Feature Article - January 2011
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Maintenance Series: Sports Turf

Toughen Up Your Turf

By Dawn Klingensmith

Having a successful turf maintenance program doesn't necessarily depend on having the latest equipment or optimal mowing and watering practices, though those things certainly help.

In fact, much of the time, some of the most beneficial things you can do for turf health do not necessarily occur outdoors.

We're talking about the three C's: communication, cooperation and coordination.

"The biggest, most important thing for turf maintenance is that you really need to have everyone on board, working toward the same goal. Your parks division has to sync with your recreation division and your athletic division; that way, everyone is on the same page about proper maintenance and each division will do its part," said Travis Sales, park services manager for the city of Mesquite, Texas, which has won six Texas Turfgrass Association awards for its sports fields. (Sales has since become the association's president.)

For example, all parties might agree that practices and games won't take place in weather that is likely to tear up the field.

Perhaps teams can arrange to practice somewhere other than the playing fields so the turf has periods to recuperate. And perhaps coaches and instructors who use fields for warm-ups can do so on a different area of the turf each time in order to minimize wear and tear on any particular area.

"It's hard in this day and age because sports are played year-round, but see if there are some fields you can give a rest to so they don't get worn out," Sales said. "Four weeks of rest can make all the difference in the world if you've got stressed turf," and six to 10 weeks is even better.

Establishing protocols and ensuring compliance requires continued cooperation. "But with that in place, you have a good beginning to a strong program," Sales said.

When it comes to synthetic turf maintenance, "One of the greatest challenges is educating your players. You don't want to get gum on the field," said David Pinsonneault, a spokesman for the Sports Turf Managers Association and public grounds superintendent for the city of Lexington, Mass.

In some cases, educating the public also is necessary. Parks departments trying to minimize herbicide use may need to defend the presence of dandelions on playing fields. On the other hand, "The public must realize that sports turf managers are educated and trained professionals who at times will need to apply pesticides and herbicides in order to reduce weed and pest problems," said George Van Hassteren, a spokesman for the Professional Grounds Management Society and the director of grounds operations at Dwight-Englewood School in Englewood, N.J. "They care about their fields and the players who participate on them."

Besides the three C's, there are four critical elements to maintaining established natural turf, Sales said. Those elements are fertilizing, watering, aerating and mowing.