Painting Athletic Turf

Allen D. Owings, Koske, Thomas J.  |  4/21/2005 11:34:44 PM

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While sports fans might not think much about how lines are painted on the field, those responsible for the job take great pride in getting their home fields to look just right.

Numbers and lines on turfgrass are best applied with specially formulated turf paints. These materials are not toxic to leaf blades and allow them to breathe. They also wear well, are not toxic to skin and have high pigment content (3X).

Sometimes, though, specialty paints aren't available or affordable. In that case, groundskeepers can use a water-based acrylic paint and dilute it some. For football fields, we recommend a 1:1 or 2:1 water-to-paint mixture. For baseball lines, we recommend 2:1 or 3:1. water to paint. Some quality paints with high pigment content may allow a 4:1 dilution. Mix off the field.

Gloss is important, too. Conscientious groundskeepers do not choose a flat sheen; its roughness will cause it to rub off sooner.

Other features you might not be aware of :

  • Dark colors will do more damage to underlying turf.
  • Paints should be washable (often indoor types are).
  • Good field paints do not contain vinyl copolymers that suffocate the grass.
  • A non-mildewing agent is a desirable, though not essential, ingredient in field paints.
  • PRIMO growth regulator may be added to paint (1 oz/1,000 sq.ft of sprayed area)to extend line life, but don't do this more often than once a month .

Teams that use powders for marking should use ground marble dust. We do not recommend powdered lime, because it causes skin irritation and soil fertility problems.

Once the paint is ready, a wide variety of equipment is available to apply turf paints. Some teams still use rollers, but most use spray equipment. This sprayer is a compressor type or "airless." Others use a hand-pumped sprayer or striper that applies with a fixed aerosol can of paint. Keeping nozzles close to the ground gives a sharper edge. Painting large areas, however, is accomplished by a boom spray rig with blended, even patterns.

Be aware of line width requirements and the exact placement of the line -- whether the line itself is in or out of bounds.

So after several paintings, you may begin a buildup of paint that suppresses turf growth and builds a raised area.

Try these "tips on paint management" that the pros use:

1. Don't paint any more than you must, and paint closer to game day so the paint is fresher and more vibrant without touchup.

2. Try to use only a single or light coat on the dark-colored areas -- dark colors are tough on the grass to begin with. A fine spray tip will cover grass better with less paint, and a little spreader-sticker adjuvant added to the paint may make it stick and cover better.

3. A quality turf paint will cover better and last longer with less respraying or double coating.

4. Try using a small mower to mow the painted surfaces lower; the turf will be denser and take paint better so you will not need as much paint for good coverage.

5. Don't paint the home turf for away games or bye weeks any more than necessary, or do it lightly.

6. Aggressively verticut (during the growing season, but after the playing season) the heavy paint areas to tear up the paint layer and get it out of the thatch.

7. The quaking action of some solid tine aerators such as the aera-vator also will loosen and shake up the paint-cemented turf. Roll flat after treatment.

8. Core aerifying helps but not like vertical mowing. Coring, targeted to heavily painted areas, can help reduce some of the mounding buildup that comes from paint and thatch cementing together time and time again. Roll flat after coring these areas.

9. Plant growth regulators (PGRs) can be added to the paint to slow down regrowth of the treated turf, which means less will be cut off sooner, but just try this once in the early fall season or after mid-spring to avoid turf damage.

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