From Dr. Grady Miller’s “Q
and A” column in the May issue of SportsTurf:
Q: Our school system does
not have much money. As a head coach (football), I get a little extra money to
take care of the fields during the summer. I usually just try to keep them
mowed and if there is some extra booster money, maybe apply one fertilization
before fall. The school pays a contractor to apply a pre-emergence in early
March so crabgrass is not usually an issue unless our fields go into summer
really beat up. So my question is, what you would consider to be a good grass
maintenance program for me to follow in the summer? I mow football, practice
football, baseball, and softball. Another coach takes care of the “dirt” on the
baseball and softball fields.
A: Questions related to this
subject are pretty common each year. I realize that most coaches get into
coaching because they love their sport, not because they wanted to take care of
athletic fields. I have attended a few coaching clinics and heard the
frustration expressed by coaches trying to figure out the best way to manage
their fields. Many coaches have had to learn turfgrass agronomics on the job
through trial and error with little to no training. The lack of quality
equipment and adequate supplies for field maintenance may compound the problem.
No coach wants a player hurt
because of the fields and they realize that athletes enjoy playing on quality
surfaces. For this reason, I would encourage everyone involved in secondary
school athletics to challenge their school or school district to consider the
personnel options for taking care of their fields. I believe that if the school
does not have a dedicated field/grounds staff, then contracting out some or all
of the field maintenance is usually the best option. I am not saying a coach
cannot be a great groundskeeper, but I find most either do not have the
interest or expertise. Because of state laws related to pesticides, outside
contracting those applications is often the entry point for school districts to
use non-school employees for field maintenance.
Coach, I do not mean to take
anything away from your desire and ability to take care of your athletic field.
You probably already have a feel for your field conditions and know that some
fields will need more aggressive maintenance practices than others. I would
start with a plan to address bare areas on fields. Start renovation work as
soon as the field is taken out of use for the summer. If the bare areas are
larger than 10 square feet, develop a sprigging, sodding or plugging plan and
initiate the work as soon as possible. One can often use their existing field
as a source of plant material for light renovations.
From your comments, it
sounds like your fields usually go into the summer a bit worn but not to the
point that renovation is needed. If that is the case, then you are mainly
looking at fertilization, aeration, and mowing. For fertilization, refer to
soil test recommendations so that you are not applying something that you do not
need. Your field will need nitrogen fertilizer to maximize turf density and
recovery from damage, but it may (or may not) need other nutrients. The rule of
thumb is to apply 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet per growing month. I
think it is fine to use a lower rate if your turf is dense and healthy; whereas
you may want to even increase the rate in localized area that needs additional
inputs for healthy growth in thin areas.
Aerification is very
important for turfgrass health on high-use athletic fields. Use whatever
equipment you have available for core aerification and do it as often as
possible. I would suggest at least two aerifications during the summer. If you
do not have aerification equipment, there are companies that will bring their equipment
to the site and complete this task for a nominal fee.
You mentioned your mowing
practices. The more frequent you mow bermudagrass when it is actively growing
the better the turf density. For bermudagrass keep the height of cut below 2
inches. For hybrid bermudagrass closer to 1 inch is much better. If your
schedule allows, I would suggest mowing at least two times per week in the
summer months. In addition to increasing turfgrass density, regular mowing can
assist with your weed-control program. Mowing is probably your most important
practice given a minimum budget.
For weed control, you have
the established pre-emergence program. You may need to implement a
post-emergence program. If weeds begin to grow, tailor your post-control
program to your weed species. You may even be able to get away with spot
spraying problem areas. Your local county extension service can help you with
weed identification and control suggestions.
I know those are general
recommendations for you to consider, but this approach often works with
low-maintenance fields. If there are specific issues (e.g., deep ruts in the
field, invasive weeds, severe compaction, standing water) then we may need to
consider more aggressive approaches specific to your issues. Otherwise, careful
attention to fertilization, aeration, mowing, and weed control are the
practices that will give you the greatest return.