Field maintenance is fairly straightforward--aerate the fields, fertilize, apply extra seed or sod when necessary. Well, not so much. As you probably know from personal experience, how you use each field determines its maintenance program. But unless you run a pro-football stadium, fields often will host multiple sports or events, opening the door for uneven wear and stress on the turf.
Multi-use fields can be rather difficult to maintain because of the varying wear patterns, weather conditions and other stressful situations that arise throughout the year. At Virginia Tech University, maintenance of multi-use fields has become an extremely important issue to tackle since our grounds are under the spotlights--literally. We are currently in basketball season, which draws around 15,000 spectators to campus. Football season brings another 66,000 visitors. But preparation for these guests begins months before their arrival. Year-round planning and proper care can help a field stay healthy and vibrant--even when the field is being used for everything but the sport for which it was intended.
It All Starts With The Turf
Without fail, I get several phone calls a year asking if the football stadium is available for alternate uses, such as a national recording artist’s concert. I love the music, but the thought of staging, canopies, wires and barricades running through the turf is difficult to bear. Fortunately, I always have a plan in my back pocket since multi-tasking is a normal occurrence for the fields. With a few simple steps, you can help a field be ready for anything.
First, consider the type of turf since that determines many elements of a maintenance plan. For a football field that gets a lot of use, I like Bermuda grass because it resists wear better than other turf. My general-maintenance plan then includes aerifying the middle of the field with solid tines, then overseeding with ryegrass.
On the other hand, I prefer Bluegrass on the football-practice field because it endures a different type of stress. Maintenance for this field usually includes extensive divot repair, with sand and seed mix. I also use a Aerway machine to slice through the sod and soil, and relieve compaction. On both fields, because of the constant stresses, I also use a biological fertilizer. Personally, I use endoROOTS, which speeds up grow-ins and helps with turf establishment. I get faster recovery from divot replacement, wear and even aerification.
You’re Using The Field For What?
How the field will be used--or how it might be used--should also influence a maintenance program. Check school schedules to determine--realistically--how much use a practice field will endure. For game fields, I factor in the number of scheduled games along with other events, such as band and cheerleader practices and large-scale concerts. Will the turf take on a usual amount of stress from game play or the weather? Will there be a NCAA championship game or conference tournament on campus that will call for an extra level of scrutiny of the field?
These types of questions will help construct an ideal maintenance plan. Adding extra events and tournaments or even increased stress from extreme weather requires that I raise my maintenance plan to the next level.
For example, on high-use fields, I apply fertilizers, such as ROOTS KCS, that will increase the overall root and plant health of the turf. As I’m constantly evaluating the turf, I may increase the number of times I aerate and reseed. I want to foster the turf’s stress-tolerance levels, harden it for dormancy, and grow a dense plant to handle the stresses that may occur.
For your high-use fields, determine which areas will bear the greatest stress, and focus maintenance efforts on those places. For instance, most of the wear on a football field is down the center, while soccer and lacrosse fields experience the most wear at the goal areas. Baseball fields usually wear most around first and third base and around dugout areas. Again, overseeding and aerifying are the keys to relieving compaction issues in worn areas, but frequent maintenance can make it difficult to keep the field “picture perfect.”
While ideally you should plan ahead for upcoming situations, maintaining a multi-use field often means you’re forced to focus on whatever sport is “in season.” For instance, I have one field that is used for both soccer and lacrosse. In the fall, I focus my maintenance on soccer then when spring rolls around, my maintenance shifts to lacrosse. The turf is continually maintained, but a greater emphasis is applied to areas of the turf experiencing stress.
But My Turf Isn’t Real
Maintenance remains important even with synthetic turf, requiring more effort as these surfaces age. At Virginia Tech, one practice field made of synthetic turf boasts white lines sewn in for soccer and yellow lines sewn in for lacrosse. At five years old, the field requires more maintenance than when it was first built, but continual maintenance has helped keep it in good shape. We regularly add more crumb rubber, and drag the field once a month to eliminate debris, leaves or snow.
Maintaining multi-use fields, whether natural or synthetic, involves more planning than maintaining a single-use field, but it does not have to be more difficult. Personally, I find it easier to prepare ahead of time for unexpected stress and wear patterns--plan for the worst-case scenario! That way, when a field is in the spotlight for that big game or concert, the turf is ready to go--no matter what it has endured in previous weeks or months.
Jason Bowers is the Sports Turf/Athletic Grounds Manager at Virginia Tech University. Before his current position, he worked as an Assistant Superintendent at Whiskey Creek and Beaver Creek Country Club in Maryland, and as a Turf Specialist at Bozzuto Landscaping. He graduated from Virginia Tech with an Associate’s Degree in Agricultural Technology. Bowers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.