Savvy groundskeepers keep fields and landscaping ready for signature sports and seasonal events, and in early spring, groundskeepers face their busiest time of the year as they prepare for the upcoming spring and summer. Responsibilities include conducting soil analyses, repairing grounds, fertilizing and conditioning turf, and seeding. Regardless of whether you maintain grounds for a Major League Baseball franchise, country club or local team, you can get the best results by following the “spring training” recommendations of skilled, professional groundskeepers.
Professional Tips for Groundskeepers
Tips from the Ultimate Field Renovation Guide recommend aerating soil in early spring to loosen winter soil compaction, deliver air to turf roots and make turf easier to condition and fertilize. Professional groundskeepers offer further advice:
• Use soil conditioners to regulate surface moisture.
• Water fields as early as possible in the morning and at least eight hours before games and events.
• Carefully plan maintenance, resource allocation and field usage.
• Test soil monthly to monitor conditioning and fertilizing plans.
• Keep excellent, accessible records of all pesticides and soil treatments, equipment, and maintenance, and keep track of daily, weekly and monthly jobs that need to be done throughout the season.
Testing Soil is Critical During the Preseason
Jeff Fowler, academic representative to the Sports Turf Managers Association board of directors, explains how important soil testing is in early spring: “Without a soil test, we have no idea what the soil needs and … what the turf plant needs to thrive. This test will give you the soil pH and nutrient levels.” Armed with this knowledge, groundskeepers can choose the right fertility program to address shortcomings or prepare soil for the special needs of signature varieties of grass plants.
Aerate Soil and Repair Field Damage
You can begin aerating your turf roots and loosening the soil while waiting for your soil-sample test results. You can also begin applying pre-emergent weed killers to prevent broadleaf and grassy weeds from taking root. Make any necessary repairs caused by vandalism, litter and winter weather.
Inspect the Irrigation System and Mowing Equipment
Sharpen mower blades, check equipment to be sure everything’s running properly and test the irrigation system for damaged heads, leaks and quick-connect integrity.
A good mowing strategy is to mow early and often when grass grows 50 percent higher than the optimal turf length. If you want two-inch grass, mow turf when it reaches three inches. Cutting more than one-third of healthy grass damages plant health. By mowing regularly and sticking to the schedule, you don’t really need to remove the clippings.
The Lowdown on Dirt
Groundskeeping involves caring for turf and areas of dirt or clay in the infield, at home-plate and in dugout areas. During the spring, you should identify any high or low areas that need adjusting, fill holes and repair sliding pits. Before adding clay or soil, mix the new material with existing dirt to get a homogenous blend.
Aside from taking care of the soil and turf, other equipment on the ground must be looked after:
• Check bases and home plate to ensure that rubber is in good condition.
• Inspect, clean and repair nonplaying areas such as goal posts, fences, bleachers, storage buildings and gates.
• Measure distances of bases to ensure that plates are properly placed.
Keep current by inspecting your field throughout the season so that you know immediately what kind of postseason or maintenance work will be required. Preparing during the preseason in early spring helps to ensure healthy turf and better use of equipment, material and labor resources. Your field of dreams might not have a big budget, but you can get results like the pros by following spring maintenance tips and organizing your groundskeeping responsibilities.