Tips From The Pros
as a head turf manager in professional football. He graduated from Colorado State University’s Turfgrass Management program
and now operates and owns Championship Sports Turf Systems.
FALL INTO NOVEMBER
Recognition as Professionals
If you love sports, November is a great month. If you love sports turf, November is again a great month. The MLB post-season has just finished, the MLS soccer post-season, which pushes ever further into the fall months, is in full swing, and football all over the US has now reached the heart of the season.
In the MLS, there could be potential venue conflicts in both New England and Seattle with NFL games already scheduled on playoff weekends. And there have been some great media stories that highlight the professional work of some of our most talented sports field managers.About a year ago, the STMA hired a media communications group, Buffalo Communications out of Virginia, to promote our profession through targeted media pieces and now there are more stories than ever about sports field managers and management. It seems once people are presented our craft in the true light, they are fascinated. Each month, the STMA lists the stories on its website here.
November is Different for Everybody
As a sports field manager, November is also a great month. For the first time in months, many managers in the north are seeing temperatures cool down enough to stop mowing their C-3 (cool-season) grasses, allowing some much-needed and delayed cultural practices windows to open before December closes them out. Cool season grasses love November if done right. Especially out west, winter desiccation (drying out) kills more turf than direct cold temperature injury or ice damage in most winters. I’ve learned the hard way that you want to go into December with adequate soil moisture and have a winter watering plan together when your irrigation system is down for the cold months. In the middle and eastern parts of the US, especially the upper mid-western sports field managers have only recently grown out of all the ice/snow cover damage from last winter. Further south, it’s comfortable to be outside again, and you may be busy nursing your over seeded Bermuda grass fields into the winter months. . In the transition zone, well, nothing ever works there, does it? You had your two good weeks for the year back in October…Winter 2014-2015 So what will this winter look like? Winter outlook forecasts should be taken with a grain of salt. Remember, they predicted a warmer than normal winter for the eastern part of the country heading into last winter. Still,some basic concepts can be teased out of all the hype and differing opinions. I generally look to read the model discussions that are available on local NOAA/NWS websites and some great local blogs. Just do a google search “(Name of your state) weather blog”. Alas, you can always resort to TheOld Farmer’s Almanac for your winter 2014/15 forecasts.
Winter Turf Covers
Whatever this winter brings, one great tool to have in the sports field manager’s toolbox is a set of winter covers. There are two basic types. ‘Vented’ plastic covers are made with woven bands of high-tech material which allows light, gaseous air exchange and water penetration, while trapping and building heat through ‘greenhouse warming’ into the covered turf and soil. Non-permeable covers are heavier and more labor intensive to install and remove. They will prevent water (and air) from passing through, keeping the turf dry. And while most allow for little if any light to pass through, they will insulate the turf better from cold nights compared to vented covers, but they don’t build heat during the day as well as vented plastic covers do. They are made in different thicknesses, colors and materials depending on the application.
Last winter’s damage from snow and ice cover over a large part of the middle and eastern US has many sports field managers putting together action plans to minimize or prevent the widespread turf grass damage, and resultant game postponements, that they saw last spring. There is a lot of debate as to which covers, if any, are the best approach to ice-damage prevention. Some say vented covers are best, but others caution that letting the water down through the cover and around the crown will still allow for ice-damage. They contend you need to keep the crown of the plant relatively dry to prevent ice damage, and so non-permeable covers are best. Still others say that removing snow and ice in February and March works best, with or without covers. One thing to consider when using any winter covers is that while creating a better environment for the turf grass, they can also create better conditions for disease outbreaks in the turf, snow mold being the primary winter concern. Good monitoring and pest management skills are important under winter field covers.
Vented plastic covers are lightweight, easy to install and very useful for several applications. By using different colors and materials, the better ones can find a fit in almost any application, allowing the correct ‘plant-useable’ wavelengths of light to pass though. Some are better for quick warming and seed germination used primarily in the spring. Some vented covers are designed to trap and hold more heat, making them perhaps a better fit for a cold-winter application. It’s important to do your homework and determine exactly what you need. Like most things in a turf shop, buying cheap rarely works. Vented covers are not generally designed to withstand snow-removal operations. This is where a good, tough non-permeable turf cover is best. They are generally designed with a light and dark side so can build and prevent heat as needed throughout a year. The good ones are specially designed and manufactured with a slightly slick surface coating to aid in the snow and ice sliding on the cover during removal from the field.
Every year we see so many natural grass fields ruined by playing on the field when it is excessively wet. If this happens early in a season, the damage can result in diminished playing surface condition for the rest of the year. A good winter cover can work wonders in preventing this, and the cost is on par with what it costs to re-sod a field once.
What is “Winter Kill”?
Don’t get the idea that snow-cover is bad for turf grass. Quite the contrary, it will help prevent drying out or desiccation. It will also moderate temperature extremes and help the plant enter winter dormancy. Out in the drier west, we call it slow-release water. It keeps the dry winter winds off the turf. A winter-dormant grass loves snow cover, to an extent. Long periods of snow cover can create the ideal conditions for snow molds. It’s when the prolonged snow cover begins to ‘glaciate’ and turn to ice that we get concerned, as this layer seals off the turf from gaseous exchange and this can be lethal to the plant (in addition to crown hydration damage). There are many variables and still a lot we don’t know about “winter kill”. Ultimately, each field manager needs a strategy to account for their own situation in terms of climate, budget and field quality expectations. If you use non-permeable covers, make sure to tuck the edges well to prevent water sneaking under the cover. You will also need to vent the grass under the field periodically by blowing air under the cover to prevent a deadly lack of oxygen, or anoxia for the turf. Perennial ryegrass and annual bluegrass are especially susceptible.
One thing that everyone does agree on is that establishing good surface and internal drainage is critical in combating winter ice damage on turf grass. The damage typically happens in the later winter when freeze-thaw cycles puddle water around the crown of the plant while the soil may still be frozen, at least partially. So good surface drainage helps here. Very generally, 40 days of continuous ice cover is going to begin to get bad. If it goes anaerobic, smelling of rotten gas, you know it’s in trouble. The ice damage to the plant crowns generally occurs in the latter parts of winter when the grass may begin slow spring growth and the freeze thaw cycles happen more frequently.
Covers or not, you should monitor your turf, taking a few plugs out with some soil as conditions warrant all winter long. Bring them inside under a warm light or sunny window and evaluate the recuperative ability of the field at any stage of the winter. Be careful not to over-stimulate the turf with covers, which can cause problems in winter.
November is a month when we see a lot of high-profile football fields in need of quick, in-season sod repair from weather issues and other causes. Thick cut sod is not new, but we know a lot more about how to make it succeed than we used to. Getting the right sod is key. And sod grown on plastic can’t be beat for this application. Think about it. No root-pruning during harvest means almost no transplant stresses to the grass, and the “root-bound” sod is so tight.
I first caught glimpse of plastic-grown sod’s potential in early 2007 when it was used in a pinch for the Super bowl Field in Miami. The Bears against the Colts in Super bowl XLI was the first to be played in the rain. Remember the Bears venerable kick-returner Devin Hester returning the opening kick for a touchdown? Who could forget Prince’s memorable half-time performance, singing “Purple Rain” in the rain? But what I remember is that the field played great and drained all night. It rained all day and night, and with so much event activity going on, the field wasn’t covered. I remember thinking, this is going to be a slop-fest. But, the field wasn’t even an issue in the game when on most newly sodded fields these conditions would have been a disaster, the story of the game. Why? Plastic-grown Bermuda grass sod was used.
More recently, you can see the results of plastic grown sod on Kyle Field, home of the Texas A&M Aggies. In the middle of a 2-year $450 million stadium renovation, delays, weather and a shortened grow-in compelled the full field re-sod needed in early October. Chad Price, CSFM is an agronomist and Certified Field Builder with Carolina Green outside of Charlotte, NC. They supplied and installed the PGS for the Kyle Field re-sod with their “Game On! Grass”. Chad told Tips from the Pros “This has given the SFM more options for when to sod, and how to provide the best surface for the athletes. For sports like American football, the best time to re-sod may be in the middle of the season. In that situation, the team gets a nice surface going into fall practice, a new surface at the mid-point of the season, and can finish the season and following spring practice on quality grass. Soccer and lacrosse goal areas can be changed out quickly in order to consistently provide a quality surface any time during the year. Multi-use facilities can use the product to change out logo areas and end zones for special events. It basically allows the SFM to become a “yes” person when asked to have events in season or do in season replacement.” After resurfacing Kyle Field for a nationally televised game against SEC rival Mississippi that saw rain earlier in the day, the field played marvelously and looked fantastic (as usual).
As I have written before, the moral of any in-season sod project is that one shouldn’t wait until she needs sod to start shopping for it. If you think there is any chance you’ll need some thick-cut replacement sod, you’ll get much better results working with your sod producer well in advance to maintain the sod more similarly to your current field. Another issue is how you install it. I’ve seen it often. The turf is tight and would support play out at the farm. Then after cutting, rolling, and transporting for up to 24 hours on a bumpy truck ride, it gets pulled out at the stadium. It gets stretched as it unrolls. A roll cut to 30-foot length installs at the stadium to about 35 feet or more. Crews typically poke and pull the rolls into place with sharp rakes and the result is a loose playing surface with gaps in the seams and depressions. I believe the side-kick machine is crucial to minimizing this surface-loosening we typically see with re-sods.
With plastic grown sod, a roll ‘harvested’ to 30-foot length install to 30-foot length and doesn’t drop soil on the roll-out. This soil-dropping, or as some installers call it “self-topdressing sod”, is why we can’t effectively cut sod to more than 1 ½ inch thickness in most cases, and this is not the limitation with plastic grown sod. The walls are tight and straight, minimizing or eliminating post-install edge mitigation work. The total amount of seams in a repair can be reduced with PGS. Since there is no undercutting with a blade like traditionally harvested sod, it can be harvested in wider rolls.
As yet I have not seen commercially available cool-season plastic grown sod. There are producers working on the establishment and productions methods and I’m sure we will see bluegrass/ryegrass PGS available soon.Resources of the Month:
There are a lot of good web resource available to the turf grass and sports field manager and I plan to highlight several of the more interesting ones in this and future blogs.
Golf Course Management magazine, the official publication of the GCSAA used to cost more than $100/year but has gone free with its digital edition. Even with the golf emphasis there is a lot of good technical articles valuable to any turf manager.
PitchCare Magazine comes out of the UK where they don’t make a huge distinction between the golf and sports turf industries. Great educational and entertainment reading here for free.
Stadia Magazine Used to be a high-priced subscription only, but now has, like many, gone to the free digital model. Mostly about sports venues and technology and often very pro-artificial turf, it’s a good site to read about the latest technology and trends in sports venue management.
University of Georgia Turf grass Management Quiz App A fun and educational trivia-style game for turf managers, students and experts. It’s free and also available on Android devices.
“I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It's so heroic.” ― George Carlin
Posted November 16, 2021