Q: Our baseball field has developed a significant lip around the perimeter of the clay, especially between second base and third base. What are the best ways to repair it, and how can I keep it from happening in the future?
A: Lip development, which is a buildup of infield material on the turfgrass edge, is a fairly common occurrence on baseball and softball fields. A lip is unsafe, as it can cause erratic ball bounce and tripping hazards. Lips also hinder surface drainage from the infield skin to outside perimeter drains. The resulting ragged edges also look bad. Lip prevention requires management of the turfgrass and the skinned surfaces.
Lips should be removed before they become a safety issue. This job is easiest if undertaken when the grass is actively growing and there are no scheduled events on the field for a few weeks. For bermudagrass fields, lip removal is often included with other summer repairs. The best removal options are a sod cutter or a fraise mower. If the lip is fairly abrupt and localized near the clay edge, a sod cutter is usually the easiest way to remove excess material. The site will often require some grading before re-sodding. If the infield material has accumulated several feet into the surrounding turfgrass, it will require expansive material removal that is not easily accomplished with a sod cutter. It will be more effective to contract with someone to come in with a fraise mower to strip out a larger arc around the infield. Another advantage of this method is that fraise mowing should leave a smooth surface that may not require further grading before sodding.
After re-sodding, the desired infield edge should be marked and mechanically edged. In many cases, additional infield material may need to be added. Rototill the area to thoroughly mix the added and existing infield materials. Pack the new material to match the existing infield firmness and to establish a smooth transition from infield to turfgrass surface.
To prevent the lip from developing in the future, perform preventative maintenance practices after every practice and game. Practices that are often used include brooming, blowing and/or raking material from grass edges. Experiment to see what tools and techniques work best with your field and labor. Blasting the turfgrass edge with water under pressure every few weeks is also helpful to aggressively flush deposited material from the grass edges.
A large part in preventing lips is to reduce bermudagrass encroachment into the clay areas. Periodically edge bermudagrass along the infield skin, baselines, mound, plate and warning track with a power edger to retain the original field specifications and to maintain crisp edges. Remove any rooted stolons with a loop or scuffle hoe. Some managers apply a high rate of pre-emergence herbicide to the infield skin to prevent bermudagrass stolons from tacking down. The stolons can then be easily trimmed with a power edger and removed with a leaf rake.
Keeping proper moisture in the infield skin area to reduce wind-induced clay movement is very important, as wind can accelerate lip formation. The use of conditioner on the infield can help with moisture management.
My last piece of advice is to re-train yourself and anyone who drags or rakes your infield. Nothing causes lips to build faster than improper dragging or raking. It is easy to get in a hurry on a piece of equipment when dragging, and toss excess materials onto the turfgrass. When dragging with a machine, stay away from the turfgrass edges to prevent accidently tossing material onto the turfgrass. If possible, manually pull smaller drags for basepaths, base cutouts, infield edges, and home plate. When hand raking, always rake parallel to the turfgrass edge, not toward it.
Grady Miller, Ph.D.
Professor and Extension Turf Specialist
North Carolina State University
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