Pre-Fall Prep Time

I bet you’re sweating right now, thinking about how to create a little shade and protect your grass from turning crispy. But August is the last hurrah of summer, and before you know it, the nights are going to start turning cooler. Fall can sneak up on you, so now’s the time to make a plan for the next season.

With turf that has taken a pounding all summer, start making a recovery plan. For Virginia Tech, a change of sports also is coming–the return of football and soccer. I have many balancing acts to perform in taking care of the turf and readying all my resources for fall.

Testing … 1, 2, 3

I always think it’s funny that I have to take my tests before the students are even back in school. This “pre-fall” season is the time to test equipment and check the supply list–before you absolutely need it. There’s nothing like heading down to a field to squeeze in a job between activities, only to find the leaf blower won’t crank, or the aerification tines are so rusty they’re falling apart. If the equipment works year-round, schedule some time for a thorough cleaning and tune-up.

For me, with new sports about to begin, I’m also looking at what supplies I need to order–from turf supplements to field paint. To help your budget, order an initial supply, then add more as the season goes on. For example, I usually order two skids of paint to start, then another at mid-season and a fourth in November. If you have sports teams that use your facilities, check to see what changes they’ve made for the fall season. Are there more or fewer teams? Are more practice sessions to be added? Did you previously host 6-year-olds but now the high-school kids will be pounding on the turf? Knowing what’s coming will help you make the best plan.

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Fall is also a great time to run a soil test. I see many guys do the same thing year after year because it’s “always worked before,” or “that’s what the last guy did.” It may have worked before, but the nature of what we do means that the soil will change. It may not need lime today, even though it did 10 years ago. The weather, foot-traffic, nearby construction–all of these affect the soil and, in turn, turf. Especially if you’re in a new position, invest a few dollars with your state extension agent and have a soil test done. Without one, you might be creating more problems than you solve–and wasting money–by pouring the same old mixtures on year after year.

Spotting Trouble

Transitioning from summer to fall is naturally tough on turf. Particularly as Bermuda grass goes dormant, spots on the turf can be unsightly, whether it’s from disease, wear and tear or weeds.

The temperatures are the first challenge, with highs still peaking during the day but plunging at night. Those fluctuations mean I’m keeping a close eye out for diseases like spring dead spot, and dollar spot later in the fall. Because it’s always a balance between keeping the turf healthy and keeping the boss happy, adding a specialized fertilizer can help the turf recover faster when it has been damaged.

Annual bluegrass (poa annua) also makes turf look ragged, but it is one of the toughest weeds to kill once it’s arrived. If you have it, I feel for you. If you don’t, be thankful. Either way, make sure you have pre- and post-emergent herbicide in stock, and make some time to spray it in the fall. If it has infested the turf already, be sure to mow often, and spray thoroughly with a plant-growth regulator to reduce the number of seed heads.

Don’t Get Worn Down From Wear And Tear

Wear and tear can also cause ugly bare spots or divots in turf. Sports fields obviously show the most damage, but areas used for picnics, concerts or even playtime can also suffer from “too much love” from users. But you can’t just tell people to stay off the grass, so start by making the grass a little more durable.

The fall is an ideal time to apply potassium to harden off the leaf tissue and strengthen it. A stronger leaf is more likely to hold up under the pounding of fall sports while hardening the turf for winter dormancy. It will also help the turf recover more quickly from use. I like to start with a few applications in the summer then increase to the full label-rate in the fall. Spraying with a silicone product will also coat the blades and harden the plant from the outside.

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