Most prep football seasons have ended following an abbreviated season disrupted by uneasy stop-starts, reschedules, and cancellations. We are blessed to have made it through this unusual season with limited pandemic interruptions and severe health ramifications.
Although tempting to “shut off the lights and close the door,” there’s still work to do if you want your fall sports ball fields to come out on the other side of winter ready for use next April. In that light, let’s consider a few things you can do before the ground freezes.
After the final game is played, there likely will be debris on the field, from trash to pieces of sod and shredded divots. Spending time to remove all loose impediments from the surface now will avert the need to do it in the spring.
Get out that core aerator one more time. Pulling cores will create channels into the soil, relieving compaction and allowing water and other valuable inputs to infiltrate the turf surface. If you don’t have a core aerator, get one. Perhaps a neighboring school district or local golf course has one you can borrow or rent.
If you’re considering buying a core aerator, one of the best values is the Ryan Tracaire or Renovaire. Both are professional-grade, heavy-duty, and can cover much ground quickly. Make at least two passes over the entire field. (Target 8-12 coring holes per square foot in sparsely used perimeters of the ball field.) In areas where the most play occurs, e.g., center 1/3 of a football field, soccer goal mouths, and the referee runs, you’ll want to double this. The more cores you can pull, the better. You can’t overdo it.
Overseed, Overseed, Overseed
Yes, this step deserves emphasis! I’m a big fan of coupling other turf management practices with core aeration. In the fall, after aerating your field, use a broadcast spreader to seed heavily trafficked and damaged areas using a quality turf seed mix. Avoid the temptation to source grass seed from your local retailers or farm stores. It will leave you disappointed.
Reinders 50/50 Athletic Field Mix or Premium Ryegrass Blend are great choices to help restore these worn areas. Both are formulated using seed varieties best suited for use on sports turf. Don’t skimp on the seeding rate. In these heavily worn areas, target 5-7 lbs./1000 sq. ft. when using a blue/rye mixture and 8-10 lbs./1000 when reseeding with a perennial ryegrass blend. Increase rates if you’re feeling overly generous. You’ll benefit from it.
If you have the budget and the means to topdress your ball fields, now would be a great time to do it. A large-area, spinner-type topdresser spreads much material quickly, making it very efficient. Other great options exist, too, so look around. Again, you may find one you can borrow or rent. Contractors are also an option, doing the work for you.
Topdressing material used on sand-based fields should closely match the in the ball field rootzone. On native soil fields and heavy clay fields, consider topdressing with quality compost. Over time, this will help improve soil structure, relieve compaction issues, and eliminate drainage problems by increasing soil health and porosity. Topdressing will also help even out the field by filling in low spots and divots. A generous application of the material, say ¼-inch, will also provide an extra layer of winter plant protection from direct winter kill or crown dehydration.
Drag It All In
Once the field is aerated, overseeded, and topdressed, if you can, lightly drag the surface to help bust up the cores lying on the surface. This will pull seed and topdressing material into the aerification holes, ensuring good material placement and seed-to-soil contact.
Snow Mold Treatment
Pink and Gray Snow Mold typically aren’t a concern on prep ball fields. But, if you have had past disease problems in the Spring, followed by considerable turf damage, you may consider a snow mold fungicide treatment. Granular fungicides like Headway or Versagard can be easily applied using a broadcast spreader, ensuring an extra layer of turf protection before the snow season arrives.
Following these steps once the fall sports season ends and before a December ground freeze will help set up your ball fields for success next Spring. Timely preparation for Spring sports can be a significant challenge as more pressure is directed your way to get ball fields ready to play earlier and earlier each year. Steps taken now will increase your chances of smooth sailing next Spring. You have enough to do in March and April. Why not get some of that work done this fall?