Portable power tools make quick work of field maintenance

Sports field maintenance often requires the big guns: wide-area mowers, boom sprayers, utility vehicles and tractors with three-point-hitch attachments, but there also are times when a more precise touch is required. Hand-held power equipment is generally designed and marketed for the landscape industry, but many of these products are right at home on sports fields.

The Atom Edger from Seago International gives sports field managers an accurate way to edge even curved lines.

“We make landscaping equipment, which is very similar to what’s needed to maintain sports fields,” explains John Powers, product manager with Echo. He says that given the demands of caring for sports fields, it’s best to look for professional-grade, hand-held power equipment. For example, Echo’s most popular commercial model of trimmer, the SRM 266, is well suited for heavy use on and around sports fields, Powers notes. Echo also offers the SRM 266T model, which provides 50 percent more torque. This unit is specially designed for locations with tough, thick grass species such as bermudagrass or St. Augustinegrass. It’s also built to be able to stand up in applications where the trimmer is also used for edging.

Commercial-grade equipment, such as Efco’s SA 2700 BP backpack blower, is built to stand up to professional landscaping use, and therefore is well suited to the demands of sports field maintenance.

When staffing and equipment budgets are limited, Powers recommends that groundskeepers consider purchasing multipurpose hand-held power equipment. One example is Echo’s Pro Attachment Series, a professional-grade system that allows the user to select from 17 attachments. Starting with a base unit, different attachments can be fitted for common maintenance tasks such as trimming and edging.

Powers notes that some of the system’s attachments that would be relevant for sports field managers might be overlooked. “We have a dethatcher; it’s a heavy-duty attachment,” he explains. “It doesn’t have quite the width of a wheeled product, but does a great job on smaller areas.” If there’s a trouble spot on a large football or soccer field, for example, this offers a quick, convenient alternative to hauling out a large dethatcher. This hand-held option might also work for keeping baseball infield turfgrass in top condition.

Another attachment is the Pro Paddle, which provides power sweeping capabilities. “It has a rubber fin paddle, and it’s designed to clean debris off grass without damaging the grass,” Powers explains. He says this attachment is popular in the Northeast and other cold weather areas for cleaning sand and gravel off grass in the spring after the snow is gone. It’s also useful for getting infield dirt off of adjacent grass and back onto the base paths on ball fields, or for clearing dirt and debris off grass after any type of digging has been done to repair an irrigation system, etc. A blower attachment is also available. While not generating quite the same power as a larger backpack unit, it does help get smaller blowing jobs done quickly.

For sports fields where blowers are required as a regular part of maintenance duties, it’s probably best to consider a dedicated unit. Kelley Timothy, marketing and sales specialist with Efco, says the company offers several different products suited to the demands of sports field maintenance. These include Efco’s SA 2700 BP and SA 2062 backpack blowers. Though designed for commercial landscape applications, Kelley observes that sports field applications require the same levels of power and durability. The SA 2700 BP, for example, weighs about 14 pounds and has a maximum air speed of 145 mph to help move debris quickly and effectively. The unit is also designed to reduce noise output, which may be of interest to groundskeepers who have to work around fans, players, students or neighbors.

Echo’s Pro Attachment Series lets sports field managers choose from 17 different attachments to handle maintenance tasks ranging from trimming to edging to dethatching (shown) to blowing, all with a single powerhead.

The Efco line also includes trimmers and edgers, but Kelley points out another product that is worth considering adding to the equipment shed. “The one product that sports field managers may not be aware of is an earth auger that could be useful in posthole digging,” says Kelley. “The TR 1551 has multiple bit sizes available for a multitude of uses.”

The model is set up for one-person operation, has a 50.2cc engine and can run bits ranging from 3 to 8 inches in diameter, depending on the application. Extension pieces are available for extra-deep holes. Possible uses include assisting with the installation of irrigation system components, planting trees or shrubs around a sports field, installing fence posts, or installing footers for bleachers or dugouts – anything that requires digging a hole quickly and neatly.

Spot spraying is a part of sports field maintenance, and often it doesn’t make sense to haul out a large boom sprayer to apply herbicides or pesticides on just a few small areas. A backpack sprayer is a good solution. Maruyama offers a new line of Guardian compact sprayers that are powered by rechargeable batteries. This means no hand pumping and ensures a more constant pressure. The battery-powered units are also quiet, so there’s no disturbance to those nearby or attention attracted to the spraying.

Beyond the use of high-quality, professional-level landscaping equipment, there are hand-held power tools designed specifically with sports field applications in mind. Seago International provides a variety of these types of tools. Scott Sweeney, president, says that one of the company’s most popular products among sports field managers is the Atom Edger. “It’s a bit of a unique design, with the wheelbarrow design and a single wheel, and also a double-blade setup,” he explains. “With a traditional large, three-wheeled edger you’re pushing a lot of material and often the belt ends up slipping.”

While these larger edgers perform well in straight lines – along the first or third base lines on a baseball infield, for example – they don’t fare as well with the curved edging required along the infield/outfield transition or around the pitcher’s mound, home plate or the warning track, Sweeney notes. “The beauty of the Atom Edger is that because it has a single wheel, you can cut circles as small as a manhole cover,” he explains.

Sweeney says it’s easy to use and more accurate than a stick edger. It’s also operator friendly. “It has a fully enclosed blade guard. There are a lot of chips when you’re working on hard ground on a ball field, and the guard really increases the safety factor,” he states. “It’s the kind of machine you can operate wearing shorts and still be in good shape at the end of the day, which is rare with edgers.”

Seago International’s PortaPump lets groundskeepers quickly clear puddles of water to quickly get fields back in play.

One frequent problem experienced at sports fields constructed without extensive drainage is puddling. Getting the field playable again as quickly as possible means removing surface water. That can mean hauling out and setting up a large generator and pump or hoping that an electric pump is powerful enough to get the job done. One alternative that keeps costs down while packing plenty of power is the PortaPump.

“It’s basically a one-man pumping station. It’s a 33-GPM pump head on the end of a stick edger,” says Sweeney. “It’s proven to be great on sports fields, because it’s so portable.” The unit offers a self-priming pump powered by a 35cc Honda engine. It’s roughly the size of a weed whacker, allowing a single person to clear the water without assistance.

The PortaPump can be hooked up to a standard 1.25-inch hose, and the pump is capable of forcing water through as much as 100 feet of hose and over a 20-foot rise, ensuring that a groundskeeper can get the water far away from the playing field. It can be used to clear a lot of water away from a blocked drainage culvert or to suck a small amount of water from a puddle.

“If you have a tournament starting in two hours and you get a thunderstorm that rolls through and drops a couple inches of rain, one person can go out there and clear the field in a matter of minutes,” concludes Sweeney. “It’s one of those tools that you won’t use every day, but for the times when you need it, it does a fantastic job.” Those are exactly the kinds of tools you need when caring for quality sports fields.

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 15 years. He is based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for unusual stories.