Feature Article - January 2011
Find a printable version here

Maintenance Series: Sports Turf

Toughen Up Your Turf

By Dawn Klingensmith

Aeration is important on all soils, but it is critical on soils consisting of heavier clay. It's difficult to aerate too much, but frequency usually depends on the availability of laborers and field usage patterns, as aeration disrupts use of the turf. Sales aerates once a week.

Aeration "alleviates compaction caused by wear and tear of players," Sales said.

When a field is too compact, water won't sink in and may actually "sheet off" onto adjacent property, he added.

Enabling water and oxygen to infiltrate the soil is critical for root development. Aeration can also reduce injuries and joint discomfort because it provides for a cushiony surface.

Sales recommends mowing two or three times a week. It's a generally accepted practice to lop off no more than a third of the grass leaf; however, ideal turf height varies by type of sport and, in some cases, the coach's preference based on his or her assessment of the team.

"To be aesthetically pleasing, you may incorporate mowing patterns," Sales said, "but the main reason you want nice, healthy turf grass is for player safety. If a child hits the ground, I want him to hit a nice, soft, luscious turf."

Another reason is that insects and weeds tend not to thrive in thick, healthy turf, which reduces the need for chemical applications.

Although it seems logical that synthetic turf would never require chemical sprays, weeds can actually take root among the fibers. They can be pulled by hand or spot-treated with herbicide, provided manufacturers' recommendations are adhered to.

Synthetic turf is not as low-maintenance as buyers sometimes assume. They have unique maintenance requirements, such as disinfecting, grooming and topdressing. Recent outbreaks of MRSA infections have been linked to synthetic turf, underscoring the need for a proactive maintenance program. Besides potentially sickening people, microbial growth can cause discoloration and foul odors and may even cause turf decay.

Pinsonneault, who oversees three synthetic playing fields, has them disinfected once a year, and he also keeps disinfecting kits on hand, which he'll deploy right away if a player bleeds on the turf or an animal leaves a secretion of a different sort.

"We've found several fields that were being used as a litter box," said Jacob Maynard, head of business development for FieldGroomers, a synthetic-turf cleaning, testing and maintenance services provider headquartered in Indianapolis. "This is why we always recommend being proactive and treating your field with a disinfectant or antimicrobial application. Either purchase the equipment and solution or hire a specialized contractor."