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Become a keen observer and record your management successes and failures

November 9, 2009  - By

By: Ron Hall


“In managing turfgrass, your only goal is perfection,” said Beard. “The closer you get to perfection, the more obvious your imperfections,”

HOLLAND, MI — If you want to know what’s going on with your turfgrass sports field, start poking around underground and examining plant roots and the soil they’re growing in.

“In managing turfgrass, your only goal is perfection,” said Beard. “The closer you get to perfection, the more obvious your imperfections,”

If you want to improve your management program, diligently record and compare the quality of your turfgrass as a result of your management program. Keep a notebook tracking how your program affects your fields from week to week and month to month.

Become a keen observer, keep a record and compare the results — that was the core of the message that Dr. Jim Beard, president and chief researcher for the International Sports Turf Institute, brought to the Michigan Sports Turf Manager’s Association (MiSTMA) Fall Field Day recently at Hope College here.

Spending an October morning speaking to and networking with about 100 sports field managers and grounds pros, Beard said the only way to manage turfgrass sports fields is to regularly get onto the fields and examine them (sometimes on your hands and knees) to find out what’s happening with them.

“There are a lot of things you can do to improve your fields other than dumping a lot of nitrogen onto them,” said Beard, adding that each sports field manager must develop their own unique program based upon their own unique environmental conditions, the field user needs and their budgets.

Dr. Beard with Jim Bogart, who helped arrange his presentation at the MiSTMA event

Even so, the basic procedure for keeping turfgrass playing fields safe and attractive safe remains essentially the same.

“You can tell about the history of a field and also about its future by looking underground rather than aboveground,” said Beard. “Take a cup cutter and look closely at the soil and the turf’s roots.” Insert the cup cutter 6 in. to 8 in. into the soil, he advised.

Is the soil compacted? Water-logged? Are there soil layers? All of these conditions hinder the development of healthy turfgrass and keep fields from recovering from environmental stresses and traffic. Roots will not do well under these conditions. And if you have a severe soil-layering problem, you may actually smell the problem as you extract a soil core before you see the problem, said Beard.

Closely examine root depth, density and color. Are roots white, brown or black? Healthy roots are white. How deep are they in the soil? Cool-season turfgrasses rarely send roots to 12 in. if they are mowed 2 in. or shorter, he said.

Beard devoted more than few minutes talking about fall fertilization for cool-season grasses. He acknowledged its importance in allowing turfgrass roots to store energy heading into the winter, but advised against using too much, especially in shaded areas.

He explained that the roots of cool-season grasses grow best in soil temperatures of 50 F. – 60 F., bluegrass rhizomes at 50 f. – 65 F. and leaves at 65 F. – 75 F. In the fall, obviously, the goal is to increase the mass of roots and rhizomes. To check the soil temperature, measure at a 4-in. depth, he advised. To keep roots growing longer into the fall, Beard said that sports field managers should keep their fields moist and they might consider mowing the turf higher than normal to help insulate the soil.

“In managing turfgrass, your only goal is perfection,” said Beard,whose 50-plus-years career in turfgrass research and education included extensive research at Michigan State University and Texas A&M University. “The closer you get to perfection, the more obvious your imperfections and the more difficult and more expensive they are to correct.

“If you keep that in perspective, you will keep your sanity,” he shared as he concluded his presentation to the sports field managers and grounds pros.

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