Feature Article - February 2008
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Solid Ground

Ensuring Turf Is Tough Enough

By Sue Marquette Poremba

Turf care

Today's synthetic turf fields are used for everything from football and multipurpose playing fields to backyard putting greens. With the exception of the field hockey turf, gone are the hard, abrasive nylon fields on top of cement. Instead, turf manufacturers use polyethylene, polypropylene and similar polymers for the grass-like surface. Infill, usually consisting of tiny rubber pellets or sand, cushions the playing surface.

"All of today's products are softer," Pritchett said, and that saves wear and tear on a player's body.

Caring for a turf field is simple, but proper upkeep is vital to the longevity of the surface. While the turf doesn't need to be mowed, it does need to be swept regularly. Many of the manufacturers recommend nothing more complicated than a leaf blower or a backpack blower. Blow across the face of the turf, rather than into it, to avoid disturbing the infill. It is recommended that the field be swept at least once a week.

Maintenance crews need to keep check of the infill levels, which can be replaced. If the infill becomes too low, it will cause matting of the turf fibers and can destroy the field.

Sometimes, too, the turf will stain or seams will loosen. Almost all manufacturers provide manuals on how to care for the field, Pritchett said. He advised that grounds crews become familiar with the manufacturer's suggestions on how to care for the turf field.

Grooming and tining the fibers is also recommended to lengthen the life of the field. Bill Campbell, president of another synthetic turf manufacturer, said the equipment needed depends on the use of the surface and the location. There are commercial groomers and utility vehicles on the market for this purpose, some of which are able to operate on today's synthetic fields without tearing up the turf or displacing the infill.

While Campbell generally recommends avoiding having to plow the turf field, he recognizes that areas in the Northeast and Midwest do have to worry about snow, especially during the late fall and early spring sports seasons. If you must plow, it is best to use a light vehicle with a special blade made for artificial turf. "When you do plow a field," he added, "the ground is often still warm. Once you plow off the snow, you will have a nice green field."

The life span of a synthetic turf field will vary depending on how you use the field, as well as the quality of your manufacturer. "If you treat it carefully, like you would natural grass, you should get a decent life span from the turf," said Price. "They are designed for heavy use, but anyone installing the turf needs to consider how it will be used upfront."

Replacement costs are usually less than initial installation because most of the preliminary work, like creating the base for the field, is already done. Also, it may only be sections of the field that need replaced so it can be done over time, rather than at once.