We all struggle with WHEN and HOW to improve the sports fields we manage. We all want safe, reliable and predictable natural grass surfaces for all to use and enjoy. So when do we decide to renovate, re-sod or simply provide some aggressive maintenance procedures like aggressive verti-cutting, de thatching, fraze mowing, fertilizing and overseeding?
One of the main factors to help make the decision on aggressive sportsfield maintenance, renovation or sodding is whether time allows for the renovation procedure you desire. For example, overseeding your sports field is an economical choice but it needs the time to reach maturity before it can handle traffic on it. It's very disappointing to have a beautiful seeding catch, only to be played upon prematurely, defeating all your hard work. Depending on the seed type you use, seeded fields should be kept out of play for at least 2 to 3 months. This time allows the new seedlings to mature enough so that they are tillering and starting to grow rhizomes and stolons. These are the plant’s anchors and reservoirs - that enables them to handle traffic and recover from normal wear. It is this healthy thatch layer in a mature well-maintained sportsfield that gives it the durability and recuperative ability.
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Compaction, due to traffic and normal use, is a sports fields worst enemy. Once a field is compacted it will not drain properly. It will hold water (not drain) which makes the soil anaerobic, essentially making it stale, or dead. In compacted soil, roots are not able to penetrate the soil, will become shallow, susceptible to drought stress and more damage from traffic. The natural turf’s ability to uptake nutrients is greatly diminished and a compacted field will simply not recover from traffic properly.
Compaction can be relieved in many ways with a core aerifier or slicing tools. Removing a core is always the most beneficial as we are actually decreasing the soil density in the top 3 to 4 inches. Compare this to an Airway type tool, which fractures the soil to create voids for roots to follow.
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Your soil compaction management should be performed before seeding to avoid additional traffic and compaction of soil. The small germinating seedlings have the best chance to germinate in an open core or put a high volume of roots into a core void.
Amending the Soil
Amending the soil should also be considered when you are doing any type of renovation. Soil chemical tests and physical tests should be taken to identify what soil additions and or alterations would benefit your field the most. Adding compost can be a benefit to improve the humus level in your soil and in turn helps the manufacturing plant change fertilizer into something the plant can use. It can also help with soil structure by releasing soil compaction, retaining water and in some cases even improving water penetration.
Adding sand is another option. Use caution with the expectations of adding sand, as it may not always improve drainage issues. Sometimes adding sand can actually increase the intensity of compaction instead of relieving compaction and not allow your field to drain properly. This is why a physical soil test is so important. It can help determine if sand, what gradation of sand and how much sand it will take to create any kind of improvement in your fields draining capabilities.
Unless we are at a school where we can shut the field down for the summer months or at a municipal location where we can take a field out of the schedule in early September for a few months, seeding will be a challenge to make any long-term improvement in your sports field.
Sodding Your Sports Field
GHG Ultimate Sports Turf
Sodding is a fantastic option when time is crucial. Similar field prep as for seeding needs to be considered along with the commitment to get your sod established properly in the first 3 hours, first 3 days and first 3 months.
Sod needs to be installed on bare soil, there cannot be any thick organic matter under the sod. If there is, it will decompose, creating an uneven playing surface and unhealthy environment for new roots to establish.
Sodding just the goal mouths and the center of the field tends to be problematic and we do not recommend it as it is difficult to prepare these small area's properly. It is difficult to do a good job keying them in so there are no transition issues that could lead to injury, not to mention the difficulty establishing them. Picking a full width between the goal posts and going from one end to the field to the other is the best option. This requires one clean edge on either side to be keyed-in and in most cases, can be watered separately with existing irrigation zones in the field.
After preparation and just before installation, apply a starter fertilizer with a high middle number like 8-32-16 or 5-20-10. Water immediately upon installation, keep it so wet for the first three days that you cannot walk on it then start to cut back on watering so the sod need to start looking for water.
The new sod needs to be reviewed a couple times per day during this establishment period and watered as required as soon the turf gets to the wilting point. By 7 to 10 days the new sod should have roots 1/4 to 1/2 inch into the soil and be ready for the first mowing. After the first mowing, water the sod as if it was the first day you installed it. Then cut back on watering off to allow the turf to go looking for water. Water at the wilting point for the next 7 to 10 days then mow again. After mowing water as if it was the first day you installed it then cut back again to allow the field to firm up and root even deeper. By the third week or mowing the new sod should be ready for play.
Natural sod is the best solution for sports field surfaces. They are safer, more predictable and economically more efficient if built right from the beginning.
Contact Greenhorizons Sod Farms for all your sports field construction & maintenance needs.