Multi-use fields are becoming increasingly popular for parks and recreation departments, high schools and even colleges. Although natural-grass and crumb-rubber synthetic surfaces are often overused, certain measures can be taken to alleviate some of the damage:
Get A Handle On Drainage
For natural-grass fields with native soils, 10 events a week is overuse, and I suspect many schools and parks and recreation departments are hosting more than 10 events a week. The first thing to evaluate is drainage. If you rely only on surface drainage, there will be several rained-out games, or the fields will be destroyed from playing on them wet. Look into hiring someone to do drainage work. Some companies can install effective drainage inexpensively without disturbing the playing surface too much.
While I was the sports-turf manager at Virginia Tech, a “Cambridge-style” system was installed on three fields. A 2-inch pipe installed across a field is connected to a collector line on a 6- to 10-foot spacing with sand slits cut perpendicularly to the 2-inch pipe slits. The entire system is then backfilled with sand. A wheel trencher works well with this operation because it does not disturb the surface as much as a chain trencher will.
For additional options, talk with a local sports-field construction company. Call someone at another facility that has had field drainage done by the company, and get an opinion as to the quality of the drainage system.
Holes Equal Air Flow
If there is no way the athletic department or parks department can afford new drainage, look into purchasing an aerifier. If you cannot afford one, consider hiring a company to do soil deep-tining aerifing. The most important thing is to get holes or slices in the ground. A fairly cheap tool for this procedure is an AerWay machine–a pull-type machine that slices the ground without disturbing too much of the top surface. If you can, put holes or slices in the ground two to three times a week. The more air flow you have to the root, the better the turf. After all, multi-use fields are only overused fields with one big issue–compaction!
When All Else Fails
If none of these options are available, try to seed, seed, and seed with ryegrass. It germinates rapidly and is a quick fix for worn-out areas. Create a seed bank, and after every event seed the worn areas. The ryegrass will be pushed into the soil by the players on the field. Topdressing with some sand is a great option as well, helping to level the field while also giving important seed-to-soil contact. Seeding and topdressing will get you through the season; when you have some downtime, aerify the field.
Even a synthetic field can cause problems. When a department puts up money for a synthetic field, the assumption is that even more events will be held on it. Although I prefer natural turf, a synthetic system is a great tool, particularly for a field with multiple uses.
Synthetics also are exposed to compaction issues, so be careful. If there are 30 to 50 events each week on these fields, they can start to take a toll. Can you feel how hard the field is? Try to “aerify” the synthetic with some type of “spring tine” that can be dragged across the surface to loosen up the rubber. Note: First, make sure the “aerifier” does not void any warranty. Check with the company that installed the system to see what tool is recommended.
No Such Thing As Maintenance-Free
Unlike with natural grass, bacteria from blood, spit, sweat and everything else can form on synthetic fields. Consider spraying an anti-bacteria fungicide on the field. Because player safety should always be the number-one concern, it is important to protect against MRSA and other infectious diseases. Although synthetic systems might require less maintenance, they still need attention. Remember that gum, seeds and trash don’t break down and disappear like they do on natural grass.
Multi-use fields are appearing across the country to address a variety of recreational needs and sports. From soccer and baseball to field hockey and lacrosse, these fields take more and more abuse. Consider the expenses associated with natural and synthetic turf before deciding which is better for your multi-use field.
Jason Bowers, CSFM, worked as the Sports Turf/Athletic Grounds Manager at Virginia Tech University, an Assistant Superintendent at Whiskey Creek Country Club and Beaver Creek Country Club in Maryland, and a Turf Specialist at Bozzuto Landscaping. He graduated from Virginia Tech with an Associate’s Degree in Agricultural Technology. Bowers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org