Getting a Sports Field Ready in 70 Days

Left: Hydroseeding commenced on June 24. Right: Ground level by August 28. Photo courtesy New Dimensions Turf Inc.

By J. Tim Vanini and John N. Rogers, III

Typically, there is less activity on sports fields, and the summer months are usually ideal growing conditions for recuperation of traffic areas, making the 70-day summer window ideal for active growth and repair. However, the need for strategies that are less costly and time-consuming become evident when cultural practices during this timeframe become complicated, e.g. when school and park crews are on vacation or inclement weather occurs.

According to a 2002 Michigan Rotational Survey, mowing and fertilization were the two practices sports turf managers completed consistently—regardless of maintenance level.

For any turfgrass professional, mowing is a common and essential practice. When mowing height decreases, there is an increase in shoot density and plants per unit area, and a decrease in rooting. Fertilization, on the other hand, is imperative to healthy turfgrass and can be relatively inexpensive compared to other cultural practices. In this regard, extensive research has been conducted on fertilizers and their effects on turfgrass.

Slow-release fertilizers, which are typically more expensive than the quick-release variety, can benefit sports field managers by providing longer turfgrass response, less nitrogen leaching, surface run-off and volatilization, in addition to fewer applications.

With urea, multiple applications are typically needed to attain responses observed by using a single, slow-release fertilizer over a long period of time. Urea or sulfur-coated urea (SCU) is generally used by sports field managers as it is one of the least expensive fertilizers and fits within their restrictive budgets. In a short re-establishment window, little research has been done on these products—or others for that matter—with respect to their agronomic effects on the playing surface.

Studies have been conducted with respect to both mowing and fertility practices and the results showed more shoots were produced when fields were mowed lower and a higher rate of nitrogen was used. This research, however, did not focus on sports field management scenarios where preparation time was a factor. Further, they also did not assess the playing field’s surface characteristics (e.g. traction and surface hardness).

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