The Balancing Act of Sports Turf Maintenance

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The explanation lies in the performance demands of the playing surface. A smooth, uniform surface is very beneficial to good play. Running, cutting, veering, stopping, pivoting, dodging, jumping, and landing are basic movement patterns that a sports turf surface must harness and withstand. As well as this, surface characteristics such as hardness or cutting height can affect play aspects such as ball bounce and speed and it must also offer elasticity to reduce risk of injury, durability and of course have a beautiful aesthetic quality.

With stadiums in Australia becoming truly multi-purpose by hosting sports and concerts year-round and the continued increase in population and housing density resulting in greater use of suburban sports fields, the surfaces are under greater pressure and stress than ever before.

So, what is happening to the turf at the foot of all these demands? Beneath the surface, the soil becomes compacted. In many cases, this can be deemed as a positive quality as this firmness enhances speed and power, however, this compaction reduces the soil’s pore space, root growth space, oxygen supply, water-holding capacity and drainage. As a result of this, specialist sports turf managers are faced with the challenge of implementing a site-specific maintenance and fertilising programme as a means of striking a balance between achieving optimum playing conditions and ensuring the soil gets the necessary nutrients and minerals it requires to stay healthy all year round.

De-compacting Sports Fields

It is important to have a structured maintenance program that includes aeration of the profile. This practice will provide the following benefits:

  • Relieving soil compaction- surface and deep profile
  • Organic Matter removal
  • Improved water infiltration
  • Increase oxygen levels
  • Root development
  • Aid nutrient cycling, OM converting and disease suppressing biology
  • Enhance beneficial biology populations.

Fertilising Sports Fields

High use and wear and tear rates:

For turf to recover as rapidly as possible from the high rates of constant use, soil nutrition must be as unlimiting as possible. For example, a local council oval might be used 2-3 times a week by local schools, 3-4 times by local clubs and host several matches over the weekend. This amount of contact allows little recovery time therefore soil nutrition must be available in access to compensate.

Low cation exchange capacity (CEC):

Ironically, the better the field (i.e. the more sandy and forgiving of compaction it is), the more often it will need feeding, simply because sand has so little CEC to hold the potassium, ammonium, calcium and magnesium needed by the turf. In these soils, such as golf greens, it is recommended that regular and lighter fertiliser applications are undertaken to reduce leaching and wastage of product.

Organic Matter, Thatch Levels and Biology:

Organic matter increases the CEC and through its ability to hold onto chemical properties, a slow-release nutrient pool. Although some organic matter is necessary in soils, thatch build-up is a constant issue that affects playability of the field, usually slowing bounce, roll and running pace. In the winter and spring seasons water infiltration can be severely reduced resulting in waterlogged playing surfaces. The addition of biology such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa and beneficial nematodes controls disease causing populations and helps digest the organic matter into organic carbons that increases nutrient holding capacity whilst allowing water infiltration.

To replace nutrients removed:

Nutrients will leach down through the soil profile out of reach of the roots. You also need to maintain the balance between how much is taken out away (when you mow and remove the clippings) and how much is added (mainly as fertiliser). Further, this balance depends on how fast the plants are growing.

Managing Turf Growth:

To regulate the vertical turf growth over the summer months, many turf professionals have incorporated the use of Primo into there management program. This product reduces the production of gibberilic acid in the plant thus reducing cell elongation. The outcome is a reduction in leaf removal during mowing, saving nutrient and water removal from the plant meaning less plant stress and more energy to enable greater root and canopy density.

How to get the best out of your sports turf

  • Test your soil annually for pH, cation balance and trace elements.
  • Use foliar analysis to inform the nutrient program during the peak of the season.
  • Aerate Turf 3-4times per year to relieve compaction, increase air and water movement and enable greater root density and depth in the soil.
  • Top-dress with sand (or another porous material) to create air and water movement channels and to aid organic matter breakdown.
  • Scarify to remove thatch.
  • Mow at least weekly at a sports field height below 15mm to encourage turf density

If you manage or own a sports field facility and would like a tailored solution to keep it in peak condition all year round, please contact the Turfcare WA team by Email or call (08) 9302 6795.