Outdoor sports seasons are already done or soon will be, which means your fields probably won’t see the same wear and tear that they would in summer. Regardless, you need to make sure you follow best practices for fall athletic field maintenance to prevent future damage and ensure the field stays in good shape for the next season in spring.
Best Practices For Athletic Field Maintenance In The Fall
Don’t Stop Watering
Even in November, it’s a good idea to keep watering your field until the frost comes. Doing so will provide the grass with ample moisture – something it desperately needs during the cold, dry winter. And when you water, make sure to do so about once a week, for an extended period. When you water your lawn for brief periods or frequently, it causes several problems. Firstly, it won’t penetrate the soil as a deep watering would. Secondly, it trains the grass not to have deep roots. This last point is crucial in the fall when turf grass is focusing on its root system – not above-ground growth. The shallower the roots, the more susceptible your athletic field is to disease and stress. Ideally, you should water first thing in the morning before 10 AM. That will allow the soil to soak up the moisture before it evaporates in the sun. Do not water in the evening or overnight. This will have the opposite effect – providing too much moisture and inviting lawn diseases like molds and mildews. When these things take hold, they can leave your lawn thinned out or completely bare. Athletic field installation is something RZ Sports Turf can help with, but in an ideal situation, you shouldn’t have to replace your field, and it starts with proper maintenance.
Give The Grass A Final Mowing
Keep your field no longer than three inches and give it a final mowing before the winter. And be sure the blades are sharp! Dull blades can cause significant damage to turf grass, resulting in grass blades that are ripped and torn, as opposed to neatly sheered off. Never remove more than 1/3 of the leaf blade, and be sure to mix up your mowing pattern! If you typically mow across, try cutting side to side or diagonally. This will train the grass to grow tall and straight and keep it springy, so it bounces back after foot traffic.
Aerate And Overseed
Fall is the best time to have your athletic field aerated. Using a specialized tool, your lawn care service technician will remove thousands of tiny plugs of soil. These will be left on the surface, where they will break down and turn into free mulch. The holes left by this process reduce compacted soil and thatch build-up. Compacted soil is hard and makes it difficult for the turf grass roots to grow and for fertilizer to reach those roots. Thatch build-up is a similar problem in that it smothers the grass. Ironically, thatch is usually made of dead grass clippings. While some thatch is beneficial and can help with moisture retention, too much will smother the grass and create an environment where diseases thrive.
By aerating, the turf grass will have room to breathe and grow, which means the roots will do deeper. When grassroots go deep, they’re less likely to be pulled up and torn from heavy foot traffic. Aeration helps stabilize the soil, and the grass, which means your field will be smoother, and players will be less likely to trip and fall.
After aeration is done, consider seeding. This will thicken up your existing field and fix bare or thin patches. And since the aeration process already opens up the lawn, all that fresh grass seed will nestle into those holes and better establish in the soil. It’s an easy solution to lawn renovation.
Have The Soil Tested
Soil tests will tell you exactly which nutrients your lawn is missing, has in abundance, and even any contaminants in the soil. It also informs you of the soil’s pH, which may be out of balance after the summer, when rains can wash out nutrients from the earth. The soil test report will give you a game plan for how to go about fertilizing in the fall. So with that in mind:
Fertilize The Turf Grass
Apply a fertilizer based on the results of the soil test. Typically, a winterizer is a good idea in late fall. These fertilizers are higher in nitrogen and potassium, which help strengthen the grass before it goes dormant in the winter. But again, use the results of the test as a guide and go from there. It could be the case that your grass has all the nitrogen it needs and instead requires something else.
Mix Up The Practice Area
You can reduce the impact of foot traffic by having players practice on different parts of the field every time. Unless something must be done at a particular spot – like goal shots in soccer – mix up where players practice, so the turf grass is less likely to be worn.
Address Grading Issues
If your field has puddles or drainage issues, consider re-grading or installing an underground drainage system. Doing this in the off-season is less likely to disrupt the game’s flow, and it will tackle those pesky puddles and low-lying areas.
Find An Athletic Field Contractor Near Michiana
If you’re looking for professional athletic field maintenance near South Bend, Fort Wayne, Grand Rapids, or Kalamazoo, you’ve come to the right place. The experts at RZ Sports Turf know the Michiana area well – we’ve been in business here for over 30 years! Whether you’ve got a baseball diamond, soccer field, or football gridiron, our athletic field care program will ensure the playing field is healthy and smooth, so it not only looks good but is safe for players as well. To learn more or schedule a consultation, call us at 574-674-5296, or you can reach us through our online form here.
For more ideas and tips on maintaining athletic fields or installing brand new ones, be sure to visit our blog page, where we post a new article every month.