgrass cover is decreased and weeds can become a major problem. Herbicides are often needed during the playing season and in the off-season to control these weeds. Successfully controlling weeds depends upon correctly identifying the problem weed species and applying the appropriate herbicide at the correct time of the year. Bermudagrass usually becomes dormant before football and soccer game schedules are completed. The cool temperatures of fall produce poor growing conditions and the turf has little opportunity to recover from use, especially in the center of the field and around the benches. The dormant or semi-dormant turf provides minimal competition to winter weeds and subsequent summer annual weeds. A dense infestation of winter weeds can severely inhibit the early spring growth of bermudagrass. The turf will weaken and summer annuals, such as crab- grass and goosegrass, will readily invade the open areas that remain when the winter weeds die.
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