But for sports field managers, things are just heating up. Not only are there busy soccer/football/field hockey schedules to contend with, but there’s also a scramble to renovate and improve fields before the real cold hits. Don’t miss this opportunity to make improvements now that will pay dividends next year.
Dick Fluter, president of Pacific Sports Turf in Oregon, says that one of the most important fall field improvement practices is deep-tine aeration. “It loosens the soil, and we like to do that because it can counteract some of the compaction that’s below your normal aeration level. You’re after the area that’s between 4 and 7 inches deep. If you can break through that, it will let the soil warm up earlier in the spring,” he notes. “That’s the kind of thing you can do in the fall that will give you an edge later on.”
Deep-tine aerating is one of the most valuable fall field renovation practices, says Dick Fluter, president of Pacific Sports Turf. “You’re after the area that’s between 4 and 7 inches deep. If you can break through that, it will let the soil warm up earlier in the spring,” he notes.
Photos Courtesy of Hummer Sports Turf.
Overseeding in conjunction with aeration can make a big difference in future field conditions, states Fluter. On fields (such as baseball or lacrosse) that typically aren’t in play in the fall, Pacific Sports Turf will use a slice seeder for overseeding. However, for football or soccer fields that see heavy fall use, Fluter recommends taking advantage of that to save on labor: “We broadcast the seed and let the players walk it in.”
Fluter says that ever-improving turfgrass breeding programs offer many advantages for sports field managers, especially when it comes to fall field renovations. “They’re developing ryegrasses that will germinate in much cooler temperatures than they used to,” he explains. “These ‘intermediate’ or ‘transition’ ryegrasses are phenomenal. At the end of the season, we’ve found that we no longer need to stop overseeding on October 15. In this area, we can seed well into November, and even into December. And there will be grass that comes up in the spring, if it doesn’t come up in the winter. It’s amazing. It will germinate at temperatures at least 10 degrees lower than normal ryegrass, and that’s a tool that’s very helpful in the fall.”
Fall is also a good time to test the soil. “A simple nutrient test can save you a lot of money,” Fluter advises, “particularly if you’re not watching the acidity of the soil. You can have a lot of the nutrients tied up because of the acidity.” The knowledge gained from a soil test has the potential to save one full fertilizer application per year. “In this day and age, that’s a lot of cost savings.”
While these types of activities can be accomplished even on fields that are still receiving use, fall is also a good time for more serious renovations on fields that are out of play. “It’s a great time of year to renovate baseball fields,” Fluter cites as one example. “It’s often too wet in the spring to really work on fields before the season starts.” Intensive aeration and overseeding can yield big benefits to baseball turf, and depending on client preferences, Pacific Sports Turf sometimes will finish that process by topdressing with sand, which is much easier done in the fall than during the baseball season, he notes.
Matt Wimer, general manager at Hummer Sports Turf in Pennsylvania, agrees that fall is the perfect time to renovate baseball fields. “In this business, we sort of work in reverse from the playing seasons,” he notes. “In the spring we’re working on football and soccer fields, and in the fall we’re renovating baseball and lacrosse fields.”
Following football and soccer seasons, Hummer Sports Turf tries to complete whole field renovations (not just on hightraffic areas) before the surface is put to bed for the winter.
Beyond the fact that baseball fields are typically out of play at this time of year, the milder weather and dry soil conditions make renovations much easier than in early spring, he emphasizes. “We’ll go in and do edging and replace sod edges around the infield and infield mix edges, as well as mound work,” Wimer explains. “It’s really tough in the wet spring to try to do this stuff. You can never do as good a job as you can when you’re working with dry material. Plus, by doing the work in the fall you’re ready for the spring and you’re not scrambling.” With some high school and college baseball programs getting on the fields in February and March, there may not even be time to do much work on the field before it’s being used, he adds.
Amending the infield mix and leveling the skin areas are good examples of fall renovation projects, he says. “If you have a puddle in the fall, it’s still going to be there in the spring, and it’s likely to be bigger and wetter,” says Wimer.
Because of the crisp edges needed on baseball fields, Wimer says that Hummer Sports Turf prefers to renovate turf on these fields using sod rather than seed. The same is true for renovating football and soccer fields late in the year after the season ends, he states: “For fields that are going to go right back into spring use – say a soccer field that’s going to be used for lacrosse in the spring – we’ll resod goals and other heavy wear areas. Sod is what we like to use because you’re going to be going right back into heavy wear, and you’re just not going to be able to get the seed up and ready in time.”
He notes that not only will the result be a field that’s ready for play in the spring – depending on local climate and weather conditions – but using sod can also extend the time frame when fall work can be completed. “As long as you can get your ground ready, we’ve always found no matter how cold it is when we put sod down it has always rooted for the spring,” says Wimer. “We have a sod farm as well, and we get 100 calls in the fall with people asking if it’s too cold to sod. In the Northeast, at least, the sod will make it.”
While fall is natural time for tending to natural grass fields, it’s also a good time to tend to synthetic fields, says Milo George, general manager of Professional Sports Field Services in Ohio. “I recommend that field owners do a cleaning after the fall season using some sort of power brush to get the debris off. And you want to be sure to remove any gum. Then get a drag brush and brush the fibers,” he advises.
At that point, George urges field owners to do a final inspection for the year. “It’s a good time to take stock of how your field came through the season. Do a quick inspection in the fall, and if there are any issues of bad seams or overlays or edges that need attention, make some notes [he advises using graph paper]. And then get ahold of the manufacturer if it’s under warranty, or your service provider if you have someone who helps you take care of your field. Give them an update so they know there are issues and they can schedule a time to take care of them,” he recommends. “It’s helpful to know right away rather than 10 minutes before the first game next year.”
Depending on the local climate, if repairs do need to be made, it’s often easier to complete them in the late fall than in the early spring when it may well be colder and wetter, says George. “And many fields are now being used in the winter. At that point, it might be too cold for the repair glue to work. If you do it in the fall, you have a higher probability of having the adhesives work properly.”
These simple fall steps – clean, brush and note any problem areas – don’t take long, but can ultimately pay off financially. “If you want these fields to last, there’s just a few things you need to do. Doing the maintenance is a great value; if you can extend the life of the field by a few years, you can save a ton of money.”
Those who are going to complete fall field renovations using sod need to properly loosen and prepare the subsurface, Wimer emphasizes. Especially in areas such as goalmouths that have sustained heavy compaction, he says it’s critical to get the soil loose prior to installing sod. “You will get some freeze/thaw during the winter, but you don’t want to be laying it on hardpan,” he explains. In small areas, he says a vibratory aerator or tiller can be enough to loosen the soil. From there, soil tests should be used to determine if fertilizer, lime, calcium, etc., should be incorporated into the soil. Finally, the soil should be “firmed up to a common sense level” says Wimer. “You don’t want to be laying sod on 4 inches of fluff.”
Wimer, a Certified Field Builder – Natural Turf through the American Sports Builders Association, recommends that those contracting service providers to handle such projects be sure they choose a qualified professional.
Following football and soccer seasons, Hummer Sports Turf tries to complete whole field renovations (not just on high-traffic areas) before the surface is put to bed for the winter. “We’ll try to aerate, topdress, overseed and fertilize if the weather allows,” he states. “It all depends on the timing and your weather.”
With the cooler weather, fall is a much better time than the hot, dry summer to renovate and overseed turfgrass, says Wimer. For fields without irrigation, it’s especially critical to take advantage of this time period. “I really feel that you have to be aggressive in the fall and get the work done,” he says. “Every field and situation is different; you need to evaluate your factors and schedule to determine what work you can do. If you can get the work done in the fall, you’re ahead of the game in the spring.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in October 2013.