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How to prepare your fields for spring sports

Tom Serensits Manager Penn State’s Center for Sports Surface Research

Your turfgrass survived the long, hard winter and now it is time to get the field ready for spring play. Hopefully, you prepared your field for the winter during the fall and you are heading into the spring with a strong, healthy turfgrass stand. Even if the field is not in optimal condition, there are still things you can do to prepare it for use. The following tips and advice will help to prepare your field for spring.


Do test your soil

Take a soil sample and send it to a local testing facility, such as a university. The report you receive will provide fertilizer recommendations to assist with building a subsequent fertility program. The report will also supply information to correct your soil’s pH.

Do survey your fields at the beginning of the season

Identify trouble spots and develop a plan to remedy those areas. Be aware of areas affected by snow mold, spring dead spot and cold temperature injuries. Identify low areas that need to be filled with sand or soil, as well as those needing to be seeded and sodded. Fixing problems early will prevent you from battling them throughout the entire year.

Do fertilize your fields

Spring-time fertilization can help your field recover from fall damage and prepare the grass for the upcoming season. Follow the recommendations in your soil test report to provide the correct amounts of nutrients. If growing Bermudagrass, only fertilize when there is no longer the threat of frost. Pushing Bermudagrass growth too early may result in cold temperature injury.

Do aerify your fields

Spring is an important time to perform cultivation practices that relieve soil compaction, increase water infiltration, remove thatch and increase soil oxygen flow. Hollow tine aeration removes plugs of soil and is the most effective way to reduce surface compaction. If hollow tines are not an option due to the surface disruption they cause, consider a spiker, slicer or hydroject. Be sure cool and warm-season grasses are actively growing when cultivation takes place to promote recovery.

Do prepare your irrigation system

Charge the system and check for broken heads and leaky pipes that need to be repaired. Ensuring the irrigation system works properly improves water efficiency and saves money.


Do not wait until the last minute

Take time during the winter to plan your maintenance schedule. Have all your equipment serviced. Make sure seed and fertilizers are ordered well in advance.

Do not allow play or maintenance on waterlogged fields

Spring rains can saturate the soil and create muddy, unsafe conditions. Conducting maintenance on a sodden field can generate ruts, compact the soil and ruin its structure. If your budget allows, tarp your fields in the event of rain to prevent soggy conditions.

Do not allow traffic when frost occurs

Frost occurs when water inside the leaf blade freezes. Traffic on frosted turfgrass causes ice crystals in the cells to puncture through cell walls, killing the plant tissue. Frost damage can be superficial if there is a light frost. Damaged leaves will die and new leaves will regenerate from the crown. However, if there is heavy frost, traffic may cause damage to the turfgrass crown, killing the entire plant.

Do not apply preemergence herbicides if you are trying to establish grass seed

If you apply a preemergence herbicide, your grass seed will not grow. You must decide if it is more important to prevent weeds or germinate grass seed. If you decide to seed early, postemergence herbicides can be applied later in the spring or summer to control weeds.

Do not wait too long to remove overseeded grasses

If you overseeded Bermudagrass in the fall, the ryegrass must be removed to allow for competition-free growth in the summer. Many ryegrasses have high heat and drought tolerance and can persist well into the summer limiting Bermudagrass growth. Bermudagrass needs at least 100 days of competition-free growth in the summer for the healthiest conditions. Check with your local university or Cooperative Extension for advice on removing overseeded ryegrasses.

Jumping cartoon

Spring can be both an exciting and stressful time for field managers. Make it easier on yourself by developing your maintenance plan before the weather breaks so you are ready to go as soon as the weather allows. Spring maintenance practices such as mowing, fertilization, cultivation practices and weed control lay the foundation for season-long success.

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Tom SerensitsManager

Tom Serensits is the Manager of Penn State’s Center for Sports Surface Research, co-owner of A. McNitt & SerenSoil Testing, LLC, and coordinator of the NFL independent game day playing surface testing program. Tom holds a B.S. in Turfgrass Scien...

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