Blades Of Green

In the Sunbelt, bermudagrass is the dominant species used for sports facilities. It grows best in areas with mild winters (where the temperature does not drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit), where there is moderate to high rainfall (25 to 69 inches annually), and where there are extended periods of high temperatures (75 to 99 degrees).

Bermudagrass loves full sun and has a deep root system that can tolerate the occasional drought, but that doesn’t mean it likes it–too much dry weather will turn it purplish and send it into hibernation. Extended cool temps (30 degrees or below) will turn it brown.

It isn’t a big fan of shade, where it will not grow well. The range for bermudagrass is generally north to New Jersey, south to Florida, and even as far west as Texas (although depending upon various climate extremes, there may be areas within that region where it does not flourish).

Give bermudagrass sufficient water, moderate fertilization, and regular mowing, and it’ll reward you with a great sports surface. However, remember that as it grows, it develops a thick thatch. This is great since it allows the grass to stand up to foot traffic, but not so great when it comes to water penetration. Vertical mowing is necessary, as is core aeration.

Cool-season areas of North America often use Kentucky bluegrass for sports turf. It is a perennial, cool-season, sod-forming grass that when mature has a pleasing, dark-green color.

The color is part of the reason for its popularity as a sports surface; the other is that it forms a thick thatch layer that provides a cushioning effect for players using the field.  It is hardy and can tolerate poor soils (although it certainly grows much better in soils that are well-fertilized). It tolerates light shade and even moderate drought.

This grass prefers temperatures between 60 and 90 degrees. It goes dormant and turns brown in excessively hot or dry weather. The thick thatch requires coring and verticutting. It likes to be kept at a height of about 1-1/2″ to 3″; a lower height will be tolerated only briefly.

One drawback to bluegrass is its slow growth cycle. A timeframe of one to two years may be necessary to allow it to grow from seed to fully established field; as a result, many field builders will start with sod.

Sod must always be well-watered, however, to encourage its establishment.

Bluegrass is also vulnerable to disease and infection, as well as insects. However, because grass seed is generally sold in blends (two or more of the same species with different characteristics), or mixes (combinations of different species), it is possible to find the right mix for a given installation.

The right grass choice will mean a beautiful sports field. Photo Courtesy of Atlas Track & Tennis, Tualatin, OR

Other Choices

These are not the only types of grasses. Paspalum is a popular warm-season perennial. Perennial ryegrass is often chosen for cold-season installations, as are some of the tall fescues. Each has strengths and weaknesses, as well as a specific tolerance for drought and shade. Managers of fields should investigate all options thoroughly.

Because the answers aren’t going to be found on a bag of seed, however, it might be time to call in a pro. A Certified Field Builder (CFB) who works in the area will understand the climate, soil conditions, precipitation, and more, and can make the appropriate recommendations, given the parameters of the installation. (Note that CFB is an individual designation, rather than one applied to a company as a whole.)

Additional Resources

Another way to learn more about what grasses work well in a given climate is to use the resources of the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP), which is a cooperative effort between the non-profit National Turfgrass Federation Inc., and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is supported by a number of other organizations, including various state universities, Turfgrass Producers International, the Turfgrass Breeders Association, the American Seed Trade Association, the United States Golf Association, and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.

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