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How to Maintain and Renovate Sports Turf


As a sports turf professional, you know fields can take a beating. Avoid deterioration and costly repairs with a maintenance schedule and these renovation tips.

July 26, 2022

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How Fertilizer Feeds Turf

Sports turf is an investment for many communities and organizations. Without proper maintenance, your investment could be compromised. Follow best practices to ensure the field stays pristine for years to come, as an inadequate maintenance schedule can result in turf deterioration, poor surface playability, and risk of player injury. This will also help avoid costly, large repairs.

Scheduling Maintenance 

During the summer, ensure the field has proper irrigation and summer weed control. Additionally, lift cutting heights during the summer season to establish a thicker grass to tolerate winter traffic. 

Aeration on cool season grasses is ideal in spring and fall to relieve compaction and aid drainage. Unfortunately, with sports this may not be possible twice a year. One full aeration should be completed each year and spot aerification of high wear areas throughout the year will help with getting vital oxygen to the turfgrass plants. Apply a high-potassium fertilizer and pre-emergent herbicide (if not seeding) and reduce irrigation frequency as weather cools. 

If you live in an area with warm season fields, aerate in the summer months. Mid-winter aeration is also recommended for warm season grasses to maintain water filtration. This does not apply to cool season grasses in northern climates. 

Winter turf damage typically occurs when soils have an elevated moisture content, turf growth is suboptimal, and the field is used for high-wear sports like soccer. To counteract these issues, fertilize before winter to grow a dense turf cover and conduct turf renovation after the winter season to restore high-traffic areas. 

Another overlooked strategy is to avoid high-traffic areas, like soccer goal mouths or between the hash marks on a football field, during training and practices to reduce wear and tear in these areas. This will help leave a better surface for games. Consider using small turf covers in high-traffic areas during the winter, such as outfielders’ positions and goal mouths, if they will not be used in the winter. 

In the spring, complete an irrigation audit, fertilize, and conduct weed and pest control as needed. Repair high-wear areas. Scarify and topdress fields when warm-season grasses are growing. If overseeding, provide at least 4 weeks with no foot traffic on the field.

Turf Recovery and Renovation

The goal of your maintenance program throughout the year should be to provide even grass cover, continuous drainage, efficient water usage, thatch and weed control, and good fertility, as well as adequate soil moisture over the winter season.

Your unique program will depend on the field’s soil type, turf species, field usage, and required playing surface standards. 

If turf cover needs to be replaced, you have options. You can lay new turf or try plugging or seeding. For larger areas, sod is recommended. If maintaining a cool season turf, it’s best to lay down seed and sod in September-October and it takes a minimum of 6 weeks to establish a strong enough root system for high traffic. Warm season turf should be laid earlier when the temperatures are high enough to establish growth. In that situation, a temporary watering system is also likely needed. 

Renovation also allows you to improve surface levels, especially in worn, hollowed out spots like the goal boxes. Leveling practices depend on the turf fill and cut needed. Do not bury the turf when topdressing, or you risk the turf not recovering. In areas with deep indents, try stripping the turf, loosening topsoil, and laying down sod. 

Controlling thatch is important to avoid excessive matting, which can cause mowing issues and a slower field of play. Best practices for control include aerification and verticutting, or vertical mowing. You can also add sand to verticut or aerified turf to help control the thatch. 

Sports fields commonly have soil compaction issues, causing irrigation and root development issues. Cultivate multiple times a year to stimulate root growth, aerate the profile, relieve compaction, and improve drainage and soil structure. This should be done when soil is moist, not sticky or dry. Tine as deep as possible; usually there are structural limitations such as piping. 

When you cultivate, consider topdressing at the same time. Sand topdressing can improve infiltration and levels. In addition to the sand, this is when soil amendments like lime, gypsum, Mirimichi, etc. should be added as well. The material chosen should be specific to your field. The sand should be similar to the current sand on the field, should offer good drainage even when compacted, and should be free of large material and weed seeds.

Turf Monitoring Best Practices

Monitor your turf maintenance program to access successes and failures. Observation is an easy one- look for wear areas, weeds, insect damage, dry spots, and more. Dig a small hole to assess profile conditions like compaction layers and root depth or use a LESCO soil probe or soil profiler. Conduct a soil test for infiltration and compaction rates, as well as nutrient testing. Worry less about the calendar and focus on steps needed to maintain turf quality.

SiteOne Can Help 

SiteOne is your one-stop shop for all your sports turf maintenance needs. We carry a multitude of brands, including Beacon, DuraEdge, and Turface. If you have any questions, our associates are always ready to help. Visit a local branch, SiteOne.com, or the SiteOne mobile app today to order supplies for the job.