The Pursuit of Strong, Healthy Turfgrass- Aggressive Aeration

Happy Tuesday again!  It is amazing how quickly a week can get away from us.  Have you taken the time to step back and “smell the roses” this week?? If you haven’t…  make a point to do so while reading this.  Things are busy… yes.  But you don’t want to miss out on the beauty of summer!

Today we are going to discuss the 2nd (1st on the list) topic in examining the approach being used on our fields to survive heavy use- in particular the lacrosse events of the last 5 weeks.

We have discussed “managing the traffic” as a pro-active, manual way to spread out traffic wear.  Now let’s focus on the grass plants themselves.  Strong, durable and healthy grass plants are resilient against abuse.  The wide, strong leaf blades give that “crunchy” feeling and hold you up as you walk across the field.  The field shows little wear following games- no divots, no shearing, no thinning- because the stand is so strong and durable.  Producing turfgrass to such strength and durability brings the ultimate compliment from a question.  “Is this field synthetic?”

So how do we develop a stand of turfgrass to be so strong and resilient?   If only it was simple right?!?  It is every turfgrass manager’s driving goal.

For our fields, strong, healthy turfgrass is a bi-product of focusing on 3 core maintenance practices-  aggressive aeration, nutrient management, and bio-stimulant use in conjunction w/ growth regulator.

To start, let’s examine core practice #1 today.  Aggressive Aeration.

Rapid Tine (John Deere) and Deep tine (Ford w/ Wiedenmann) Aeration Taking Place on Same Field

Through this blog it has become very obvious that aeration is practice that I like. ALOT.  Here is why:

Aeration, in any form, is the most important part of maintaining grass on an athletic field.  Period.  It is the most under utilized part maintenance practice.

Through observations of fields around the world,  aggressive aeration is the single, most important maintenance practice on high traffic athletic fields.

Just think about it this way: Is there a thin spot on your field?  If so, is it a spot that is likely compacted= all the soil air forced out away from the roots?

Approaching Aggressive Aeration:

With 18 tournament fields on a native, silty clay loam soil; we have 40 acres of turfgrass that is constantly suffocating.  The small particles that make up the silt and the clay allow very little air into the profile.  Those particles also easily and quickly compact together to eliminate the air completely.

There is positive in the situation- mechanical aeration is very effective in opening up the profile and allowing air in.  The positive leaves quickly though, as the aeration results disappear quickly after only 1 weekend of play.

In order to achieve maximum turfgrass health, each field ideally would be aerated 1 time a week.  40 acres- 1 time s a week- 40 weeks per year (weeks the ground isn’t frozen).  WOW.  That would be alot!

Linear soil wave aeration working @ 12″ depth

Instead the goal is 25  aerations for the year (close to 1 time every 10 days) through a combination of 7 types of aeration.

Rapid Tine Aeration: For the Introduction of Air Into the Root Zone

1) 3/8″ needle tines

2) 3/4″ solid tines

3) 1/2″ hollow tines

4) 3/4″ hollow tines

Deep Tine Aeration: To De-Compact Profile for Rooting and Water Movement 

5) 3/4″ solid tines- up to 10″ deep w/ up to 20 degrees of kick

6) Linear, soil-wave de-compaction up to 12″ deep

7) Slicing tines for venting

Core aeration always seems to have the most long-lasting positive results of the rapid tine aeration.  And for good reason= from the removal of material.

Deep tine aeration has always left positive results as well.  BUT- the addition of a new linear soil wave aerator has made the largest impact on moving water vertically though the profile and decreasing maximum compaction.

Lastly, our next addition to aeration is a combination of the 2 successes from rapid tine aeration and deep tine aeration.  The Koro by Imants Recycling Dresser.  The Recycling Dresser uses linear aeration for de-compaction.   But instead of using soil-wave.. it actually removes the material from the profile to flush air into the root zone as well.  The removed material is dropped onto a conveyor belt and actually “recycled” as topdressing instead of in the form of cores that need cleaned up.

Because the machine has the benefits de-compaction and for air introduction, this machines will compliment the other forms of aeration very nicely and lead to stronger turf.

The Recycling Dress ultimately provides a tool that can make a significant difference for high traffic fields everywhere, especially for Parks Departments and High Schools that do not have the ability to close fields or spend lots of time aerating.  Prepare to hear much more about the Recycling Dresser… it is a piece of machinery that will become common place in the next few years.

Recycling Dresser Test Pass- 2 week after

Recycling Dresser Working on Bare Soil in the Netherlands

Managing Traffic Instead of Letting Traffic Manage You

Being that it’s Tuesday, it’s HOT, and… well… just because it sounds the most fun- we are starting with topic #2)  Managing the traffic instead of letting the traffic manage us,  in highlighting and discussing ideas to be increase the number of games on fields.

1st- Some will ask.. why would we want to INCREASE the number of games on our fields.  Well.. put simply.. that is our JOB!  More importantly, increased play serves the needs of our patrons and creates additional revenues for our facilities to operate.  Grass fields will take the traffic as long as we as managers are pro-active and creative!

This topic will mostly reference lacrosse, as it is the sport that is the most detrimental to our fields.  But lacrosse has 2 major positives when it comes to “managing the traffic”.

1) Field width is 60-70 yards wide- narrow for a soccer field

2) Majority of the traffic takes place up and down the center of the field and around the crease (goal) areas- I equate it to basketball on grass for wear

To start, let’s comparing “managing the traffic” to “managing the field”.

Managing the field“- To maintain the entire playing surface of the field in the same manner… fertilization, aeration, mowing, painting, etc.  (ex. entire field is fertilized the same each time, the entire field is aerated each time, the lines for competition are painted the same each time) 

Managing the traffic”- To maintain the playing surface according to the wear patterns of a certain sport. To move around the traffic wear patterns in order to diminish damage.  

With those differences in mind, and with the understanding that a lacrosse field (as soccer) has minimum sizes and maximum sizes, re-sizing and moving the playing field is the quickest and best way to maximize the number of events on a field during a competition (tournament).

Our soccer fields can play up to 78 yards wide safely.  With a lacrosse field sized to 60 yards wide and shifted to a side, there is 18 yards (54 ft) of open space on 1 side of the field platform- and the center of the playing field is 9 yards off the center of the platform.

After a certain number of games, the competition field can be shifted to the other side of the platform, moving the center of the traffic 18 yards…. 9 yards off the center to the other side.  The move is far enough that almost no traffic is overlapping.   The worn areas can be aerated immediately, along with a fertilizer or bio-stimulant spray..  recovery begins immediately, even during play.

Certainly this is significant work- measuring out a new field, painting green over the old lines, and painting new lines.  But the benefit of additional revenue with less field damage outweighs the amount of work required.  This past weekend, we required construction lights to work most of the night shifting over the most heavily used 10 fields, 2 days into the Club National Championships.

The only challenge we ran into was rain during the night that could have washed off the paint from the new lines (sprayed onto dew covered grass) and the green paint off the old lines.  Of course there was only a 30% chance of .1 of rain in the form of light sprinkles.  How did we know that a 1/2″ of rain would fall in 15 minutes?? (Insert the weather forecaster joke here)

Additionally to combat traffic wear, we bury the goal mouths in sand prior to the start of the competition.  Using a Pro-Gator full of sand, a scoop shovel, and a rake-  a 2 man crew goes around to all 19 grass fields and hits each goal mouth.  The layer of sand provides a layer of protection to the crown of the plant, and acts as a nice topdressing layer once aeration through the worn spot takes place following the event.

Protecting the un-used areas of the field is a big challenge as well.  The teams arriving for the next game want to use the large area for a warm up area.  Using signage, a restriction line, and education with tournament officials and with the patrons- it has become 2nd nature for the tremendous tournament officials that we work with to enforce out rules to protect the area out of play.  Kudos to them… it proves that positive education and working pro-actively to empower everyone around us to help keep the fields in perfect condition actually makes a difference!

Each tournament/ event, our traffic management techniques evolve.  Sometimes we try things and they just don’t work- or they aren’t worth the amount of time that they take.  In the end, the more tricks we can find and the more traffic we can sustain… the more revenue that is generated.

Now… what kinds of additional ideas click in your mind as we discuss this topic?!?

Upcoming Topics


Heat continues to prevail across most of the country…  Those cool season plant carbohydrate reserves are getting burned up quickly!  We are starting an aggressive aeration and renovation project this week on 9 cool season fields.  Gas exchange is more important than ever in such heat-  It’s essential to get the soil opened for the stressed plants.  We all CAN, and WILL, WIN this battle with the heat!

Today SoccerPlex is wrapping up the Club National Championship for lacrosse.  Over 500 games in 4 days- Cool season fields averaged 20 games a piece, bermudagrass averaged 32 games.  Yes. That is a bunch!

 And what a successful event!  We learn more and more each time we host such an event about how to bring fields through such heavy traffic.  Ask Matt Carroll (John Deere Landscapes in Atlanta) or John Torres (Head Groundsman at PPL Park in Philly) about our 1st lacrosse tournament in 2009.  We will never forget it.  WoW. The destruction. And from 1/2 the number of games.  It’s exciting to have success like this weekend in comparison to those events just 3 years ago.

That fact brings me to laying out the next batch of topics to explore with you.

What has played the biggest role preparing fields to be able to handle this many games?  Especially after 3 weeks ago hosting the 2-day Nations Capitol Cup lacrosse event (220 games) and 12 days ago hosting the All American National Lacrosse Classic (80 games w/ a day of practice and skills).

Ultimately there are 2 things that allow us to survive:

1)  Ultra strong, durable and healthy grass plants

2)  Managing the traffic instead of letting the traffic manage us

The strong, durable and healthy grass plants come from aggressive aeration, nutrient management, and bio-stimulant and growth regulator utilization.  The results are amazing: bluegrass w/ leaf blades the width of fescues and the density of bermudagrass.  As we work through these pieces, I look forward to the ideas and information we can share with each other.

 Managing the traffic is the most fun piece of the puzzle though.  There is no science involved-  no respiration.. no gibberellic acid or cytokinins.. no chlorophyl, bore-0-phly (haha!).  Just outside the box, creative, off the wall ideas to move around and combat traffic.  No answer is wrong.. no idea too far-fetched.  The limits for the possibilities are endless.

Stay tuned this week as we work through these topics to create ideas and help each other find new ways to host more events, generate more revenues for our facilities, and increase our expertise and job security!

Cheers to a successful Sunday