Any changes in field maintenance for 2016? STMA members respond

We asked some STMA members via email if in 2016 they were planning on changing or adding to any of their maintenance practices, agronomically or for playability or field appearance reasons:

Chris May, baseball field manager, Georgia Tech

We will not be changing much agronomically. We are very happy with our current plan of attack. We might try and get an extra application of IDBU down during the winter months to help feed our ryegrass more effectively. We will continue with our same fungicide regiment. This is the first year we have not used two ryegrass blends. We went with our favorite blend Champion GQ. This is the same blend Augusta National uses. We think it performs better during the colder months of the beginning of the baseball season.

Our biggest improvements have been focused on playability. We had a complete infield renovation done this summer to maximize our drainage. This included removal of all contaminated sand profiles in the infield, hip and radius areas. We also excavated our infield clay to remove all of the older mix below our current DuraEdge professional blend. Our infield is now 100% Dura Edge professional. This should really make us more consistent with moisture and improve the corkboard effect we are trying to achieve. During our renovation we removed all of our mounds (including bullpens) and rebuilt them with the new Turface Professional red mound and home plate clay. We hope this new clay will cut down on repair time and clay prep.

I think we have tried to get too fancy in the past. The biggest thing with baseball is consistency and we were not accomplishing that. We tried multiple gumbo clays and I don’t think their upside is worth the extra prep time to make them usable. At the college level it is hard to spend 2-3 hours a week making clay, especially with softball, track and spring football practice all going on at once.

As far as appearance we decided to really simplify things and become even more traditional. We changed our infield cutouts to mimic the candy cane look of Busch Stadium in St. Louis. We have also removed our home plate walk-ups. Due to the smaller size of our crew we are going to keep our mowing patterns very simple this season. By doing this we will be able to focus more time and energy to mound, edge and infield clay maintenance. I want Russ Chandler Stadium to set a new standard in playability at the college level. When a team leaves our field I want them to know they just played on the best surface college baseball has to offer.

Ben Polimer, sports turf manager, Worcester (MA) Academy

I would like to add a few things to [this] year’s maintenance practices, all budget-dependent of course. I would like to add more spray applications next year, and use some more foliar products, humates, and maybe another application of growth regulator (we have had great success with the regulator). We also haven’t seeded entire fields in a few years, so hopefully can do that to introduce better cultivars.

We contract out our spraying normally three times a season. We apply products when the school is out of session; it’s just easier for us to do that based on state law. Adding one more spray especially with a growth regulator right before the fall season starts will help us get through the first full month of fall sports. More and more has been talked about humid acids and humate products. Depending on budget, we can spray or put out a granular app. Budgets are been lower the past few years, and has cut out almost completely our contracted services budget. That being said, our fields get used more and more, and we haven’t seeded an entire field in 3 years. We had great success with a late summer slice-seeding. Keeping my fingers crossed!

Bruce H. Suddeth, director building & landscape services, University of South Carolina Upstate

As far as the 2016 plans I can only think of a couple things we are going to change up:

This year we used some quick release Ag-grade fertilizers after we transitioned out the rye to give the bermuda a quick boost along with another shot in July once the grass began to run horizontally. This seemed to push the fertilizer more along with our standard fertilizer program with slow release materials. These combined with a PGR in July, August, and early September really made the turf fill in great.

We are also going to get more aggressive with aerification in 2016 as long as field schedules will allow. There may have to be some camps that will have to deal with aerification holes and topdressing, but we feel it’s going to benefit the health, playability, and safety when it comes time for game day.

Tim VanLoo, CSFM, manager, athletic turf and grounds, Iowa State

I have no major differences planned. I may change things if the weather dictates me to change. Basically, I start with an idea of what I want to do, usually close to what we have done in the past and let the weather dictate if that plan needs adjustment or not. Seems like some new technology every year sparks enough of my interest to try something new. It’s one of the reasons I never want to miss an STMA Conference! New technology that makes our expectation of perfection closer to a reality is always something I am willing to try.

Michael Boettcher, director/grounds, Milwaukee Brewers

We had a great growing season here in Milwaukee during the 2015 season. The turf seemed to respond well to our agronomical practices as it relates to our fertilization and cultivation/aerification. Though we had a good year, we are always looking for ways to improve. We will re-evaluate our fertilizer program and see where we can make some modifications to get a more consistent, quality surface every game of the season, although Mother Nature usually has the most impact at the end of the day. For our clay surfaces, we will continue to patch and level our surfaces every day to maintain them at a high level. As new products continue to emerge, we will test certain ones here at the park that has potential to perform better within the arches of our retractable roof here at Miller Park! A lot change isn’t necessarily desired at this time as the input from players has been quite good about our current playing surface, but like I stated, always looking to improve!

Brian F. Bornino, CSFM, sports turf crew chief, Purdue University

I sit down with my staff each winter to discuss the previous year and the upcoming year for each facility that we maintain. I’m a firm believer in making adjustments no matter how bad/good the year went; things could always be made slightly better! With that being said, we will look at any new technology or advancements made in the previous year and how that might fit into what we are doing.

The past 2 years we’ve been very fortunate that our budget has allowed us to incorporate fraze mowing into the maintenance practices for our Bermuda soccer and football fields. We’ve discussed possibly expanding that to our Kentucky bluegrass baseball and softball fields immediately after their seasons end for the removal of poa annua. By changing the type of fertilizer (to polymer coated), we were able to reduce the amount of fertilizer used on our cool-season fields this past season; this will be something we will look more into this winter to see about expanding further.

Lastly, as a crew, we’ve had a few conversations about making an attempt to grow one of our Bermuda fields without transitioning out and trying to manage both grasses year round since we’ve experienced some pretty harsh winters and below average summer temperatures over the past 2 years; not exactly ideal bermudagrass growing conditions.

Andrew Siegel, groundskeeper, University of Texas-Arlington

As we are getting ready for spring with baseball and softball about to kickoff, we are doing a few small things differently. We are finishing up fall practices this week [mid-November] and getting ready for a second round of rye to put down. In the middle of October we put out half of the rye so we could get a decent stand in case we had an early freeze. This was something we tried last year and it worked well. This season, however, I still went back and aerated the infield, and areas of compaction before seeding the second time. Last season I did not do it and, I believe I paid the price when those areas wore quicker in January before we began warming up again.

We have also raised the mowing height on rye from 5/8″ last year to 3/4″ this season. I am hoping this coupled with a more intense fertility program focusing on root growth and hardiness will help with what could be a wet and cold winter.

Throughout the season, we will try to solid tine aerify a few times before dropping the mowing height in late April. As soon as seasons end, we will spray out rye to aid in transition. We have not done it before but the hope is to transition fully before summer ball begins in June. Last year, the rye hung on with all the rain we had and it hurt in the long run.

Noel T. Brusius, CSFM, field maintenance supervisor, Waukegan (IL) Park District

In 2016 our complex will be going on its 6th year of operation. Over the course of the past 5 years we have developed a fairly successful maintenance routine that includes a strong emphasis on cultural practices including aeration, overseeding, topdressing, etc. As we do every year, we will tweak our fertility schedule based off the latest soil tests and anticipated use. We also hope to do some experimenting with new herbicides to help us develop a strategy to reduce poa annua populations. Lastly we anticipate finishing up a complete complex irrigation head replacement and when finished new soil sensors will be installed to give us another tool to monitor turf conditions and enhance water conservation.

Rebecca Auchter, grounds maintenance manager, Cranberry Township, PA

You caught me right on the cusp of considering how best to implement some changes based on grounds management issues that arose over the 2015 season. I really have two categories that need some serious consideration over the winter when I have time to think and develop an operational plan: 1) agronomic program changes related to soil amendments and cultivation based on playability because of increased field use, and 2) combining different classes of growth regulators to achieve sustained suppression of plant height without diminishing wear recovery or seed germination.

On the first point regarding amendments and cultivation, the driving factor is an increase in field use; for example our soccer fields have increased from about 160 events per season to more 200 and climbing. For a field with a sand rootzone I wouldn’t be struggling; we have a pretty sophisticated maintenance program. But the fields in question are native western Pennsylvania clay that compacts easily and has the water infiltration capacity of my desktop.

For 2015 we increased aerification but restricted our choices to primarily solid deep tines on a 30-day schedule. Only twice, in July and November, have we used hollow tines. I am trying to figure out a way to pull cores at least 4 or 5 times annually as well as solid tine at least 6 times. Without closing fields! Right now we only have a brief closure in July and the fields are in play from March to November.

Additionally, I have been considering which way to best change the soil physical properties to meet the new, higher demand. Sand is certainly an option but takes a LOT of product and a lot of time. It would take about 1,000 tons of sand to sufficiently modify the rootzone of one soccer field and we have seven. Not to mention football, lacrosse, etc. The labor and cost add up to beyond our means. I am looking at some of the Turface, Zeolite, Axis products as an alternative. No decisions yet.

The second concern is using growth regulators more effectively. Labor is always the limiting factor in a municipal setting (as far as I can tell) and mowing 40 acres of sports fields three times weekly severely inhibits our ability to meet other responsibilities. Without growth regulators, I cannot drop to twice weekly mowing without suffering through grass clipping problems. So, we use growth regulators every 14 days to help keep labor free as well as all the other benefits they provide for turf.

Due to constant seeding of highly used sports fields, conventional wisdom says not to use Class B PGR’s (late GA inhibitors) like Cutless and Trimmit because of their root uptake and poa annua killing properties when used on the label recommended program. Only Class A PGR’s (early GA inhibitors) like Primo are prevalent on sports fields for a continuous program of growth suppression. The problem with Primo alone is that it has a life span of only 5-7 days in the heat of the summer.

Back to the labor issue: it is not practical for us to spray more than every 14 days. So, through experimentation with a combination of Class A and low continuous rates of Class B PGR’s tank-mixed, we were able to achieve fairly consistent suppression on a 14-day spray schedule WITHOUT damaging poa or impeding seed germination throughout 2015. But only on fields that are predominantly perennial ryegrass or predominantly Kentucky bluegrass. Fields with a patchwork of the two grass types did not fare well as the KBG takes much lower rates to suppress than the perennial ryegrass. So, 2016 will be dedicated to fine-tuning the rates and products to achieve ideal suppression that allows twice weekly mowing as well as aesthetically pleasing turf.