Quality turf, both durable and attractive, is the goal of every sports turf manager. In order to create and maintain highly functional and aesthetically pleasing sports turf, pest control agents must be applied from time to time. There are three ways to approach pest control: random, organized and somewhere in between. Efficient programs are achieved by scheduling and consciously planning out applications. These involve prioritization, inspection, common sense, consideration of pest history and cost.
Most facilities can be categorized as high, medium or low-input (HML) locations. Getting started with an effective pest control program begins with the realization of the specifics of the facility. Facets that are part of the realization include:
Budget: Though I’m reluctant to highlight it first, there is little doubt that the amount of money available for staff, materials, pest control agents and equipment plays a big role in the level of maintenance a sports turf manager is able to provide. Pay close attention to projected increases in these items so a shortfall in future budget expenditures can be avoided.
The next two considerations are involved in the creation and justification of a budget. If a larger budget is needed, documenting usage and expectations may be helpful in obtaining appropriate increases.
Usage: Varied levels of time are spent on different parts of a complex depending on the size, intensity of management, range of teams that routinely use the facility, as well as the number of practice, game and tournament-quality fields that are present. In other words, the more the fields are used, the more attention and care they need.
For example, turf that is thin due to heavy usage is more likely to develop annual grassy weed invasion because of increased sunlight penetration into the turf canopy, therefore it will require pre and postemergence weed control.
Expectations: Owners, coaches, players and spectators, each of these groups tends to be focused only on the issue before them. For example, players are concerned with the potential for slipping, and owners want to maximize use. Few individuals see the whole picture in terms of creating healthy turf that is able to meet the goals of all the stakeholders involved. Frustration runs high for the sports turf manager when unrealistically high usage and aesthetic expectations are voiced, but there’s a low budget.
Perception: Perhaps the most difficult issue of the HML categorization is based on the perception of pesticides, good, bad or indifferent. In many cases, the application of pest control agents is primarily based on media accounts or speeches by politicians and celebrities rather than unbiased, scientifically based facts. In the worst case, stakeholders want high-quality turf conditions without any pesticide applications.
Monitoring irrigation uniformity is a key step in ensuring even pesticide penetration to control soil-active pests.
Wherever your facility falls, making these identifications can be helpful in determining the most effective pest control program.
Scouting and monitoring
Before making any applications you should first inspect turf and ornamentals for insects, weeds and fungal diseases. Being a good spray technician includes being able to identify common pests so an effective control strategy can be devised. This can be accomplished in several ways. One is to set aside a small part of the day to walk each field looking for the invasion of weeds and the symptoms of disease and insect problems. You can also scout while performing other maintenance activities, such as trash pickup or mowing. However it is accomplished, it remains an important first step in setting up a pest control program.
Regular cultivation encourages deep rooting and facilitates infiltration of irrigation water to keep turf healthy.
The next step is monitoring. Document ongoing infestations in a common location in the facility. Then provide a visual outline of the projected applications in the weeks and months to come; these can be written on a white board or create a simple poster to hang on the wall. These tools will provide a helpful reference for all employees at the facility.
Some examples of practices that may be part of your maintenance plan include: pruning shrubs to increase airflow, replacing mulch to suppress weed growth, re-inspecting for brown patch, monitoring sod webworm generations, removing weeds, and monitoring the sprinkler system to ensure uniform infiltration of applied pesticides.
Initially created by the need to control the cotton boll weevil, integrated pest management (IPM) has become a green industry protocol. Though it’s not edgy, sexy or all that new, it remains effective. One of the most useful facets of IPM is that it allows for effective pest control regardless of the level of intensity of turf management.
Where pest tolerance is high, such as on a Little League field used by a dozen or so teams each week, the focus can be placed on essential cultural practices such as mowing and irrigation. When performed well, these can go a long way towards controlling pests or at least keeping them at an acceptable level.
On the low end of pest tolerance, IPM encourages all forms of pest control including cultivation, species and cultivar selection, soil improvement, irrigation uniformity, effective fertilization and thatch management, as well as the judicious application of pesticides.
The part of IPM where preventative or predetermined applications are warranted is when a pest history has developed over time. This can occur with certain common pests, such as bipolaris leaf spot and white grubs, or with random pests that re-infest specific fields several years in a row. Documenting pest history and considering it when scouting is a hand-in-hand activity.
As maps are created each week/month to focus efforts on monitoring pest infestations, consideration of the pest problems from the past two years is helpful. A certain weed may have been eradicated in the previous year and never show up again, but in some cases it will, and knowing where it was and what was done to control it is a useful piece of information.
The health of ornamentals should be considered when developing a pest control program.
Before the season begins, it’s wise to take time to review the pesticide applications that have been made on a facility over the past three to four years. If certain ones have been made each year, they should be circled in red. Next, consider the cost of control measures and the level of disruption they cause to the playing surface or potential benefit to spectators (in the case of trees and shade). As this examination is conducted, some will rise to the top as high-cost operations, and others will be identified as easy to accomplish/low-input procedures.
The impact they have on the quality of the turf or the enjoyment of the game should also be evaluated. Depending on the expectations of the facility’s decision-makers, certain applications are more justified than others and should be prioritized accordingly.
Turf and ornamentals
Ornamentals can play an important role in the satisfaction of sports facility users. When ornamentals become infested or infected, you may need to set up a pest control program. Just as thick and durable footing is important for players, shade and aesthetics are of value for spectators.
At the very least, scout and monitor ornamental plants – trees, shrubs, perennials, ground covers – in order to document any insects or disease infestations. For medium to high-value facilities, these elements are just as important to user enjoyment as the turf.