Spring Ahead To Healthy Turf

If the goal is healthy, quality turf without the use of pesticides, implementing an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program is a way to get the desired results. IPM programs have been used for gardens and greenhouses for years, and can be implemented any place where pesticides have been used. The goal is to reduce pesticide use while keeping the plants healthy, making them less susceptible to pests (weeds, insects, disease).

This type of program provides thick, healthy turf, and isn’t difficult to start. Advance planning through winter and into spring will provide ideal conditions for a successful program. Even the basics will provide results.


Tanya Steffler, with a Bachelor of Science in Plant Biology, advises monitoring fields prior to season opening. “Preparation begins in December or January as user groups want to know what fields will be available for the next season,” Steffler says. “You have to ensure the fields are ready for use. Once you see their condition, you can then plan out the maintenance for the season.” While some maintenance is routine, early monitoring guarantees that each field gets proper attention.

Get On The Spring Schedule

A great deal of what is done in spring affects the summer growing season. Getting a head start will provide a healthier turf for the rest of the season. Steffler adds, “I monitor the sports fields and determine which ones require maintenance. I observe and determine if any fields have problems that need correcting—diseases, stones, bare spots, damage. At that time I determine if any fields need to remain closed longer than anticipated (e.g., sod not knitting properly, damage or other unforeseen reasons).” Next, she determines the products that will be used and the rate at which they will be applied. Sheets detailing the products to be used and where, the amount (volume), rates and necessary completion date are distributed to the operators responsible for field maintenance. Weather also is a major variable during this time. If the fields are too wet and the equipment sinks into the soggy ground, the amount of planning done in advance doesn’t matter.

Initial Program Expense

Steffler states that it is difficult to determine the exact cost, since each field is given its own maintenance schedule. Fertilizer is based on soil test results. Aeration is based on compaction and over-seeding, topdressing, compost and kelp, if required.

The biggest cost is the initial purchase of equipment. However, an IPM program can be started with minimal equipment. Much depends on what funds are available. Steffler advises, “If no funds are available, the grass-cutting mowers can be set at a height of 3 inches. If there are small funds available, then an over-seeder or aerator is the best purchase.” Other equipment that can be added down the line includes:

· Fertilizer spreader

· Liquid boom spray (foliar fertilizer, kelp, compost, tea)

· Core/slit aerator with different tines

· Top dresser

· Compost tea brewer

There are many equipment types available if the money is available. Do research to determine what equipment is best for your goals. Steffler advises when researching the right equipment for the job, it is important to buy only what is necessary. “There is lots of useful information out there,” she says. “Just use common sense. Remember if someone is trying to sell you something, they just might tell you whatever you want to hear. Be cautious.”

How Does An IPM Program Work?

In order to maintain a successful IPM program, the turf needs to be healthy. If it is weak to start, it will succumb to insects and disease. If there are bare spots, turf weeds will fill in those gaps. Steffler recommends the following steps:

· Mow high. Three inches is best (although some sports groups will disagree).

· Fertilize only with what is required, which can be determined by conducting soil tests every two years. Excess fertilizer runs off, wasting time and money.

· Only water 1inch per week (including rain). To measure, put out a margarine container and turn on the sprinklers! When there’s an inch in the container, turn off the sprinkler. (You can, of course, use a rain gauge.) More than that causes diseases and weak turf. Too little water results in shallow roots, and in a hot, dry spell it will die.

· Treat the soil. Healthy soil equals healthy turf. Turf will be unable to grow on barren soil.

· Over-seed.

· Keep the turf thick—do not allow bare spots.

· Call in professionals if necessary.


If a field has to remain closed longer than anticipated, user groups get frustrated. Sometimes a problem arises (e.g., the turf turning yellow) and the cause cannot be determined. Monitoring all fields in a short period of time can be challenging, as it has to be completed after the snow has melted but before April, when maintenance begins. “Trying to keep user groups off the sports field, if it’s a dry spring, is a big challenge,” says Steffler. “There will always be eager beavers. Count on some damage being done.”

When it comes to pest control (insects, weeds, diseases and rodents), there are different options: beneficial insects, such as lady bugs, praying mantises and parasitic wasps. For Steffler, the biggest insect problem is grubs. However, they are not a problem if the fields don’t provide the ideal conditions for them, which is why a good IPM program is important. If a pest reaches a pre-determined threshold limit (a number given to a population of pests that will cause irreversible damage), pesticides can be used for control.

Regardless of challenges that may hinder an IPM program initially, the benefits of implementing a schedule and sticking to it will pay off during the most important season--playtime.

Tanya Steffler may be reached at 905-697-0570, stefflert@rogers..com or by mail at 22 Jane St., Bowmanville, ON L1C 1G1 Canada

Sheryl Noble is a freelance writer in Medina, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at s.noble@zoominternet.net