Guest Column - March 2010
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Field Maintenance

Spruce Up Your Sports Field for Spring

By Thomas Serensits

When temperatures are consistently in the 50s, cool season grasses begin to grow and require fertilizer for healthy growth and development. Springtime fertilization can help your field recover from fall damage as well as prepare the turf for the upcoming season.

  • Follow the recommendations in your soil test report to provide your turf with the required amounts of nutrients. By applying only the amounts the plants need, you are not only being environmentally responsible, but you are also saving money.
  • Apply 1.5 to 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet during spring. It is best to split the amount into two applications—one in early spring and one in late spring.
  • Combine your fertilizer applications with your cultivation practices (i.e., aerification).

Spring is an important time to perform cultivation practices that relieve soil compaction, increase water infiltration, remove thatch and increase soil oxygen flow.

  • Aggressively aerify your field with hollow tines. Removing plugs of soil with hollow tines is the most effective way to reduce surface compaction. The soil should not be too wet (the sides of the holes will glaze over) or too dry (the tines will not penetrate the soil).
  • Consider using a deep-tine aerator, which has long tines that penetrate deeper into the soil. This relieves compaction by shattering the soil. The soil should be dry so it shatters easily.
  • Using a spiker, slicer or hydroject will help improve soil conditions but should only be used in the spring when surface disruption must be kept to a minimum. These are not acceptable substitutes for hollow-tine aerification and/or deep-tine aerification.
  • Applying a quarter inch of quality compost prior to aerification will improve your soil. After the compost has been applied and aerified, drag the field to help incorporate compost into the soil. Do not use compost on sand-based fields.
  • If compost is not used, following aerification, topdress the field with a layer of sand, seed with Kentucky bluegrass and/or perennial ryegrass, and fertilize according to soil test recommendations.
  • If your soil requires lime to correct your pH (based on your soil test), apply the recommended amount after cultivation and drag the field to allow the lime to work into the soil.
  • Not only is your turf waking up and growing when the warm temperatures hit, so are the weeds. In addition to preparing for the usual crabgrass and goosegrass outbreaks, knotweed can be a problem on highly compacted fields.

  • You must decide if it is more important to seed your field in the spring or prevent weeds from germinating—you can't do both. If you apply a pre-emergent herbicide, your grass seed will not grow.
  • Seeding early in the spring will repair your field from wear and then you can apply post-emergent herbicides to kill any weeds later in the spring or summer.
  • If knotweed is a major problem early in the spring, you can apply a broadleaf herbicide after it germinates and then seed after waiting the required period of time (see herbicide label for seeding instructions).

Spring can be both an exciting and stressful time for field managers. Make it easier on yourself by developing your maintenance plan before the weather breaks so you are ready to go as soon as the turf greens-up. Spring maintenance practices such as mowing, fertilization, cultivation practices and weed control lay the foundation for season-long success.