Maintenance Matters

With spring at our doorstep, it is time to look at several aspects of turf management and biannual turf maintenance. Although spring and fall are crucial times to provide much-needed maintenance to grounds, factors will differ depending on where you live, what types of fields you maintain, and the level of wear the turf incurs. The first step in any maintenance program is determining what strategies best fit fields, how to prioritize those, and how they address any specific issues you may have. There are a few approaches at the top of my list every spring that should give you a push in the right direction.

Fungicides

Let’s start by first thinking about spraying fungicides. Using fungicides can be tricky because today most are made to treat a specific disease or pathogen, so it is extremely important to determine what type of disease is causing problems (or common diseases in an area) in order to select the fungicide with the greatest impact. At Virginia Tech, I have Summer Patch, Rhizoctonia Blight and Fusarium Blight to think about. In your area, the type and severity of disease may be quite different.

Once you identify what type of disease or pathogen is affecting the grounds, and the ideal fungicide is selected, application time is critical. Since diseases are harder to control once they begin to spread, it is best to treat turf before diseases appear. I usually start spraying around April 1, but weather is a factor. Don’t apply fungicide just before it rains or on an extremely sunny day, as it will wash away or decrease the effectiveness of the fungicide, and you will need to reapply more frequently.

When applying fungicide, I always try to cover turf as much as possible. For larger plants, it is important to even cover the underside of leaves, as any part of the plant that is not covered with fungicide can lead to a disease.

Weed Control

Another consideration before spring begins is the control of Poa Annua, also known as Annual Bluegrass. Poa and similar weeds tend to invade well-maintained lawns and sports fields, and are extremely resistant to a variety of defenses. On our turfs, I manage Poa by controlling its seed heads with an herbicide. I spray Embark around the first or second week of April and again in the fall. The time of year will vary slightly, depending on your location, but it is best to spray when germination begins taking place.

It is important to understand that Poa is not easy to control. Unlike other types of grasses, it resists many chemicals, releases hundreds of seeds, is not affected by low mowing levels, and turns brown during times of drought or extreme heat, leaving unsightly areas. It may be more economical and faster to manage the Poa (keeping it healthy and green), instead of trying to eliminate it altogether, depending on the type of grounds you maintain.

Aerification

Aerification to relieve compaction also is a great activity. When I aerate, I usually pull cores–or solid tines–through the turf for the first session of the year, which usually takes place in early spring. Different types of turf and soils require different levels of aerification. It has been my experience that even if you have loose soil or a soil/sand mixture, aerification can be extremely beneficial to the overall health of the turf.

Although aerification is best done in the spring and fall, the timing depends on what the turf is used for. If you have fields that take a lot of wear, such as football or soccer, be sure to aerate after the season is complete, in addition to the usual aerification in the spring and fall. For my cool-season fields, I usually aerate around the end of March or the beginning of April, depending on baseball and softball game schedules.

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