Make your facility more eco-friendly

Maintaining healthy, green turf is the main objective of most sports field managers. However, in today’s environmentally concerned climate, many turf managers have created green initiatives at their facilities so that they can also be considered environmentally responsible. There’s no one right way to accomplish this. Sports field managers from all around the country utilize a variety of the latest products and technologies to be more water and energy efficient.

The Westside Sports Complex fields are less than two years old, and soil temps at a 6-inch depth are less than 60 degrees. Humates and other organics were used to enhance green-up.

Joel McKnight is deputy general services director for the city of El Paso, Texas. He manages a staff of 78 who maintain all of the city parks and sports fields. This city of 700,000 people supports 105 playing fields, 35 of which are designated high-quality game fields. Sixty percent of the game fields are flat soccer/football fields, and the remainder are baseball/softball diamonds.

In the El Paso high desert, McKnight says irrigation water is in “limited supply.” To maximize the water available, his staff uses foliar fertilizers on the 35 game fields.

“With our foliar program, we utilize some of the latest spray application equipment so that we can be more precise. We try to apply what we feel the plant needs at that time based on visual, on growth and clippings, as well as a baseline soil analysis. About every other week we’re putting something down on those fields when it comes to the foliar nutrients. These are true foliar applications, not just liquid applications. So we can have more of a spoon-feeding and have a more controlled growth rate that also requires less water. A lot of times people will spray liquids, but they’re not a foliar,” McKnight says.

The Westside Sports Complex in El Paso, Texas, two and a half months after a record-setting freeze event hit the region: 72 hours below freezing and in the middle of a drought.

Michael Cavanaugh is co-owner of Floratine Products Group, a Tennessee-based company that produces, among other products, foliar fertilizers. Cavanaugh explains that a foliar fertilizer is sprayed as a very fine mist directly on the turf leaf blade. The product is absorbed by the leaf blade instead of by the root, and is therefore not dependent on it going into the soil. Of the more than 35 foliar products Floratine produces, Cavanaugh says two products stand out for foliar sports field use. Power 24-0-0 is a nitrogen foliar product, and Largo is a turf iron product that captures chlorophyll to provide a nice green color.

This Westside Sports Complex overseeded soccer field was treated with a nutrient program that was 90 percent foliar throughout fall and winter.

“Our products will give a turf manager the control he or she needs to be very specific on their inputs. They will not be putting more product down than the turf needs. It’s a very accurate and very controlled delivery of nutrients,” Cavanaugh says.

“Other reasons for us going to more of a foliar program are where we can spoon-feed, we keep even growth and not have a ton of clippings to pick up,” McKnight says.

In this trial for overseeding, Field Magic was applied at 40 pounds per 1,000 square feet of topdressing (right). There was an increase in germination while using one -third of the water.

The fertilizer program is not the only green initiative McKnight uses. In landscape areas, the staff no longer plants annuals. Instead, they use mostly native plants, reducing the amount of water needed for plant establishment. The field lighting is now all programmed by computer, as opposed to a mechanical timer system, that provides “less chance of having lighting on all night.” They’re using more energy-efficient lighting, as well.

Chad Huss, the Arizona head groundskeeper for the Oakland Athletics at their player development site at the Papago Sports Complex and the spring training facility at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, manages six ball fields and two half-fields, all grassed with 419 bermudagrass that is overseeded each winter.

In November 2010, Huss began experimenting with Ready Play Field Magic at the Arizona facility. The product is a super-absorbent sand that has a polymer incorporated into it. Andy Larned, national sales director for AquaSmart, the company that manufactures Field Magic, says the product can absorb 12 times its weight in water. Field Magic is distributed by Ewing Irrigation, Golf & Industry Products and can be used as a topdressing sand, as part of the soil base underneath new sod, or as a part of the clay mix for infield skins.

Huss first used it when he was overseeding to get ready for the 2011 spring training season. “I mixed it with my topdressing sand after I did my process of overseeding, and then I topdressed it with my topdressing mix with Ready Play mixed in. I did one full infield,” Huss says. “The results I found? We ended up cutting our water back from normally eight or nine minutes a zone. We cut it back down to three minutes, five times a day. So I basically cut it from 45 minutes down to about 15 minutes per day watering to get the grass to grow in. And my germination rate was a lot higher. The infield looked more dense than anything else early on. Eventually everything else caught up, but it was three weeks to a month ahead of all of the other turf on any of the other fields. The grass was actually a lot taller, too. It was pretty impressive what [it] did by holding the moisture there and cutting back my water. It was pretty awesome.”

Huss says he’s now using the Field Magic by Ready Play for all of his overseeding and in his infields, too.

“Pretty much all my infields on the clay surface, they have Ready Play in them. It’s definitely holding a lot more moisture so we can water less,” Huss says. “What happens in Phoenix here in rookie ball, when we start a game, by the second or third inning the infield is dry. We couldn’t hold moisture in the past. So, the playability becomes harder for the infielders because it does get hard from the sun baking on it. Now that we have the Ready Play put in, it’s holding moisture until the seventh or eighth inning. So our players won’t complain that the field’s too firm, too hard, because we’re holding the moisture now in the infield, which is pretty impressive out here in the sun.

“This is pretty much the only thing I’ve ever tried to save water,” Huss says. “Once more people find out about this, once people start using it and water is cut back, I think it should become the norm.”

The brand-new Marlins Park stadium, home of the Miami Marlins, is LEED certified (meaning it meets nationally recognized green building standards). Marlins Park is the nation’s first retractable roof major league baseball stadium to obtain LEED certification, and only the third ballpark overall to reach any level of LEED certification. The facility opened in April. Along with the stadium’s no-flush toilets and automatic light switches, Chad Mulholland, director of grounds at Marlins Park, says his turf management program is also green.

Field Magic at Yankee Stadium.

For irrigation, Muholland says the facility uses primarily the 8000 series rotor pop-up sprinklers from Rain Bird.

“The spray pattern and the versatility of them, you can adjust them left or right. Miami is very windy, so at any time if we want to we can adjust our heads to overlap certain areas to make up for the wind,” Mulholland says. “We get better distribution, so I think we water more efficiently. So, I guess in a way, it does save water.”

Kevin Oglesby is in water management product sales for Ewing Irrigation, Golf & Industry Products, based in Phoenix, Ariz. Ewing distributes high-efficiency irrigation heads from Hunter and Toro, as well as the 8005 rotors from Rain Bird.

Oglesby says the high-efficiency nozzles on the irrigation systems allow for “lower application rates, larger droplet size so there’s not so much wind drift, and better distribution uniformity altogether … I’ve seen it as high as a 30 percent increase in distribution uniformity … You’re actually getting water on the turf at a lower rate, the water saturates into the soil better. With the larger water droplets, it’s actually hitting the ground. Where with traditional spray heads, which were a mist, you would lose a lot of water to evaporation. It was evaporating before it hit the ground. These high-efficiency nozzles are actually getting the moisture to the soil. You’re not losing 30 percent to evaporation.”

Mulholland also uses what can be considered a green fertilization program at Marlins Park.

“For our fertilizer program, we try to go as organic as we can. We try to use a lot of natural sources whether it’s humic acids, black castings, things along those lines,” Mulholland says. “Most of our granular is also organic from Nature Safe or Sanctuary or River Works. We just try to keep it as earth-friendly as possible. We have a low watershed down here. Being so close to the water table, I think we’re about 4 feet above sea level at the ballpark, so we try to be very conscious of what might go back into the water table.”

Mulholland says there are many reasons for going green. “I like the fact that we have a lot of extra events and we know that if we’re putting something down we’re reducing the risk of not only the footprint on the environment, but we don’t want somebody coming in and getting hurt or having a reaction. Most everything we put down is pretty safe.”

Of going green at sports facilities, Mulholland says, “It’s the right thing to do. If you’ve got the technology to do it, why not?”

The author is a freelance writer and photographer based in Burlington, Wash.