Late Fall Winterization Of Athletic Fields
It is crucial to the over all health and vigor of an athletic field playing surface to receive the proper winterization, although depending on the surface you are dealing with the timing may differ. Football and soccer fields for instance may have play well into November which will have no bearing on the late fall aeration & fertilization but if seeding is going to be necessary to restore density you have the option of dormant seeding late fall or seeding early next spring. Dormant seeding should be done late enough into the season (late Nov.) to ensure no germination will be taking place until next spring as long as the seed stays within the soil profile, such as slice seeding. But regardless of the playing surface a late fall aeration should be done (mid Oct. thru Nov.) with the option of over seeding at that time, followed by a late fall dormant feeding (late Nov.) Since every fall is different weather wise it’s crucial to wait until air temperatures are cool enough that top growth has slowed down tremendously but the root system still active for uptake. A very common mistake made is applying the dormant application too early forcing continued release and top growth, leaving very little nutrient for the grass plant to store over winter. There are multiple benefits to a dormant fertilization such as replacing essential nutrients and carbohydrates lost throughout the season, over winter stress protection, earlier spring green up, a deeper root system, promotion of turf vigor and density. And in my opinion the most important benefit, a more stress tolerant grass plant next season to with stand the punishing effects of heavy foot traffic and the hot, humid summers we deal with. All mineral analysis are still recommended for dormant applications, meaning fertilizer’s containing no slow release nitrogen delivering at least 1 lb. to 1.5 lbs. of N. per 1000 sq. ft. depending on the amount applied throughout the previous season. An athletic field should receive at least 5 to 6 lbs. of N. (per 1000 sq. ft.) per year on native soils. 8 to 10 lbs. of N. if dealing with sand based fields.
Although 46-0-0 urea is still a popular analysis to use as a dormant fertilization, athletic fields will benefit even more using fertilizer analysis with potassium in them. We have seen a significant decrease of the percentage of potash being used on residential fertilization programs due to the increased costs they add to a bag of fertilizer but should not be skimped on an athletic field program. Potassium benefits are root growth, heat, cold and drought stress tolerance, internal water management, heavy traffic tolerance and disease susceptibility. So fertilizer analysis such as a 34-0-4 AM, 34-0-8 AM or 34-0-15 AM would be highly recommended. The last mowing of the year should be done at the normal mowing height, turf should neither be cut excessively short nor allowed to become excessively long going in to winter.
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