Field of Dreams

The end of the spring sports season usually means it is time for facility managers to focus on preparing athletic facilities for the fall. The task isn’t an easy one — there is a lot to be done within about a two-month timeframe. When planning the summer work, it is necessary to address the maintenance and renovation of natural grass and synthetic fields, tennis courts and running tracks.

Natural Grass Surfacing
A vigorous and well-groomed athletic playing surface is critical not only for effective play activity, but also for participant safety. Consider adjusting the mowing heights slightly higher (2.5 to 3 in.) during the summer to promote the turf’s stress tolerance by building a stronger root, rhizome and crown system. Six weeks prior to first use of the field, gradually lower the playing height of the turf by 1/3 in. per week, always remembering that at no time should more than 1/3 of the grass blade be removed at any one time. Just as irrigation schedules require adjustments in fall when evapotranspiration rates diminish, irrigation schedules require slight increases to compensate for summer conditions. It is critical that sufficient water be applied during any single irrigation to wet the soil to the full depth of the rooting zone; frequent light sprinkling should be avoided.

To respect water conservation, conduct an irrigation audit of your system addressing its efficient operation, soil type and turf-rooting depths, and the watering requirements of your turf fields. Light fertilizer and nutrient applications can be made during the summer if the fields are used intensively. In preparation for fall use, schedule a more significant fertilizer application several weeks before time of use, with supplemental applications made later. Monitor turf conditions for control of disease, insects and weeds. Implement a rigorous prevention and maintenance program treating only affected areas, in contrast to total preventive applications. Remember that the most effective weed and insect control is a dense, actively growing, healthy turf.

Compaction of the turf root zones is one of the most limiting conditions for the management of a healthy system. This condition commonly occurs within the hash marks of a football field, the creases of a soccer or lacrosse field and in more subtle areas such as the linesman’s paths on a soccer field or each five-yard line where the marching band practices.

When soil becomes compacted, the soil structure is physically destroyed. Aeration is critical for correcting compaction, as it allows increased amounts of water and oxygen to infiltrate the soil and promote root development. Aeration aids in the movement of fertilizer into the soil profile and helps to remove thatch buildup. Aeration equipment varies from three-in.-depth solid tines to hollow tines and vibration/shattering systems that penetrate the soil deeper than one ft. It is important to assess the compaction conditions of each field and prescribe an aeration program that most effectively addresses the specific area.

Combine aeration activities with topdressing activities to address surface irregularities and other drainage conditions. When topdressing, pay particular attention to the soil mix to avoid layering and water movement problems. Seeding should be an on-going operation. Seed after every aeration or topdressing. Consider pregermination of seedlings if there is pressure to quickly achieve a turf established from seed.

Synthetic Field Surfacing Systems
Inspect the field and repair any tears or damaged areas. Clean and rinse the synthetic field per the specific manufacturer’s recommendations to remove stains and accumulated foreign substances, including gum, vehicle oils and beverages. An infill system should be groomed and“freshened” to address any areas of infill migration and help soften the playing surface.

Tennis and Track Facilities
Inspect tennis court pavements for accelerated wear areas and cracking. Keep all playing surfaces free of debris and accumulated grass clippings. After summer recreational use, address crack repair and resurfacing needs of the pavements.

Similarly, keep synthetic track surfacing systems clean of debris and grass clippings that accelerate wear. Mechanical sweepers or high-powered blowers are effective in maintaining a clean surface. Pay particular attention to mowing operations adjacent to tracks to avoid damaging the synthetic system. Trim lawn edges of track pavement boundaries to maintain a distinct separation of track from lawn. Adjust gates to avoid damage on synthetic surfacing. Inspect the general wearing pattern on the surface. If accelerated wear is occurring in the first two or three lanes because of recreational use, consider installing rotating gates that direct the recreational track user to the outer lanes, thereby extending the life of the track surfacing.

These guidelines are simple, relatively inexpensive ways to extend the life of a school’s athletic facilities. It is also important for sports field managers and athletic facility managers to keep good records and communicate with other professionals such as the Sports Turf Managers Association to stay abreast of the latest trends and developments in athletic facility maintenance.

BY RICHARD WEBB, ASLA, CASI Webb is vice president and director of Landscape Architecture of Kaestle Boos Associates Inc. He has more than 25 years of professional landscape architectural experience with the firm and focuses much of his effort in the areas of athletic facilities and educational-site and municipal-site design. For more information, visit .