Bare Necessities: How to Preserve Your Field

This is your guide to lockdown field maintenance.

As the country slowly begins to move toward reopening from the Covid-19 shutdown, those on the front lines of youth sports — specifically baseball and softball — are stuck in a wait-and-see mode. Left to the mercy of governors in each state, those of us involved understand that youth sports are not considered essential like other parts of the economy. Some states, such as Illinois, have already called off all youth sports for the summer and the governor is now contemplating the fate of fall sports there. No doubt, there will be other states and individual leagues that won’t see any action this summer.

But even if the sport is shutdown, fields will still need to be managed as they are living biosystems that will need attention. So what basic maintenance do you really need to be perform? How will these practices help to maintain or even improve the playing field for next spring season or fall ball?

 

MOWING: This is pretty obvious but let’s dig in a little deeper. Whether your field is irrigated or not, raise the mowing height. Raise it more for unirrigated fields than irrigated. This will push the plant to lengthen its roots in the soil making it more drought tolerant going into the hot and dry summer months. Mow according to growth rate so that you are mowing off no more than 1/3 of the leaf blade off the plant.

IRRIGATION: If your field is outfitted with irrigation — be it manual or automatic — use it! Nothing helps thicken your turf more than water and a lack of play. No capitol project pays more dividends to your field than having an irrigation system installed. Not only will it help your turf, but when play does resume, it will also greatly improve the condition of your infield skin as well.

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FERTILIZATION: If your organization can afford it in the current situation, maintain fertility on your field to encourage thick, healthy turf. This is an extremely rare opportunity (hopefully) to have a growing season without play. You can really improve the quality of the turf areas on your ball diamond. With limited staff for mowing, use slow release fertilizers and only apply one half to ¾ of a pound of nitrogen per 1000/sq ft. Enough fertilizer to keep the grass healthy and spreading, but not too much to push a ton of top growth requiring more frequent mowing.

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INFIELD SKIN: Keep it weed free by dragging twice a week and keep them tight to prevent any soil migration from heavy rains. Fix any lips that impede the flow of water off the infield skin. Level any low areas that are holding water. Clean up the turf edges by running an edger along them as your grass growth dictates. All of this improves infield drainage and plays into how quickly the field will be ready to play on after a rain event.

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WARNING TRACK: Same as infield skins mentioned above, drag periodically to manage weeds. Edge the turf edge if you have the time and manpower to do so.

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MOUND & PLATE: Keep them tarped to preserve moisture in these areas. Use of tarps will also prevent the pitching mound from eroding into the infield grass from rainfall or irrigation.

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CREW SAFETY: Finally, make sure you are protecting yourself and your crew or volunteers. These are ways to help ensure a safe environment for everyone:

  • Adhere to strict guidelines that make sure staff who are feeling sick do not come to work.
  • Wear masks and gloves.
  • Sanitize equipment before and after use.
  • Minimize face-to-face meetings in smaller areas.
  • Have sanitizing wipes available in many areas at your facility.
  • Schedule staff to work in shifts for easier social distancing while working on fields.
  • Minimize projects that require staff to be in close proximity.

Make the most of things.

Take this rare opportunity to give your field, especially your turfgrass, what it needs to become better and stronger so your field will be in tip-top shape when games resume. These field preservation tips will help whether you can finally get back on them in the next several weeks, months or next spring. Your field will thank you.

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Paul Zwaska

Paul Zwaska

A former head groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles, Paul has been with Beacon Athletics for two decades. Among his many accomplishments, he authored Groundskeeper University, the first online ballfield maintenance training venue and continues to find innovative ways to help groundskeepers.

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