As winter wanes and the snow and cold recede up north, many groundskeepers find their backs against the wall in the early part of Spring with the fast-approaching baseball and softball seasons. It’s not uncommon for colleges and high schools in colder climates to have their schedules begin as soon as the snow melts.
With such little time for field prep before those first pitches, how does a groundskeeper get the ballfield grass areas perked up and growing and ready for the traffic? Turf blanket growth covers. That’s the secret weapon.
These covers can help enhance and extend the fall growth period, but they can also big a big help for accelerating spring green-up as well. Turf growth covers encourage the turf grass to begin vertical growth sooner than turf that is not covered.
► What is a turf blanket or growth cover, and how does it work?
These covers are usually made of lightweight, loosely woven plastic materials that create a greenhouse effect on the turf canopy when deployed onto the field surface. The translucent material allows the sunlight’s radiation to penetrate through and warm the turf grass and soil beneath the cover.
Depending on the time of year, the temperature under the cover can be 20° to 30° warmer than the temperature outside the cover. This warms the ground much more quickly. It wakes the turf and begins the photosynthetic process to provide green-up and vertical growth as the soil temperature increases.
The loosely woven fabric allows rainfall in, permits the exchange of gases (CO2 and O2), and acts as a relief valve from too much heat building up under the cover.
► Start your growth in late winter, don’t wait until spring.
For spring green-up purposes, place the turf blanket onto your field as soon as the snow has cleared the field.
If the high school teams are looking to practice on the field early in the spring, they should stay off of them until the frost has left the soil profile. If they do plan to use the field, the teams should remove the growth cover, and then after practice place them back on the turf.
The recommended use of growth covers is on the infield grass and foul territories. These are the areas with the highest wear potential, so you want to get that turf growing as quickly as possible.
PRO TIP: We recommend purchasing a soil thermometer to monitor your soil temperature at a two-inch depth on your field. You’ll want to measure twice — once under the growth cover and once where turf is uncovered. For more accurate comparisons of data, be sure to record the temperatures at the same time each day. Record measurements in the morning, and then again in the afternoon. With these measurements you’ll be able to more accurately monitor the effectiveness and progress of the turf growth covers.