Is it “Fraze,” “fraise” or “fraize” mowing? These are all spellings used for the word that means aggressive thatch removal, field leveling, and weed removal from sport fields. This magazine uses “fraze.”
This maintenance process was originally referred to as “fraise” mowing by Ko Rodenburg. In the early 1990’s, Rodenburg developed this process of field renovations, while he was the leading parks superintendent in Rotterdam, Holland. He invented this process to help clean up/minimize thatch and to control organic buildup. Rodenburg found that this process also controlled and removed the Poa annua plants and seed accumulation while leaving the crown of the plant intact ready for regeneration.
Fraze mowing has been implemented all across Europe for decades to renovate soccer pitches. The process is used to “clean” the organic build up for the soccer pitches that used the Desso GrassMaster system. This process removes all the material so the groundsmen could reseed the pitches and still keep the Desso fibers intact.
Fraze mowing was first introduced to the United States in 2013 by Jerad Minnick, who conducted his own stateside research while at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Jerad discovered the benefits to warm season turf and declared that “Grass Can Do More” when fraze mowed. (Read Jerad and Allen Reed’s article in the August 2013 edition of SportsTurf.)
I have known Allen Reed for many years. Allen is the director of stadium grounds for FC Dallas of Major League Soccer. Allen first told me about this concept at the STMA Conference in Daytona Beach in 2012, after he had begun working with Jerad on the team main training grounds. Allen was very impressed with this process. When the conference concluded, he emailed me photos and videos of the process. When you see this process for the first time, you swear that you are destroying your field! It is such a “different” process compared with what we have seen or had been taught in the US. It took 2 years and several late night “meetings” at STMA Conferences for Allen to persuade me to try it. It is easier to try something new when a trusted friend has done it before you and you respect his work.
Selling it to the club
After talking with Allen and Jared, as well as several others throughout the country that started using the process, I pitched the practice to the Bengals’ front office. The toughest part was trying to describe the fraze mowing process to people with limited turf knowledge. As hard as it was for Allen and Jerad to get me on board (someone with turf experience) it was doubly hard to get the club management on board.
During the 2013 training camp, we had one field that experienced excessive shearing. The players’ cleats would shear the top ½ inch due to a buildup of organic matter and excessive thatch build-up. After the season, I proposed to the club that we look at fraze mowing to help improve the playability of the field and to help with the shearing issue. I provided them with photos and video links and said that this would be a lot cheaper then sodding the field. I was specifically asked if this would work, knowing that if it didn’t work, I would be a “former” NFL sports field manager. I told the club that fraze mowing would eliminate the thatch build-up and the developing organic matter issue we had on our oldest bermudagrass field and the field would play much better.
June 2014 we started the process. We had an area field builder who was sodding our training camp field fraze mow. Nether neither he nor I had seen it done in real life; but we kept adjusting the depth until I felt comfortable that enough material was being removed and enough stolons and rhizomes were remaining (in hind sight we could have removed more material but I was honestly too scared!). It took about 3 hours to remove the field. We finished on a Wednesday, and then we waited…
We came back in on Monday, 4 days after the process, and there was a haze of green grass growing! We were surprised to see such a rejuvenation of the plant material in just 4 days. After 7 days we sprigged the field to insure the field would be completely filled by the beginning of training camp, just 6 weeks away.
We managed the field as if we were growing in sprigs. We applied lots of water and high fertility to push growth. Once the sprigs took hold, we backed the water off and lowered the fertility. Within 4 weeks, we could have played football on the field.
Going into the process, we knew that fraze mowing would remove all the thatch that we had and help remove the organic layer we had started to build up. This process got the field down to a firm footing. This was done not only by the removal of the thatch, but also as it allows the bermuda to grow laterally instead of vertically. This happens because the plant is a juvenile and will grow vigorously. After 6 weeks, the field was as tight as I had ever seen and there were very little damage after practices.
Something else we found was that we were able to “level” out some of our high spots due to spot sodding. The fraze mower would go over high spots and then mill down the spot to match the surrounding area. We also witnessed that, like Rodenburg, we had less weed issues. The process limited a great deal of weeds in the areas that were renovated and the areas that were not, we had more weed issues.
This process is revolutionary. Everyone I’ve spoken with that has tried this process has all said the same thing after the first pass: something like, “Holy crap! What have I just done!?” But what we have learned is that natural grass is a tough plant and the more we beat it up, the better and more resilient it becomes.
Like anything new, it will take time before fraze mowing will be a standard in the States as much as it is in Europe. People may think you’ve lost your mind when they see the process the first time, but 6 weeks later you will look like the professional you are.
One note: After the great result of the 2014 season, we bought our own machine (KORO Universal Topmaker) and this past year we fraze mowed two of our three fields. This will be a yearly maintenance program at Paul Brown Stadium moving forward.
As Jerad Minnick says, “We need to think different so grass can do more!”
Darian Daily is head groundskeeper for the Cincinnati Bengals.