Field maintenance has been compared with death and taxes in that it’s unavoidable. But it doesn’t have to be quite as onerous as that.
One of the questions that does arise, however, is whether the care regimen for a new field – one that has been constructed in the past year or so – differs substantially (or at all) from that of a field that has been used season after season.
While the answer is almost always yes, the degree to which care of each field will differ will depend upon many things. The fundamental question, of course, is going to be whether you’re dealing with two natural fields or two synthetic fields. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume the field manager is faced with two natural fields.
If you have added a second natural field to your existing inventory, and want to know the differences in care, there will be several variables to consider:
- Are the fields fundamentally different, meaning: Is one a native soil field and one a sand-based or otherwise modified system?
- Do they have any differing types of irrigation or drainage systems been installed?
- Are they seeded with the same types of grass?
- Are they being used for different sports or activities?
- Do they have the same slope? (Slope dictates the way water runs off the field and, thus, how well it drains.)
- If they will be used for different sports, will there be activity on them in different seasons?
- Are you the new field manager, and perhaps the older field has not received the level of care it needed in the past?
If fields vary radically, it’s difficult to compare their care (although obviously both will need mowing, weeding, watering, etc.) So, assuming both fields are identical (for example, that a second soccer field has been added to accommodate girls’ soccer so that it no longer has to share a field with the boys’ team), and that soil conditions, drainage and so forth are all the same, what are the things to keep in mind?
It goes without saying that both fields will need to be maintained year-round to keep the turf resistant to wear, insects, weeds and disease. Both will need to be watered, cut and fertilized as necessary. In addition, careful records should be kept regarding each field’s condition, its age, results of regular soil testing, any problems encountered, etc.
Keeping all that in mind, however, the field manager may want to pay attention to a few specific aspects of care that may differentiate an older field from a newer one. (Your new field will need these as well on a regular basis; it simply will not need them immediately, the way your old field may.)
An older field may have experienced more compaction of the soil due to its years of use, and, as a result, may feel harder underfoot. It may have had heavy vehicles parked on it through the years, or been used to host a number of non-athletic events, such as festivals, graduations and so on. All of these serve to compress the soil and harden it. Not only does compaction prevent air from reaching the roots of the turf, it also affects the movement of water and nutrients within the soil and makes it difficult for plant roots to grow.
As a result, care for this facility may include a greater emphasis on aeration than that of a newer field. Air is necessary for the bacteria to break down fertilizers, thatch and mat. Aeration also relieves surface compaction, softening the field, and helps to maintain the integrity of the field’s grade. Core cultivation is perhaps the best-known and most common method, but there are others. Be sure to follow up with topdressing afterwards.
Thatch management will come into play on an older field – particularly one that might not have had this sort of attention to detail. All fields need thatch management on a regular basis, but an older field will have more of a problem. And, while good turfgrass management helps to control the formation of thatch and to reduce the negative effects of excessive thatch, the best method of removing it is through vertical mowing. To determine whether dethatching is necessary, use a golf course hole cutter or a soil sampler to remove a section, then measure the thatch layer. If it’s thicker than 1/2 inch, dethatching will be necessary.
Visually, your older field may look different. Overseeding can help fill in areas where the grass is thin. Your new field may not need this yet, but, over time, all fields develop areas of wear, and this is an effective way to remedy them. Your field builder can recommend a good seed mix for you, based on the soil type, your geographic area and the field’s use.
Get the details
These are only a few aspects of care; what your fields require will vary depending upon the sport(s) the fields will host, your geographic location and more. In all cases, field managers will need to ascertain that both fields drain well, and that the soil contains adequate nutrients for the turf being used.
If you have questions about how the field was constructed or any methods or materials used, speak to your field builder, who can answer these questions in detail. If that person was involved in the construction of other fields in your care, you may be able to tap into additional information and resources.
COVER PHOTO COURTESY OF ISTOCK/SITADE/CA2HILL