Constructing Better Athletic Fields

Ronald Strahan, Koske, Thomas J.  |  4/13/2005 11:22:01 PM

Prepare the root zone well.

Commercial planting/pressing disk.

Field just planted with sprigs.

Whether renovating your field or planting a new one, a good, strong start is the key to success.

We recommend seeding or sprigging turf bermudagrass when soil temperatures at the 2-inch depth approach 70 degrees F or better. This will be around mid May or June 1 with a cutoff date of July 15 for seeding. If fall use is expected, the June 1 date is a must to ensure complete coverage. A seeded field needs at least three months of good growing conditions. Installing bermudagrass sod can be done up to the end of July or at least three weeks before use.

Sprigs are pieces of torn sod usually containing a stolon and/or rhizome with roots. Sprigs can be planted by broadcasting them over loose, prepared soil followed by a light disking (set disk straight) or pressing-in to partially set them into the soil. A portion of each sprig should remain exposed after planting. Mechanical spriggers are available that slit the soil open, plant the sprig and press the sprig in with a small amount of soil.
 
In either case, the sprig should develop roots and creeping stems from the nodes. Sprigs can be purchased as sod and then shredded or are best purchased freshly dug by the bushel. One square yard of sod makes about one bushel of sprigs. You will need at least 400-600 bushels per acre for good establishment.

The following guidelines are recommended regardless of installation type (seed, sprigs or sod). The first winter is the most critical for newly established bermudas; therefore it is important to have these grasses go into the first winter in the best possible, mature condition.

Preparation:

  1. Soil test native base soil and new (additional) soils.

  2. Locate a source of loamy sand or very sandy loam native soil to apply as a root zone mix or as additional filler to build up the field (a key factor).

  3. Spray Roundup plus Fusilade at 3 qt/A + 24 oz/A respectively or 3-3.5 qt/A Roundup (glyphosate) only. (A repeat application of glyphosate after one month is best if time is available.) Apply when warm and weeds are actively growing.

  4. Apply required lime or sulfur several months ahead of planting if possible, since these materials take months to work. Till in the products, especially if 2 tons/A of lime was applied, to speed the reaction.

  5. Test water quality of irrigation water.

  6. Remove rocks, roots, trash, etc.

  7. Survey drainage situation. (Where will water drain?)

  8. Fence off area for limited public access and compaction.

Field Building:

  1. Double pass base soil with a chopping disk going about 4 to 5 inches deep.

  2. Spread sandy loam 9 inches deep all across field area (1,400 to 1,620 cu. yds.)

  3. Pass chopping disk again to mix some (2 inches) base soil with sandy loam.

  4. Apply base fertilizer, lime, etc. as needed (P&K) from soil test, especially if soil phosphorus was reported low.

  5. Rototill root zone mixture several inches to homogenize rooting mix.

  6. Roughly create an 18-inch crown down the center from goal line to goal line; taper to side lines (or just beyond). Taper end zones backward or continue the central crown through each.

  7. Create French drains or catch basin drains along side lines.

  8. Install irrigation system (with swing arms).

  9. Create finish grade and roll the filed with lawn/landscape roller to pack/firm surface. Make sure grade of field is finalized to specs allowing for the best possible surface drainage. Now is the time to correct or repair any imperfections to this slope (1%-2%).

  10. Plant grass seed or vegetative sprigs and water sprigs immediately. Water areas just sprigged as you move down the field. Seed at 1 lb. pure live seed/1000 ft2 or 40 to 45 lbs./A (60 lbs./field). Sprig at a rate of about 500-800 bushels/A (400/A minimum). Hybrid grass choice: Tifway 419 (MS-Choice, Celebrity or TifSport also good). Seeded bermudas choice: Riviera, Princess, Sydney, Bermuda Triangle blend, Sundevil II, Sultan, Sunstar or Savannah (see seeded turf bermudas article).

  11. Keep area moist, but do not overwater. Avoid puddling and runoff. Water well first few weeks, then cut back to apply as needed.

  12. Apply N fertilizer after 10-12 days. Use ¾ lb N/1000 sq. ft (33 lbs. N/A or 43 lbs. N/field). Use ammonium nitrate (or ammonium sulfate if soil pH is high). Repeat every 7-10 days, substituting 13-13-13 every third time (Triple 13 at 6 lbs./1000 or 265 lbs./A). Continue fertilizer about every 10 days until grown in.

  13. Mow whenever the grass reaches 2 or 2 ½ inches (Mow to 1 or 1 ½ inches, depending on grass cultivar). Use a sharp bladed mower to avoid tearing out seedlings or sprigs (rotary finish; triplex; fairway mowers). This mowing promotes lateral growth to hasten spread.

Note: Allow almost three months for establishment from sprigs and about three months from seed under good growing conditions. Timing can be critical. Plant grass about mid May-June 7 in south Louisiana or June 1 in north Louisiana (earlier if soil temperature is about 70° F at 2-inch depth). Control new weeds this winter and next growing season. You may try one application of MSMA after a month from sprigging or two months from seeding if there is much weed pressure.

These procedures will ensure the best possible grow-in of bermudagrass for your athletic fields. Following these procedures in a timely manner should give 100% cover of sprigged fields by mid August, if installed by or on June 1. Seeded fields need a few weeks longer. Sodded fields obviously give you instant cover, but still require three to four weeks for tacking down with good roots and knitting the sod seams horizontally  in warm seasons.

One final note, first season bermuda turf is not as durable as second season. This is due to a lack of adequate rhizome development in this first year. Expect first year sod to wear more than mature sod. Over winter survival and good spring greenup are also a concern.

The way to avoid excessive turf loss of young sod is to reduce the stress on young turf. Limit the firsts year's play to that which is necessary. Don't push growth late into the fall with heavy late-season fertilization; this will soften the grass and weaken the roots. Don't overseed first year turf, or if overseeded, remove it in late winter with herbicide. Overseeding creates strong competition and holds the bermuda back in both fall and spring.

After sod gets through its first full spring, resume normal turf management practices.

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