Maintaining Skinned Areas

Ronald Strahan, Koske, Thomas J.  |  3/4/2009 10:38:29 PM

Skinned areas affect safety and play.

Calcined clay conditions soil for better moisture control.

Drags level, mix and move surface soil.

There is a lot of player action and play on the skinned areas of a ball field. Some areas can get pretty torn up; thus, proper maintenance is required for safety and quality play. These areas should be free of stones, weeds, muddy spots and compacted or hard soil. Thus, regular maintenance is required during the playing season. Stones and perennial weeds should have been screened out and killed with a nonselective herbicide at construction of the clay-based soil (50-60/20-25/20-25 percent clay/silt/sand). In better fields, calcined clay constitutes most or much of the top layer of skinned areas. This may be habitually topdressed at ¼ inch and dragged in for reconditioning the surface and better controling soil moisture. Remember that this soil must support players and has no concern for growing a proper sod.

First off, moisten (not wet) the infield soil with a spray and allow for complete infiltration. If you have a large crew, have them hold the hose off from the damp soil as you spray. When the soil first works well, stop sprinkling and run a nail drag to loosen the top ½ inch of the soil surface. Check that nails are not flat and dull-ended  for best results. Avoid using heavy vehicles to pull implements, which will cause compaction.

Next, use a metal mat or mesh drag to break up soil clumps and level the area. You may use a broom drag or rug drag on sandy soils, but these light soils are not a good choice to begin with. Steel, square-mesh drags pull and redistribute more soil than other drags. With improper use, they will develop high or low spots in the skinned area and can create an undesirable soil "lip" at the grass edge. Large aluminum landscape rakes are used to locally move and level soil.

Work from either the outfield edge toward the center or from one foul line to the other. Start from about 6-8 inches in from the grass edge. This 6-inch band can be hand raked later, but you don’t want to pull or push dirt into the grass and add to the lip. Reducing a soil lip is done by brushing inward, "leaf blowing" the buildup or hosing soil back into the skinned area. The hosing back will require extra time to dry out. In worse cases, it must be cut out with a sod cutter and resodded.

If working across an infield, start on the opposite side each time to avoid building soil volume in one area, or you should end where you start. Remember, you do pull soil when you drag. Lift the drag before you leave the skinned area to keep soil out of the grass edge. Work the drag slowly, especially on turns. Drag from a high spot to a low spot to promote a level field. Any low spots will puddle water and must be built back up with a matching soil type and proper dragging.

Dragging patterns depend on what you are trying to do, whether it is to smooth, level or build the field. For totally skinned infields like softball, rotate patterns of circles and figure eights, etc., but always work towards the center to maintain a slight crown there. Use at least three different directions or patterns of drag.

Edge the grass out of the skinned area a couple of times per season. Be sure your grass lips have no soil buildup before edging. A sidewalk edger will do the job well, just be sure to paint a guideline before you edge.

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