Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2012 and has been updated for comprehensiveness. Author Eric Fasbender, CSFM, studied turfgrass management at the University of Tennessee. At the time of original publication, he served as assistant director of athletic facilities and grounds at Louisiana State University Athletics.
One of the most important things you can do to increase your level of success on the playing field is to finish strong in the fall and begin your preparations for the spring. Here are some items we concentrate on at Louisiana State University (LSU) and may help you plan for a successful spring.
When dealing with a warm-season turf- grass, chances are good that you will need to overseed your playing surface. In southeast Louisiana, we overseed our baseball and softball fields as well as a low rate at Tiger Stadium, our football field. An important guideline to remember is: generally, the less seed you put out in the fall, the easier your transition will be in the spring; conversely, the more seed you put out, the tougher the transition will be.
When overseeding, I like to use a two-application method. Before you seed, you may need to open the bermudagrass canopy via light verticutting, aeration or slicing to ensure good seed-to-soil contact. Once a seedbed has been prepared, we put out 8 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet, irrigate and allow the seed to germinate and mature for three to four weeks. At that point we will assess how the stand looks and add another 4 to 8 pounds per 1,000 square feet if necessary. We try to time the seeding to coordinate with our fall sports program. At Tiger Stadium we overseed when we have a 14-day break or longer to make sure the seed germinates and establishes. With our baseball and softball fields we wait until after fall practice is done and before winter camps happen.
Read More: Weathering the Winter: Cool-Season Turf
Fall fertilization is always important for your turf and provides a great foundation to start with in the spring. The key thing to remember is the timing of fertilizer applications. Once bermudagrass growth slows, it’s time to start reducing the amount of nitrogen and changing the formulation. It’s always a good idea to take soil samples during this time to assess what nutrients your turf needs. For non-overseeded bermudagrass use a 4-1-6 formulation. You may also want to make an application of lime if tests indicate a need for it. Remember to never fertilize dormant or nearly dormant turf. For overseeded bermudagrass we change to a slow-release fertilizer with a 3-1-2 formulation and a rate of .5 pound per 1,000 square feet of nitrogen in a month.
Whenever you have worn areas in the turf, it’s always a good idea to repair them in the fall before the cold sets in. This does two things: it provides a safer, more consistent field surface, and it gives your bermudagrass a head start in the spring. Common areas to check include goalmouths, sideline areas, player positions and field entry/exit points. Include a light topdressing of the repaired area to protect the plant and level seams.
It is always a good idea to apply preemergent herbicide to help defend against grassy and broadleaf weeds that occur in the fall, winter and early spring. The important thing to remember is that preemergent herbicides may not only prevent your target weeds from germinating, but they may also prevent your ryegrass from germinating. Keep your target weeds in mind when selecting an herbicide, and always research the products you use for rates, timing and effect on your turf.
Once football season is over in the fall and the field has been put to bed, the next step is to look ahead to spring baseball and softball season. We always try to have everything for the spring sports season done by the time we leave for the holiday break.
Make sure that all the grades are correct on the infield skin. If you are adding material to fill in any low spots, till the material to make sure it’s thoroughly blended, and then roll it to make sure it’s firm. Check the plate area to make sure the batter’s and catcher’s boxes are packed and level. Use a mound gauge and double-check that all mounds have the correct slope and are shaped appropriately. Finally, check the edges and transitions. We use light water to wash the edges and then edge immediately following. Remember to consider the age of your ryegrass if you overseed. You do not want to remove any immature rye and be left with-out winter and spring color.
Late fall is also a great time to clean up around the fields and facilities. Be sure that goals, benches and blocking sleds are stored in an out-of-the-way location to allow for winter turf maintenance. This is also the time to service these items: fittings tightened, greased, painted. If you have any synthetic turf, be sure to remove any excess debris as it accumulates, and take the time to detail/repair any areas that need attention.
Be sure that you service all your equipment. Change the engine oil, hydraulic oil and filters on all equipment, and remember to grind the reels, bed knives and mower blades. Another way to prepare for the spring season is to order all the supplies you’ll need and schedule the delivery of materials. Items like topdressing sand, warning track material, infield clay, calcined clay, fertilizer, paint and hand tools are all essential to our operations. Take advantage of the downtime and order for the year.
Late fall and winter is also a great time to reevaluate your maintenance program. What worked well for you in the past may need an adjustment for the future. Try to research new techniques and technologies to stay ahead of the game and provide good stewardship of the environment.