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#AskATS Sports Turf Edition

April 15, 2020 | Categories: ,

Thoughts on hydroseeding bluegrass for soccer fields? Past experience, pros and cons? Compared to traditional slit? –@_GodMadeAFarmer

Brian Winka: “I don’t have any experiences hydroseeding soccer fields, but I know that it can be an economically effective way to seed if needed. I prefer slit seeding with a good seeder, like a Charterhouse, because it ensures the best seed-to-soil contact along with being able to control the rate and the depth of planting. Those are the most significant factors to me when it comes to seeding any field to ensure success outside of moisture control.”

Marcus Dean: “I have never hydroseeded an athletic field before, but I do have experience hydroseeding common areas with fescue. I think hydroseeding is underutilized in Kentucky, and if you pick the correct mulch combined with Foliar-Pak the results will be astounding.”

TJ Derrick: “I do not have any experience with hydroseeding a sports field or having one done in the areas that I covered over the years. However, working on various projects, I have witnessed hydroseeding be successful in common areas with cool-season grasses. I do feel it is underutilized and can benefit fields. If someone was looking to seed their field after construction, due to the timing of sodding/sprigging on a warm-season grass, it could be used to get the grass established for the season.”

What are some cost-effective ways to improve a field’s drainage problems? –@KorySmoot

Brian Winka: “Drainage issues tend to fall into two categories on sports fields: skinned infields and turf areas. For skinned infields, the solution is to ensure that the field has positive surface drainage. Infields are made to shed water, so we want to have surface drainage. This means having a grade that will move water off the infield, but not too fast. Anything over a 1.0% grade on a skin will move water too quickly and can cause materials to move and create erosion. Often, a simple laser grade can be the answer for skinned infields.

Several variables are going to be taken into consideration in the turfgrass areas. The main variables are soil type, compaction, and the grade of the field. A SandMaster and machines like it are great tools to cut in sand channels into the soil to help with drainage, create a better root zone and help relieve compaction all in one pass. I recommend this service on a lot of the fields that are having issues.

Adding drain tiles is another option that can be applied to sports fields. This works great if the grades are good, and water has the ability to move toward the drain tiles and then exit the field. Drain tiles alone will not work if the grade is not conducive to moving water. So, having the grade fixed on the field would be the first step if you wanted to add drain tiles, in my opinion.”

Marcus Dean: “There are several options to improve a field’s drainage problems: deep tine aerification, vertical aeration, vertical aeration filled sand trenches (SandMaster), or drainage tile. Deep tining will break up the hardpan that has been created by constant aerification at the same depth, which results in shattering the soil and allowing more gaseous exchange and water infiltration. I have personally used a deep tine machine with 1.235″ coring tines after a few aerifications along with topdressing. You can change a soil profile pretty quickly with the right tines and topdressing material. Another good option is to mix in some Profile Field and Fairway calcined clay into your topdressing mix.

Vertical aeration with a machine like the Verti-Quake is a great way to break up a hardpan. It can penetrate 10” deep. There is no mess or clean up. This is a practice that I actually love and performed as much as possible as a Sports Turf Manager. Performing this practice on 90-degree angles will result in immediate improvement in drainage. Watch a video demonstration of the Verti-Quake in action here.

Vertical aeration filled sand trenches with a machine like the SandMaster is instant infiltration improvement. I can’t imagine the excitement I would have had as a Sports Turf Manager if I had access to a SandMaster while growing grass! This machine will perform all the above benefits of the Verti-Quake and backfill the trench/slit with sand allowing the water to infiltrate much faster than your original rootzone. Another great option is to have Profile Field and Fairway or calcined clay mix into your sand. Watch a video demonstration of the SandMaster in action here.

At the end of the day, nothing beats a properly built athletic field that was constructed out of the correct rootzone material and graded correctly for positive surface runoff. But we don’t live in a perfect world either.”

TJ Derrick: “This is an issue that comes up all too often. A properly constructed field is the best option. But, most of the time, those are hard to find. Whether it is due to budget, not amending the soil that is on-site for the project, or being told the ‘topsoil’ on-site is suitable for your fields, this is something that most STM will battle from parks and recreation to high/middle schools. Deep tine aerification is one option that works to break up the hardpan below that was created over years of either not aerifying or using the same depth, hole size, or tine every year. The best option in the base is if you can pull a core and remove some of that existing material and topdress to fill the aerification holes with either USGA spec sand or a calcined clay product.

Along with this practice, there has also been sand channeling equipment produced to help create channels and improve the water-shedding/drainage, all while decompacting the soil. The SandMaster is one example. It is a great tool to help change the profile as well as creating the slits backfilled with sand to help move water through the channels, thus improving drainage and compaction.

Adding calcined clay products into the sand would help, also. Whether it is core aerification, topdressing, or being able to amend your rootzone with the product, there are significant benefits to having calcined in rootzone.

Fraize mowing is another option that can improve fields. It removes the top layer of thatch and organic matter, allowing the playing surface to rejuvenate itself. I have witnessed fraize mowing aid fields that are ‘spongy’ in that top layer and improve the quality of the playability of the field as well as the plant health. We are seeing this practice being used more and more due to the benefits that people are getting with better playing surfaces and over time leveling out some of those troubled high/low areas.”

What’s your biggest challenge in the turf industry? How about with COVID-19? -@bigcuzelswick

Brian Winka: “COVID-19 has effected everyone in the green industry, but maybe the sports world more than anyone. Golf and lawn care have been able to work within the rules of social distancing for the most part, but sports have been shut down at all levels. The shutdowns have a direct effect on the bottom line and maintenance budgets.

On a positive side, some of the detail work that seems to get pushed aside, because of the amount of play or activities that sports turf managers typically deal with, have been getting done at many of the facilities I have visited. I’ve witnessed more clean edges on infields and warning tracks than I have ever seen this time of year. I applaud those sports turf managers who are making the best of this situation and are improving the safety and playability of their fields. This will not go unnoticed.”

Marcus Dean: “I think the biggest challenge in turf is getting the uneducated people educated, whether that be your neighbor, administrator, school board member, coach, parents, etc. I should clarify that there are multiple categories for uneducated too: those that have never been exposed to the information, those that refuse to believe it’s any different than mowing your lawn, those that know more than you, or those that have bought into the programmed hype via some media platform, a recent event, or marketing campaign.”  

TJ Derrick: “Some of the biggest challenges that I come across in the industry are not being able to show all parties involved the benefits of what we do day in and day out and why doing it right the first time usually costs less down the road. This may include the higher-ups in a government entity, athletic directors, board members, or even some design teams. There seems to be this thought that anyone can build a field. While I am not here to debate that, the Sports Turf Managers Association(STMA) or American Sports Builders Association(ASBA) have set guidelines and parameters in which fields should be built. Other STM’s are also great resources. Talking with them and learning from what they have gone through in the past with field builds can be very beneficial.

As far as COVID-19 goes, this is something that none of us in our lifetimes, including grandparents, have gone through. Most of us are on social media and viewing how some are using this time for in-house projects that they have wanted to do, but the schedule would not allow. For example, some are removing ryegrass earlier, thus giving warm-season grasses more time to grow in, while others are trying some new practices.

This has also been a challenging time as some have laid off part-time staff or hours have been cut back to save some money. Yet, we all understand that grass does not take a break, and if rain hits and the fields wash out, you still have to be able to repair them. For the most part, I do feel as though most are using this time to jump-start their facilities and try things that we have all wished we could do, but due to timing, we have not been able to do.”

Why is [it] so hard to convince high schools that real grass is way cheaper in the long run rather than putting in fake grass, especially when real grass is so environmentally friendly and easier on players? –@PhippsBert

Brian Winka: “I have wrestled with this for many years, including a lost battle with my own kids’ school district. From my conversations over the years with Athletic Directors and School Superintendents, it comes down to schedules. They want to know that regardless of weather conditions, the games can still be played.

The other part is that we as an industry and as sports turf managers have lost the marketing battle to the carpet companies. They make the decision easy, while in the natural world, we give them too many variables: native field vs. sand field, sand capped vs. sand-based, warm-season or cool-season, etc.

I knew the numbers. I kept them for years when I was a manager. As a result, I could have an informed conversation about the true cost of a natural field. I read research about playability and player safety along with the environmental impacts of a plastic field to continue the conversation; however, at the end of the day, most schools just want to have an ‘easy button.’ In most cases, the money comes from a bond issue that is tied in with other items that are needed for the school, so it passes. The money from bonds can be used for capital projects but not for ongoing maintenance, which typically comes out of the school’s general fund.”

Marcus Dean: “Natural grass growers have always been flexible and able to work within a specific budget in an effort to be a team player with the coaches, school administrators, local governments, league officials, etc. Synthetic turf companies require you to put a specific base and drainage system in, or they will not lay their carpet on your base. If natural grass growers had the benefit of putting the same amount of money into drainage as a synthetic turf field, the results would be a little different. I am not totally against synthetic turf. It has its place in our business. Both sides of the debate have their skeletons and warts, which has created a bad picture for the rest of the industry.

Whether a field is natural grass or synthetic turf, field builders can do a lousy job building both types of fields. As a customer, you should call and visit as many of the past field builder’s projects and references. If working with a consulting firm, please hire a firm that has extensive experience designing and consulting in athletic field construction, (ASK ABOUT THEIR INVOLVEMENT IN STMA OR STC ORGANIZATIONS). If you are a hiring official, please hire a Certified Sports Field Manager who is board certified and understands the fake news compared to the facts. Would you go to a Doctor that wasn’t board-certified? NOPE. As a turf manager, please strive to educate yourself and everyone else as much as possible, and aim to obtain your CSFM!”

TJ Derrick: “This is a big challenge, and honestly, I have asked myself this question for years. What it costs to artificial turf one field and what we spend on the one field over that same span is not even close. I do recognize that there are some instances where synthetic has a place, like a situation with landlocked, minimum green space, or too many teams and not enough field space to accommodate. But, there are also many instances occurring where it does not have a place. For example, when a facility wants to be the first one to do it in the area or to keep up with the group down the road.

I have asked several AD’s this question, ‘If you take the cost of the artificial turf field and divide it by the 10-year life expectancy, are you spending that same dollar amount on the field now? What about your entire complex?’ Most of them say they are not spending close to that. I have not won all of my artificial turf battles. Still, I do feel if we compared apples to apples and put the same money in each year to natural turf that it cost us to put in artificial turf, then the natural surface would never get to the point where we felt artificial was needed.”