Feature Article - January 2011
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Maintenance Series: Sports Turf

Toughen Up Your Turf

By Dawn Klingensmith

Pinsonneault added a fifth element: overseeding, or spreading seed over established turf. "Overseeding can get overlooked," he said, "but it's important for new growth so your turf remains dense and filled in."

Overseeding is especially beneficial where wear patterns are apparent. For example, a football field sees the most action between the 20-yard lines, so that area may require overseeding as well as topdressing and needs to be managed differently than the rest of the field. On a soccer field, the goal area takes the most abuse.

Van Hassteren added yet another element, which applies to both natural and synthetic field maintenance. That element is documentation. "Implementing a solid program, as well as documentation, will reduce lawsuits stemming from field conditions and increase player safety," he said.

Keeping logs also tends to reduce water consumption and chemical use, he added.

Natural and synthetic sport fields have different maintenance requirements, of course.

The first step in caring for natural grass is conducting a soil analysis to determine its nutrient levels and composition; a texture analysis can be done, as well, as sandy soils and clayey soils behave differently. To be successful, a maintenance program should center on these analyses. The fertility program, in particular, depends on these findings.

Among other things, a soil test will help determine which fertilizers to use and how often to apply them. "Generally, in my professional opinion, there are two categories—the person who never fertilizes and the person who fertilizes way too much," said Sales, adding that a good rule of thumb is three times a year.

People also have a tendency to overwater, Sales said, and automatic irrigation systems don't necessarily fix the problem. "Too many times, people set a controller in March and never go back until it's time to turn it off for the season," he said.

Computer software, wireless communications and other technologies are revolutionizing irrigation practices; indeed, they have the potential to do away with overwatering. Well beyond the budget of many sports facilities, PC-based central control systems with specialized software enable users to manage and operate an entire irrigation system from an office. Some computer programs can optimize water distribution right down to a single head, which would help eliminate waste on large facilities like golf courses. Other computer-controlled water-management tools receive real-time data from equipment on the field, and then automatically stop sprinklers or adjust run times according to measured rainfall. This software works best for single, continuous site applications.

Sales' irrigation system has flow meters that bring broken sprinkler heads to his attention, and pinpoint their locations.