Feature Article - March 2012
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Maintenance & Operations: Turf Management

Sustainable Turf Management
An Organic Systems-Based Approach

By Tammy York


Selecting the Right Grass

Some varieties of turf grass might look appealing but are a pain to keep looking that way. Typically the varieties selected are chosen for purely cosmetic reasons. In selecting grasses for your field, check with the experts at your Cooperative Extension Agency for suggestions on grasses that are suited for the local climate, soil and usage demands. In temperate zones, common combinations are fine-bladed tall fescue and perennial rye grass. A side benefit of many of the tall fescue species is that they release chemicals into the soil that eliminate or curb the growth of crabgrass and purslane.

Overseeding

After you aerate you should always overseed with high-quality certified seed that contains zero weed seeds. "It helps to fill in the bare spots and prevents weed seeds from having a chance of sprouting," Kelly said. "Turf grass can get old, and it's always a good idea to reinvigorate it with new seeds. By covering the bare spots and providing new grass, you help shade the earth, which in turn helps prevent weed seeds from sprouting."

Some varieties of perennial ryegrass, turf-type tall fescues, and fine fescues offer seeds that contain beneficial symbiotic fungi, which are microscope fungi that live between the cell walls of a plant. These seeds are labeled as endophyte-enhanced. These fungi actually produce chemicals that are toxic to insects such as sod webworms, chinch bugs and billbugs.

To find out more about your potential turfgrass selections, review species specific information on The National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) Web site. The turf grass is evaluated on quality, genetic color, winter color, spring greenup, leaf texture, density, living ground cover, disease or insect damage, drought tolerance, frost tolerance, winter kill, traffic tolerance, thatch accumulation, seedheads, poa anna invasion, mowing quality and steminess.

Letting the Air In

Aeration is essential for keeping organic natural turf fields healthy. Aeration reduces the compaction of the soil, which in turn helps prevent crabgrass and other weeds from growing. The more the field is used, the more it will need to be aerated. Sports fields that receive a high level of use might be aerated quarterly, whereas open playing fields might just need aeration once a year or even every other year. Aeration can be done with a core aerator on a walk-behind or a tractor.

Crabgrass and broadleaf plants prefer to grow in heavily compacted soil. The end goal of aeration is to have an environment suitable for only turf grass.

A mulching mower should reduce the clippings to small enough pieces to decompose, and regular aeration also helps to reduce thatch. If thatch does occur, the thatch can be removed with dethatching rakes.

Drink Up

"Turf managers can create more problems by overwatering or not watering at all," Kelly said. "You are better off if you water infrequently and deeply. The best time of day to water is in the morning for an hour or two per zone. You should water every three to four days. Do not water every day."

Fields that are watered lightly and frequently have a shallower root base and are likely to sustain damage with stress. Watering infrequently and deeply promotes the grass roots to extend further into the soil. The water from deep and infrequent irrigation should get at least 4 to 6 inches of the soil wet.