Below is a publication from the Guelph Turfgrass Institute’s Director, Dr. Eric Lyons, in response to the need for clarity, information and advice on minimum and essential maintenance of municipal and private sports fields during the economic shut-down of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the broad range of local, regional and provincial rulings as well as environmental factors across Canada, it is suggested that you also consult with your local professional association for more specific information to your region. In addition to proper care for the infrastructure it is important to not lose sight of your most valuable assets – your employees and communities. Appropriate safe work practices should be exercised at all times in order to ensure the safety and security of your staff, users, public stakeholders and communities.
Essential Maintenance for Sports Fields
To protect green infrastructure, essential maintenance of landscapes is allowed under most restrictions for activities. While the main purpose of sports fields is to provide a safe place to play, there are a number of maintenance activities that are essential to maintain the infrastructure even when the sports field is not being prepared for play. Performing essential tasks assure that the sports field will be usable when normal activities resume without excessive costs of replacing or renovating fields due to neglect. On site signs and web communication emphasizing that the maintenance performed is for long-term viability of the asset and that fields are still closed for play is highly recommended.
When performing these essential maintenance activities always follow any safety protocols required to assure safety of operators and general public. Follow standard operating procedures for the task being performed and any additional procedure to assure health and safety of essential workers and communities.
The need for maintenance of sports facilities is variable based on soil type, access to pesticides to regain playability and presence of infrastructure such as irrigation systems or goals. These are general guidelines that can be used to create plans for the different levels of sports fields that are found in Canada.
The following practices are listed in order of priority depending on the specific constraints of the operation.
Mowing should be performed regularly as it is crucial to maintaining turfgrass stands.
· Operations should attempt to mow frequently enough to not remove more than 1/3 the height of the canopy at any cut. If the mowing height is 5 cm then it should be mowed before the turf reaches a height of 7.5 cm.
· Maximal mowing height should not be higher than 7 cm. Most turfgrasses used on sports fields will begin to lay over and thin if allowed to grow over 10 cm in height before mowing. Grasses can be mowed at higher heights but should be mowed frequently enough to not exceed 10 cm of height.
· Blades should be continued to be sharpened on a regular schedule and mower maintenance should be continued
· High end sports fields with low mowing requirements (ie. below 4 cm) should be maintained at a height of cut that does not exceed 6 cm during reduced maintenance if the plan is to return to normal practices soon after restrictions in maintenance and play are lifted
Infield grooming is necessary to prevent full renovation from severe compaction upon return to play and to prevent weeds from disrupting the long-term playability of infields particularly where pesticides to eliminate plants is restricted.
· It is important that grooming is performed to prevent severe compaction and weed encroachment and not to prepare for play
· Grooming can be performed in directions usually not used because of how they may affect play
· Fine grooming is not needed
Fertilizing turfgrasses assures they are recovering from wear. Often in the beginning of the season grasses are growing well due to microbial flush with the warming soil and supplementary fertilizer can be minimized if there is no use. If a field was under fertilized the previous season it may need an application of fertilizers to maintain activity and growth of the plant.
· Growth rates should lead to a minimum increase of 2cm of height a week with sufficient water and temperature. If the field is slower than this supplement with a slow release fertilizer at a rate not to exceed 0.5 Kg of N per 100 m2 for each 8 weeks of release
· General multipurpose fertilizers can be used to minimize the need for soil testing and target management. Typical ratio can be 5:1:3 of N-P-K
If an irrigation system exists on a sports field, we recommend that it be pressurized before regular activities resume and before the summer drought season. In most parts of Canada droughts are rarely long enough to cause turfgrass death on soil-based fields. Many fields that are irrigated are sand based fields where significant turfgrass loss will occur during a moderate drought.
· Irrigation should only be used to prevent dormancy. Irrigation should be applied when grass is visually wilting or if growth rates fall below 2cm per week with adequate temperature and fertility
· Irrigation systems should be tested at least once a year even if they are not used.
· Irrigation heads should be located and checked for damage in the spring even if the system is not being used
· Regular visits to the pump house and other irrigation infrastructure should be performed, a minimum of monthly even if the irrigation system is not being used.
Fields with drainage installed require regular maintenance of the drainage infrastructure. During essential maintenance outlets should be cleared of debris and any other access to the drainage should be checked and maintained
Additional practices such as core cultivation, spiking, and overseeding will benefit the health and viability of the sports field but decisions on these practices should be made based on the individual operation. Highly compacted fields that were highly used the previous season may require aeration and overseeding to prevent them from becoming predominately weeds this coming season. Overseeding rates can be lowered. As overseeders and aerating equipment can be a multi-person task these may not be possible. On fields where there is significant turf loss due to winterkill and or overuse from last season, consider broadcast overseeding to avoid the need to maintain the heavy equipment.